Muppets Now (2020 TV)

After ABC tried to revive the Muppets with the one season show of The Muppets, in 2015, the franchise lay fallow for another 5 years. Once Disney+ got its feet under itself and established itself as a bona fida streaming option. Then they started streaming various Muppet franchise IP’s and tried to re-start the franchise with brand new stuff.

There were only 6 episodes and since they didn’t make a billion dollars within 24hrs Disney decided to drop this show after 1 season as well. Which was too bad, because this show had potential. I had some issues with how the episodes were structured but that was something you expect from a first season.

Once again Miss Piggy is front and center and honestly, it works. She’s dynamic and just the right amount of “diva” to be funny and yet tough and no non-sense. She had a bit every episode where she and Taye Diggs did a lifestyle segment and then another bit where she and Linda Cardellini. do a group zoom chat. Both segments were brilliant.

The next biggest and regular bit was a cook-off between the Swedish Chef and some guest cook. Sadly, the opening to this bit was really long for such a short show (20min show and the opening to the skit is close to a minute) and detracted from the overall humor. They really leaned into the Swedish Chef and his bad attitude when he lost the cook off (every time).

Scooter is the MC and has to upload the show to stream and we see him having troubles every episode. We get little one-off bits throughout and I enjoyed them as well. If more seasons were created, I would definitely watch them. But this being a failure, I suspect the Muppets will go on another hiatus. There is one more movie for me to watch that came out in 2021 and then I’ll be done my Muppet Journey.

The Muppets (2015 TV)

After the 2011 and 2014 movies, ABC, which was owned by Disney, decided to relaunch the Muppet franchise as a tv show, getting back to their roots. What they also did was to update the times (Miss Piggy has her own late night talk show and Kermit is the producer) and make this a completely adult show. There is no way I’d ever let any kids watch this. There was a lot of adult humor. It was funny and yet uncomfortable.

Along with updating the times, the show also takes an Office’esque approach and has the various muppets talking to the camera about “Up Late with Miss Piggy”. However, it ends up becoming a joke for the muppets to ignore Kermit as he talks to them and claim they thought he was talking to the camera.

Other changes include Kermit and Miss Piggy having broken up and Kermit is now dating another pig. The show revolves around the question of whether Kermit and Miss Piggy will get back together or not.

Overall I enjoyed this but I can see why it was cancelled after the first season. It was not family friendly and I felt that the Muppets were changed for the worst. They weren’t horrible scumbags, but they had become characters that I wouldn’t want to spend time with.

There was a good mix of the original cast and the characters from Muppets Tonight so it really felt like “the whole gang” was included. Because this was Disney, they did have to go and sensitive everything. The Swedish Chef still babbles nonsense but now he’s got subtitles that show he’s discussing the existential meaning of life. It wasn’t “woke” by any stretch but it did show the issues that Disney was having with the Muppets.

This just didn’t have the spirit of the Muppets. While I might have complained about the 2011 Movie, it and the Most Wanted sequel, they still felt like they were true to what the Muppets were about. This was like the Muppets had gotten a tummy tuck, a boob job, had a butt implant and gotten their lips botoxed. It felt like Aubrey Hepburn, the idealization of femininity, had suddenly been Kardashianized.

I won’t be watching this show again. Despite my complaints, I did enjoy this one watch through but it was not good enough to ever revisit. I wouldn’t recommend it to just a casual viewer looking for something to binge on.

Muppets Most Wanted (2014 Movie)

This was a direct sequel to The Muppets (2011 Movie) and by direct sequel I mean this picks up at the last scene of that movie. I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about this until 2 things happened. First, Ricky Gervais showed up as “Dom Badguy”, so I knew I was going to appreciate the humor (how can you not love it when one of the dumb badguys is named such?). Secondly, Sam the Eagle, as a CIA agent, has a badge measuring scene with an Interpol Agent (played by Ty Burrel, whoever he is) and THAT’S when I knew this movie was for me.

