Sesame Saturday: The Democratic Way

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.

Matt Vogel’s “Below the Frame” Podcast

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.

Jim Henson and Friends on The Tonight Show

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.

Hindsight

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.

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Some Thoughts on the Short-Form Fraggle Rock Series

Back in the spring, the Henson Company released the clunkily titled short-form series “Fraggle Rock: Rock On!” I reviewed the first episode and didn’t expect to watch any more, but someone kept posting bootleg copies on the Cave-In Discord server. Curiosity got the best of me, and since each episode is less than 10 minutes long, I thought, “What the hey?” and watched them all.

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FAQ About the Disney/Whitmire Schism

Well, folks … here we go again. 

I don’t think Disney purposely timed its promotion of the new streaming Muppet series on Disney+ to coincide with the anniversary of the kerfuffle over the Schism three years ago. Nevertheless, a lot of casual fans are somehow still confused over the recast, and so the story is getting rehashed again in the press, sometimes fairly accurately and other times considerably less so.

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An Improbable 30 Years

I don’t particularly know why the anniversaries that end in 0 and 5 take on extra significance. I know that I like them because I’m bad at math and they make calculations a little easier for me. But Jim Henson’s death coincided with a moment when I was starting to make the gradual transition from childhood to adulthood, and this anniversary comes at a moment that I’m about to enter a new decade and a new phase in my adult life, so that gives it personal significance for me.

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Cool Aunt

My sister has three kids, and from the time each of them were in their cradles, I’ve been giving them Muppet-themed gifts. 

About a year and a half ago, I gave them a Muppet-related Christmas trifle. My niece, who’s nine years old today, got very excited when she saw it. “I LOVE the Muppets!” she gushed. 

It was one of the proudest moments of my life. I just sat back and said to myself, “I’ve done my job.” 

MFCCLose

Muppet Guys Talking Livestream Event Honoring Jim Henson

I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that this Saturday, May 16th, marks the 30th anniversary of Jim Henson’s death. To commemorate the occasion, the four surviving performers involved in Muppet Guys Talking are holding a livestreaming event at 4:00 p.m. ET that afternoon.

You can register for free by clicking the following link:

http://www.MuppetGuysTalking.com/jim

Once you register, you will also have the opportunity to submit questions, which I presume they will make an effort to answer during the conversation.

According to the confirmation email, those who register will receive a special viewing link via email the day before. It also says that it will be available for replay to those who register, regardless of whether or not you view the original livestream.

Registration is free, but the registration page also says that the livestream will be a COVID-19 fundraiser. Not sure how that’s supposed to work, but I guess we’ll find out on Saturday.

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Fraggle Friday: New Series, Mixed Feelings

About a month ago now, I guess, a new short-form series featuring the Fraggle Rock characters was announced. Redundantly titled Fraggle Rock: Rock On!, it premiered its first five-minute episode three weeks ago. Premise: the Fraggle Five use new radish-based technology in the form of “Doozer tubes” to communicate with each other, and with Traveling Matt, remotely.

Before the series premiered, I had mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, Fraggle Rock is precisely the right content for this peculiar moment in history because it’s all about meeting adversity with courage, compassion, and yes, even joy. On the other hand, one of the most wonderful things about the original Fraggle Rock is that it’s almost completely timeless. If they make a new, obliquely topical Fraggle Rock series, I wondered to myself, isn’t it going to lose that timeless quality?

Obviously, from a practical, Doylist perspective, I completely understand the need for the puppeteers to work distantly from one another. But from a Watsonian view, why would the Fraggles have to be in isolation? Wouldn’t you think that living underground would be an effective quarantine?

Then, of course, there was the big question: What of Wembley?

I watched the first episode online, and it answered a lot of my questions and alleviated some of my misgivings. But only some.

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Elmo Has a New Talk Show, and I Have So Many Questions

The “Not-Too-Late Show with Elmo” premieres May 27th on HBO’s streaming service. There’s a lot about it I don’t understand. Why is a 3-year-old hosting a talk show? Is this really happening, or is it supposed to be in Elmo’s imagination? What are the other Sesame Street characters going to get to do? Is there an educational objective of some sort, or is this just for fun? 

It looks entertaining from the trailer, but then, so did “Elmo’s Play Date,” and we all remember how THAT turned out. It seems like it would be a lot more efficient just to make the main Sesame Street series fun and entertaining for all ages again, but that’s none of my business. 

Four-Year-Old Mary’s Perspective on “Elmo’s Play Date”

A few days ago, I expressed my disappointment about the recent Sesame Street special, but then I thought about it and wondered if I was being unfair. After all, I’m about ten times older than the targeted age demographic. I started thinking that maybe a better criterion by which to judge would be what I would have thought of the special if I’d watched it as a four-year-old instead of an almost 40-year-old. 

Obviously, I lost that perspective a long time ago, but the idea was so intriguing to me that I’m trying to re-approximate it. 

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Not-So-Special Special

Well, I watched “Elmo’s Play Date” last night and immediately regretted spreading the word about it. It turned out to be a gigantic disappointment. 

At least, as a middle-aged woman with no kids, it was a giant disappointment to me. But perhaps I’m being too uncharitable. Perhaps the intended purpose of the special was to distract young children for a half an hour. If so, it sounds like it was a roaring success. 

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A Special Sesame Street Special

UPDATE: Apparently, the special is airing on PBS Kids in primetime on April 14th, and then the next day, April 15th, during the usual Sesame Street timeslot for your local market. 

“Elmo’s Play Date” is a Sesame Street special set to air on Tuesday, April 14th at 7 p.m. ET/6 p.m. CT simultaneously on HBO, PBS Kids and a number of other channels and platforms. 

There are three things I want to say about this: 

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