Assuming that nothing has changed since I cancelled my subscription last month, there are two Henson-related series original to Disney+ currently streaming. Muppets Now was originally meant to be a series of shorts but was instead expanded into a series of full-length episodes for some inexplicable reason. Earth to Ned is a Creature Shop production made in association with the Walt Disney Company. Each sounded at least vaguely interesting to begin with. Having seen them both, the former is worse than I expected, and the latter is far better.
Muppet Show episodes run the whole gamut, from the delightful to the disturbing. If you’re new to Seasons 4 and 5 like I am, you may wonder where each episode falls. The Disney+ content warnings help a little but don’t give you any specifics and are sometimes esoteric.
Back in the days before there were streaming services, or even video recorders, there wasn’t a way to skip over the parts of The Muppet Show that were less than stellar. You just had to sit through them and wait for the good stuff to come back.
Now, however, between DVDs, YouTube, and streaming, it’s easier to skip over the bad parts and enjoy the good parts. It’s just a matter of knowing what to expect and where to look. Well, I “took a chance on the crap” so you don’t have to, and I can tell you the highlights and the lowlights.
I’m organizing the episodes into four categories:
- Delightful: Sit back and relax; you shouldn’t see anything offensive or objectionable in these episodes at all
- Mostly Harmless: There are a few uncomfortable moments, but these episodes are enjoyable for the most part
- Cringeworthy: There are a few bright spots, but these episodes are mostly dull or upsetting.
- Horrific: These episodes are almost completely demoralizing. Even the few good numbers aren’t enough to save them. Skip the episodes altogether and look up the few good parts on YouTube instead.
Thank you for waiting for the culmination of this analysis. It’s tempting to say that it’s long overdue after I published the first part nearly two years ago. At the same time, however, I believe that things tend to happen when they are supposed to happen, and now seems like an opportune moment to revisit this important issue.
If you read my blog regularly, you know that I am not a fan of the Walt Disney Company, and I do not hesitate to call out its greedy or amoral behavior, especially when it has the potential to ruin individual lives or undermine our already fragile system of government. However, calling out bad behavior is only one side of the accountability coin. The other side is praising individuals or corporations when they do something good.
At first, when I heard that Dinosaurs was coming to Disney+, I wasn’t that excited because I didn’t intend to still be subscribed to it that that point. But now it appears that the only way to watch the last two seasons of The Muppet Show may be on Disney+, so I’m going to hold out on cancelling my subscription until I’ve watched all the episodes I haven’t seen.
With the purported Muppet Show release still being several weeks away, I’ve been revisiting Dinosaurs. It’s been a real treat, first, to remember how much I loved it in the first place and, second, to get all the jokes that went over my head when I watched it as a kid during its original run.
I recently found a YouTube video about the “Top 10 Dinosaurs Episodes” and was surprised to find that only one of them was one that I find particularly memorable and enjoyable (and one is an episode that I actively dislike after watching it again with the benefit of an adult perspective). So I decided to write my own post about my favorite Dinosaurs episodes. Between the time that the original run ended and the series’ streaming release, I haven’t seen much of it since. Therefore, my list is limited to five favorites. These are not all the episodes that I find memorable, but the memories I have of these episodes give me the most enjoyment.
I recently found this video on YouTube of a little kid assuming the role of the Swedish Chef and re-enacting the Muppet video “Popcorn.” It is adorable.
PSA: Don’t run the microwave empty. It’s very bad for it.
At first, I never intended to subscribe to Disney+, but I decided otherwise when I thought it might be the only way that I would ever get to watch Hamilton. So I finally gave in, and that allowed me to watch new Muppet content, including the first two seasons of Muppet Babies 2018, which I really love. Not only is the humor more Muppety than anything the main Muppet troupe has done in the last four or five years (despite the performers’ best efforts), but it does a really good job of talking about important life lessons in a way that’s accessible to toddlers without being too heavy-handed or condescending.
(Scooter and Skeeter)
There’s one episode from the second season that really touched my heart and made me wish that this show had been on when I was a kid. It’s called “A Tale of Two Twins.” The twins in question are Scooter and Skeeter who, though not main characters, were introduced in the second season and have gotten to visit the playroom a handful of times now. In this episode, they challenge gender norms and learn to be assertive in not letting others define who they are.
I want to try to avoid off-topic posts from now on, but now that the election is over and the results are known, I do want to take a moment to thank everyone who voted. I don’t know how many, if any, of you were persuaded to vote because of me and my story, but it doesn’t matter. The fact that you voted is the important thing. Thank you.
If there are those of you who didn’t vote, for whatever reason, it’s okay. Fortunately, thanks to the outcome, I feel confident in saying that you will get another chance someday. I hope you’ll take it.
If there’s one lesson I hope all of us will take from this election, as well as the one before it, it’s that we cannot take our democracy for granted. It can’t just coast on cruise control; we need to take the wheel and steer, or it will go completely off the road and into a ditch.
“I had a professor one time […] and he said, ‘You know, Fred, there’s one thing that evil cannot stand, and that is forgiveness.'”
—Fred Rogers (my emphasis)
Dear John Tartaglia,
I first want to congratulate you on the recent Fraggle Rock short-form series that you and your colleagues created in response to the pandemic. Fraggle Rock is exactly the right content for this peculiar moment in history, and I appreciate you bringing it back into the public consciousness. Because re-imaginings of existing properties tend toward self-parody, I initially had some misgivings about it, but the new Fraggle content mostly seems organic and consistent with what came before.