The gist of the movie is that Kermit gets replaced by his evil duplicate and nobody notices except Animal, Fozzie and Walter (the new muppet introduced in the previous movie). Bad Kermit has plans to steal the Crown Jewels and uses the Muppets and only Kermit can stop him.

I loved this movie. I am not usually a fan of Ricky Gervais, but once again what made the difference is that he really played like he was acting with others in the scenes with the muppets. I think the biggest issue with Muppet movies is getting actors who can simply accept, and thus show by tone and body language, that the muppets are other legitimate actors in front of the camera. He played up his own strengths but at the same time didn’t feel like he was stealing any scenes for himself. Much like Michael Caine in Muppet Treasure Island, Gervais enhanced the scenes he was in.

The pure zaniness was back. Whoever wrote this, they seemed to understand the kind of humor that Jim Henson had captured in the original Muppets. It was whacky, it was silly, it was zany and it most important of all, it worked. I will be buying this and its prequel on bluray sometime by years end. This deserves a spot on the Muppet Shelf.

The only downside to this movie is that it is pretty essential to have watched the previous movie to understand everything clearly. Other than that, I highly recommend this Muppet movie.

The Muppets (2011 Movie)

Disney attempts to cash in on the Muppet Franchise and reboots it. There are a lot of call back scenes to the Original Muppet Movie and there is a LOT of group singing and dancing. That cover feels pretty accurate in conveying the tone of the movie.

I enjoyed this movie more than some of the other Muppet stuff but this time I felt that it would have been ok if the Muppets had been left in the past. There were some great comedic schticks (the scenes where Jack Black is tied up on stage and is involuntarily having a comedy duo routine with Fozzy was absolutely priceless) but Disney’s fingerprints were all over this and they were very smudgy and jelly’ish fingerprints, not at all unobtrusive or subtle.

Unlike the Muppets Wizard of Oz, I found the interaction between the humans and the Muppets to be quite believable and once again the Muppets were as much stars as the human cast. That’s how it should be.

I’m going to keep on watching the Muppet oeuvre until the end but it is now completely apparent to me that without Jim Henson’s direct hand, the Muppets aren’t quite all that. Henson made the correct decision to end the tv show on a high point and this continuation of the franchise shows the wisdom of his decision. While fans clamor for more Muppets, they should have trusted Henson’s decision. While Disney is a big fat target for my dislike (what they have done to my beloved Star Wars is unconscionable), fans are as much to blame.

I’d only recommend this to hardcore Muppet Completionists.

The Muppets Wizard of Oz (2005 Movie)

In my April ’22 Roundup & Ramblings post I mentioned that I’d heard this was a really bad Muppet’s movie, possibly the worst ever. After the struggle it was to write the Sherlock Posts I felt it would be a relief to really dig into something and eviscerate it mercilessly.

Unfortunately, this didn’t turn out to be THAT kind of bad movie. This was exactly in the same vein as Muppets from Space, ie, childish, stupid and not one whit funny. But this was even more vanilla and even more boring than From Space. From Space at least had a few laughs. Wizard of Oz? I don’t think I cracked a smile even once.

Ashanti, playing Dorothy Gale, had ZERO chemistry with the muppets. This was the first movie where every single original Muppeteer was gone (as far as I can tell), so that might have played a part, but it was evident that Ashanti was used to being the center of attention and to diminish that by allowing the Muppets to be the stars was more than she could handle.

There were things that SHOULD have been funny. Miss Piggy as the 4 Witches, each with their own costume and personality, well, it should have been funny. It wasn’t. Like I noted before though, nothing was outright bad. It was just boring as all get out. I usually watch these movies 2-3 times to make sure I’m not missing anything (I watch it the first time to just enjoy it. The second time to get ideas about reviewing and a 3rd if I need clarification on something). With this one, I watched it once and said “good enough” because any more would be interrogating myself enhancedly! and as I’m a bona fida genuina Americhino Citizen, we simply can not have that.

I would only recommend this to a Muppet Completionist. Every one else? Go watch something else, ANYTHING else. If I may make a suggestion? Go watch Tron. Broaden your lumpy modern mind with something classic and good.

Fraggle Rock Season 4 (TV 1986)

Technically, there was a Season Four AND a Season Five to Fraggle Rock, if you watched it on tv. They did some number shuffling for a variety of reasons. Reading Henson’s bio talked about this a little. It had to do with what studios would accept, etc, So they stretched out the final season into 2 seasons. As I’m watching dvd rips, I’m getting it the way it was originally produced.

When they made the choice to split the final season, they cut 2 episodes from Season Three, added them to the final season and then cut that in half for 2 shorter seasons of 13 episodes each. Yeah, it makes a real hash of trying to figure out stuff. I guess that was why I included the episode list in my last review so I could keep straight what episodes were going where. So here’s this sets episode list:

  • Disc 1
  • Sidebottom Blues
  • Uncle Matt’s Discovery
  • Junior Faces the Music
  • The Perfect Blue Rollie
  • A Tune for Two
  • A Brush with Jealousy
  • Disc 2
  • Wembley’s Flight
  • Wonder Mountain
  • Red’s Blue Dragon
  • Space Frog Follies
  • Boober Gorg
  • Mirror, Mirror
  • Disc 3
  • The Riddle of Rhyming Rock
  • The Voice Inside
  • The Trial of Cotterpin Doozer
  • The River of Life
  • Beyond the Pond
  • Gone, But Not Forgotten
  • Disc 4
  • Mokey, Then and Now
  • Ring Around the Rock
  • Inspector Red
  • The Gorg Who Would Be King
  • The Honk of Honks
  • Change of Address

After reading Henson’s bio, watching this season made so much sense. Henson was adamant about only producing top quality stuff and at the same time was all about letting the artistic side of himself dictate stuff. So when he got bored with something, he would drop it. But unlike a certain jackass author *coughgrrmartincough* Henson made sure to finish things up. Which meant his shows usually ended on a high point.

We’re so unused to that here in the States now (where producers, executives, studios milk anything until they destroy it) that it is extremely refreshing but also gives me pause, as I did find myself saying “Awwww come on, I want some more”. But more wouldn’t have been better. Doc and Sprockett move away and the Fraggles find that they can make entries into our world using the power of magic so the adventures don’t have to end. It was the perfect ending to this light, (extremely) loud and frenetic series.

While I enjoyed the Muppet Show more, this was still very engaging and fun and I thoroughly enjoyed my time spent at Fraggle Rock. I can also see myself coming back and just listening to this in the background as I do other things. If you enjoy the Muppets, I would unreservedly recommend this series as well.

Jim Henson: The Biography ★☆☆☆☆

This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot, & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission

Title: Jim Henson: The Biography
Series: ———-
Authors: Brian Jones
Rating: 1 of 5 Stars
Genre: Non-fiction
Pages: 591
Words: 215K



Synopsis:

From the Publisher

For the first time ever—a comprehensive biography of one of the twentieth century’s most innovative creative artists: the incomparable, irreplaceable Jim Henson

He was a gentle dreamer whose genial bearded visage was recognized around the world, but most people got to know him only through the iconic characters born of his fertile imagination: Kermit the Frog, Bert and Ernie, Miss Piggy, Big Bird. The Muppets made Jim Henson a household name, but they were just part of his remarkable story.

This extraordinary biography—written with the generous cooperation of the Henson family—covers the full arc of Henson’s all-too-brief life: from his childhood in Leland, Mississippi, through the years of burgeoning fame in America, to the decade of international celebrity that preceded his untimely death at age fifty-three. Drawing on hundreds of hours of new interviews with Henson’s family, friends, and closest collaborators, as well as unprecedented access to private family and company archives, Brian Jay Jones explores the creation of the Muppets, Henson’s contributions to Sesame Street and Saturday Night Live, and his nearly ten-year campaign to bring The Muppet Show to television. Jones provides the imaginative context for Henson’s non-Muppet projects, including the richly imagined worlds of The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth—as well as fascinating misfires like Henson’s dream of opening an inflatable psychedelic nightclub.