Nevertheless, there is one aspect of the whole endeavor that rings false for me. I have heard you invoke the Trash Heap from the last episode of Fraggle Rock when she tells the Fraggles, “You cannot leave the magic.” Even if that is true, it appears that someone can be barred from the magic pre-emptively. I refer, of course, to Steve Whitmire.
To keep the focus of the blog consistent, I try never to post content on the main page that doesn’t relate in some way to the Muppets or the Jim Henson universe. If I can’t find a way to relate it, however obliquely, I put it under a separate tab.
Unfortunately, however, it seems that the pages I post under a separate tab don’t go out to subscribers, so most of you didn’t see my voting story. I linked to it in a recent post that related it loosely to Sesame Street, but that didn’t get the attention that I hoped for either.
It’s really important to me that you see this, take it to heart, and learn from my mistakes, especially if you are an American who is eligible to vote but thinking about not doing so. So I’m making an exception to my rule and posting this completely off-topic post on the main page where it will remain, pinned to the top, until after the election.
The first presidential election I was eligible to vote in occurred in the year 2000. I had taken government class in high school but ended up getting a C and didn’t glean much from it. In the year 2000, which was two years later, I was excited about the primary, but when my chosen candidate was not nominated, my enthusiasm waned following the conventions.
I remember this sketch from my childhood. Apparently there was a series of these sketches about the American Revolution, but this is the only one I remember seeing back then.
Watching it as an adult, it took me a while to figure out that the point of it was not to give an accurate account of history but to illustrate the democratic process in a concrete, relatable way.
I recently wrote a piece about why I think voting is important, about how I didn’t vote in the 2000 election and why I’ve regretted it ever since. It has nothing to do with Muppets, but I think it’s important to share.
Today, October 6th, is Matt Vogel’s 50th birthday. I want to wish him good health and happiness, and I want to let all of you know that I’ve been listening to his new “Below the Frame” podcast, and I enjoy it very much.
New episodes drop every Wednesday and feature usually one but sometimes two people from the Muppet/Henson universe. The conversation delves really deep not only into the interviewees’ Muppet/Henson work but their background and life in general. Then there are also puppetry tips and little short tidbits and an ongoing tribute to Jerry Nelson.
I haven’t listened to all the episodes yet, but I have enjoyed all the ones that I’ve listened to so far. If I had to pick favorites, I would name the one with Cave-In’s own Jim Lewis and the one with Bill Barretta, who says some very nice things about Steve.
Maybe it’s because he’s talking to his friends, but Matt has a very engaging interview style that makes me wonder what other career avenues he might have explored if he hadn’t been such a gosh-darn good puppeteer. There are a lot of Muppet and/or puppet-related podcasts out there, but this is one that I can recommend unreservedly. I sincerely hope you will check it out if you haven’t already.
Happy birthday to the best puppeteer I know and one of the nicest people I’ve ever met.
This is not the tribute I wanted to make. It’s much more poignant. But for me to be able to make the tribute I want to make, I needed to learn some things doing this one. Plus, this is something that I think is important for people to see.
Today would have been Jim Henson’s 84th birthday. I’ve been thinking for six months to a year how I wanted to mark the occasion.
Occasionally, I reference things that I’ve seen on YouTube but can no longer find, only to run across them later. This is an appearance that Jim made on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson in 1975 to promote the Muppet Show “Sex and Violence” special, although it’s interesting that Johnny only refers to it as “The Muppet Show.” Maybe the rest of the title wouldn’t have flown on network TV, even late night.
When I saw this clip before, it was only the Kermit bit. It was remarkable to me in that it was the grumpiest I had ever seen Kermit, and I think it still is. I had never seen the Dr. Teeth interview before. It’s fascinating to see him make a solo appearance without the rest of the Electric Mayhem. It’s incredible how real and alive he is even though the bottom part of his body is absent. It’s revealing to see how Jim pulls his mouth into a grin while performing him.
There was another clip that I referenced once without being able to find it, then rediscovered it again, only to lose track of it once more. It’s the pitch reel for the Jim Henson Hour. I’m disappointed not to be able to feature it here, but maybe I will run across it again someday.
I’m always impressed and a little embarrassed when I find that someone has been able to express a point in less than 10 minutes that I have spent literally hundreds of hours and thousands of words trying to explicate. Such was the case when I found this incredibly succinct, accurate, and fair-minded assessment of the Schism on YouTube a couple weeks ago (Warning: It contains NSFW language):
Apart from a few minor quibbles, I agree with everything said in this video, which does a really good job of calling out the responsible parties without being unfair to the puppeteers. But there’s one point that I really want to emphasize:
“We’ve now seen what’s come to pass. We’ve now got hindsight on this matter. Kermit the Frog no longer sounds consistent. He no longer really sounds like Kermit the Frog.”
Admittedly, not everyone agrees with this opinion. But it seems to me that most everyone who thinks Matt’s Kermit voice sounds like Kermit are people who accepted the recast with little question. The casual fans don’t seem to be buying it, which strongly suggests it is yet another example of belief affecting perception. In other words, people who believe that the recast was justified and/or who need it to be okay, are more likely to hear Kermit when Matt speaks, whereas casual fans with no preconceived notions think he sounds off. With that said, if there are casual fans who didn’t already know about the recast and don’t notice it, they are unlikely to comment on it, which means there’s no way of ensuring an accurate data pool.