An uncommonly intimate portrait, Jim Henson captures all the facets of this American original: the master craftsman who revolutionized the presentation of puppets on television, the savvy businessman whose dealmaking prowess won him a reputation as “the new Walt Disney,” and the creative team leader whose collaborative ethos earned him the undying loyalty of everyone who worked for him. Here also is insight into Henson’s intensely private personal life: his Christian Science upbringing, his love of fast cars and expensive art, and his weakness for women. Though an optimist by nature, Henson was haunted by the notion that he would not have time to do all the things he wanted to do in life—a fear that his heartbreaking final hours would prove all too well founded.

An up-close look at the charmed life of a legend, Jim Henson gives the full measure to a man whose joyful genius transcended age, language, geography, and culture—and continues to beguile audiences worldwide.

My Thoughts:

This is getting a 1star instead of the dreaded 1/2star & the tag “worst book of the year” simply because I learned a LOT about Jim Henson. Having seen what I have of Muppets, Fraggle Rock, etc, I can clearly see Henson’s fingerprints now that I know what to look for. That part was quite interesting and I think it will make my viewing of future movies and shows that much richer.

However, my main problem with this book wasn’t about or with Jim Henson, per se, but more with the author, Brian Jones. This was technically a biography but more than that, it was a puff piece, a love letter, a psalm of worship from an acolyte to his god. When somebody tells the life story of someone else, they have a duty to tell ALL of that life story, not just the good parts.

Any bad parts of Henson’s life was mentioned in one sentence when it occurred and then glossed over or ignored for the rest of the book. When interviewing people about Henson, only the most positive things were included, even from his wife, who he had separated from and was sleeping with other women. Every statement about Henson was positive and every statement by other people was positive. While I could have accepted that Henson led a charmed life and was charismatic and talented enough to draw everyone into his wake, people are people and have bad things to say. I’m not saying Jones should have been a muckraker or that I was looking for a smear campaign, but what I read wasn’t real in the sense that it simply didn’t present reality as we know it. Henson’s brother died. It got maybe 2 sentences then and maybe 4 out of the entire book and Jones never showed it affecting Henson.

Jones was given access to the Henson life in terms of private journals, etc and I suspect part of the deal was that he would only write good things. It was like reading cotton candy by the end of the book. Even Henson’s swift death by a virulent strain of pneumonia shows him as a giant teddy bear having his back rubbed by his ex-wife (technically not ex as they never divorced) and his death being some big “oopsie”. The tone of the entire book is fluff. While I learned a lot about Henson, and like I said before I think it will make my watching of his works that much more informed, I did not like being “handled” by the author as I was.

To end, if you want to learn about Henson, you can read this book and you’ll learn a lot. If you don’t mind literary cotton candy, this will work perfectly for you. If you want a full picture of Henson, try some other book because this author point blank refuses to give you that picture. I am very disappointed with how this turned out.

Rating: 1 out of 5.

Fraggle Rock Season Three (TV 1985)

Another great season for Fraggle Rock. I’ve decided to include an episode list this time just to show some of the, ummm, “creative” genius of the show.

  • Red-Handed and the Invisible Thief
  • Boober and the Glob
  • The Grapes of Generosity
  • Blanket of Snow, Blanket of Woe
  • Pebble Pox Blues
  • Home Is Where the Trash Is
  • Believe It or Not
  • Wembley and the Mean Genie
  • The Secret Society of Poobahs
  • The Beanbarrow, the Burden and the Bright Bouquet
  • Gobo’s School for Explorers
  • Scared Silly
  • The Great Radish Caper
  • Born to Wander
  • The Battle of Leaking Roof
  • Playing Till It Hurts
  • Bored Stiff
  • The Cavern of Lost Dreams
  • The Incredible Shrinking Mokey
  • A Dark and Stormy Night
  • Gunge the Great and Glorious
  • The Bells of Fraggle Rock
  • Sprocket’s Big Adventure
  • Wembley’s Wonderful Whoopie Water

Reading the Jim Henson Bio has certainly opened my eyes while watching this season. Henson’s love of television as an artform, his creative genius, it all explains so MUCH about these shows (I’m including the Muppets too). His underlying new age philosophy also plays a much bigger part than I initially realized. It is rather amazing how much those kind of things influence a show and we the watchers would never full grasp it.

I still don’t like the wraparound scenes with Doc and Sprocket. I don’t like Doc and he hasn’t grown on me at all. Part of it is that he is a potterer and I can’t stand people who just potter around doing one thing one minute and another thing the next minute. He’s also a monomaniac when it comes to his inventions. There is one episode where Sprocket ends up going into Fraggle Land but his efforts to convince Doc that they exist come to naught. Sprocket can be extremely expressive for a muppet dog while Doc has got to be about the thickest human I’ve ever seen.

The energy of this show is incredible. Just thinking about it makes me tired but while I’m watching I’m as jazzed up as anything. Considering this was aimed at prepubescent children, either I’m a big baby or Henson hits his notes for the show perfectly. Let’s go with the Creative Genius interpretation.

Only one more season to go and then it’s back to tracking down Muppet movies and shows again.

ps,
I am trying this without the Jackass picture. I hope that the scumbag who forced me to use it last time will leave this poor little post alone.

Currently Reading: Jim Henson – The Biography

With my Muppet Experiment still in full swing (Fraggles are muppets, even if not going by that particular name) and going so well, I at some point wanted to read about Henson, the man behind it all.

Well, at almost 800 pages I’m getting it all. I’ll be doing an actual review next week. For now, I’m enjoying this but realizing (again!! for about the umpteenth time) that non-fiction just doesn’t engage me, no matter how interested I am in the subject.

Muppet Treasure Island (1996 Movie)

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Muppet Treasure Island is the fifth Muppet Movie (Muppets from Space wasn’t made until 1999) and I must say, I think it edges out even A Muppet Christmas Carol. So far, only the original Muppet Movie has been better. Which is to say, this is one fantastic movie..

Loosely based, and I mean LOOSELY, on Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel Treasure Island, this version takes the story’s outline and completely makes it its own. Which works surprisingly well. Part of it is because it is so silly and everyone leans into that silliness. It also helps that Tim Curry as Long John Silver just throws himself into the role and drags you along with him. He makes you think “Well, if Tim Curry can act like this then the least I can do is enjoy the silliness”. It takes chops for that.

While not a huge hit financially, it helped revive interest in the Muppets and I suspect propelled the Muppets Tonight show onto the silver screen (which failed. Without Jim Henson or Frank Oz, the Muppets are missing their soul). What this movie did correctly was show that the current Muppet creators need a good, already existing story for the Muppets to hang their frame on. Could you imagine Muppets 20,000 Leagues under the Sea, or Muppets Don Quixote? Of course, I am well read. I’m not sure if the average American would have any interest or even know what the stories were based on. But come on, can’t you see Kermit as Don Quixote and Fozzie Bear as Sancho and Miss Piggy as Dulcinea? I tell you, it’s just money waiting to happen!

But that is getting off track.

I had a lot of fun watching this and even Mrs B enjoyed it because of the many musical interludes. Some were stupid and sappy, like soprano Jim Hawkins (ugh) singing about adventure but then you have Cabin Fever, probably the song I remember most from any Muppet adventure, movie or tv. Below is the youtube embed of the song and about a minute and a half of the movie after it. This is the tone of the movie and if you don’t find it hilarious, you probably won’t enjoy the movie as a whole either.

Since this movie was so good, I want to keep the good times rolling. I’m going to be starting in on the Fraggle Rock tv series for next month. I’ve heard good things about that and since it was done by Jim Henson in the early 80’s I’m pretty sure it WILL be good.

Onward!