Brian Henson: An Amateur Behavioral Analysis

“[Steve Whitmire]’s capable of very deep performances. The falling out between me and Steve is really about business ethics. Working with him on set was always good.”

Brian Henson, quoted in a retrospective on the Muppet Christmas Carol in The Big Issue

So … it recently came to my attention that, since completely trashing him to the Hollywood Reporter five years ago, Brian Henson has since said some things about Steve that could be interpreted as nice. Most of them aren’t as inherently contradictory as the quote above and seem to be pure, unmixed compliments. 

I found out about this because a reader used them as examples to support the case that I was being too harsh towards Brian. At my request, the reader was kind enough to provide some links to videos of Brian making these compliments, and I am very grateful.

I didn’t expect the clips to change my opinion of Brian, and they haven’t. Without an apology for the things he said in 2017, anything complimentary that Brian has to say about Steve now only shows him to be inconsistent and untrustworthy. And as the above quote shows, he doesn’t seem to have any regrets about trashing Steve back then, or scruples about taking digs at him now. 

The reason that I was so excited to see these clips is because it gives me an opportunity to make an attempt at reading Brian’s body language. Approximately six months ago, I started becoming interested in body language and behavioral analysis from watching the Behavioral Arts channel on YouTube.

Despite the clickbait-y titles that he uses on his videos, Spidey makes a point of emphasizing in all of them that body language analysis is an inexact science, that certain behaviors can mean different things in different contexts, and that body language is open to interpretation. 

I echo Spidey’s caveats and add one of my own: I do NOT claim to be an expert in body language analysis after watching these videos for six months. Spidey had to study this for decades to get to be an expert; I still have a LOT to learn. I reiterate: I do not claim ANY expertise in behavioral analysis. If an actual body language expert wants to come tell me that I am way off base, reading things into Brian’s behavior that aren’t actually there, I will defer to their expertise (after I verify their credentials, of course). 

Nevertheless, even to a relative neophyte at behavioral analysis, Brian’s body language when he talks about Steve suggests some VERY interesting things. 

I have here three video clips of Brian: one from 2018, one from 2020, and one from 2022. As you watch them, pay particular attention to Brian’s face as he mentions Steve’s name; something about his expression changes every time. 

Before I give you the actual links, I want to point something out: In each case, I’m linking closely to the relevant part of the video, but I’m also making a point of giving a little bit of context at the beginning. An important part of behavioral analysis is establishing a baseline of behavior for the individual because it’s the deviations from baseline that are significant. 

Okay, here goes: 

2022 D23 Expo — Muppet Christmas Carol Panel:

 

2018 — Evolution of Puppetry: 

 

2020 George Lucas Talk Show — Muppets Tonight Watch-Along: 

Did you see it? If not, try watching them again. I’ll give you a hint: Look particularly at his eyes. 

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Old Disappointment

Recently, I received a comment on one of my blog posts saying that I had been “harsh” toward Brian Henson. This surprised me for several reasons: (1) The blog post in question didn’t even mention Brian Henson; someone else brought him up in the comments, and I responded. (2) I know the things in my head that I’ve wanted to say about Brian but have held back; compared to those things, the criticisms I have made have been pretty tame.

I asked the commenter why they felt that I had been harsh, and when they explained, I felt the point was valid. I think it is fair to say that my criticisms of Brian have been a bit more pointed than the ones I’ve made of Lisa and Cheryl. This is partially because of Brian’s position of authority within the company and partially because his actions in regard to the Schism are in direct opposition to statements he made in the past regarding forgiveness and his father’s legacy.

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My Tragically Delayed Review of Muppets Haunted Mansion

I did watch Muppets Haunted Mansion when it premiered last year. It would have made more sense to watch it before Halloween so that I would have had time to review it. But I wanted to watch it on Halloween because I didn’t have anything better to do, so I did, and by the time I was inclined to write a review of it, it felt more like Christmas. So now that it’s the Halloween season again, I’m going to review it now.

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Christmas in September

Welcome! If you read my blog regularly, you know that I always like to do something special for Steve’s birthday.* I found this video a while ago of a YouTuber watching Muppet Christmas Carol for the first time and giving her reaction to it. Not only was this her first time watching Muppet Christmas Carol; it’s also her first time watching any Muppet movie. I thought Steve would enjoy it because Rizzo really made a positive impression on her. She’s done more reaction videos of other Muppet productions, and the rats are consistently one of her favorite parts. She even misses them when they’re not in the original Muppet Movie.

Personally, it’s fun for me to get the perspective of someone who doesn’t know much about Muppets but knows about literature, since I have a perspective on both. And it’s just so refreshing to hear opinions about the Muppets from someone who hasn’t been tainted by fandom snobbery.

Hope you enjoy!

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* And yes, obviously it’s Jim Henson’s birthday too, but he’s not around anymore to know whether people remember and potentially be hurt if they don’t. I choose to prioritize the living, and I don’t think Jim would disagree with me.

5 Muppet Songs More Overplayed Than “Rainbow Connection”

“Don’t you like music?” Franz asked. “No,” said Sabina, and then added, “though in a different era…” She was thinking of the days of Johann Sebastian Bach, when music was like a rose blooming on a boundless snow-covered plain of silence. 

Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being

“Rainbow Connection” is the greatest song from one of the greatest Muppet productions ever made. Because of its popularity, there are a lot of different versions of it, and this is a good thing because it means that everyone can pick the version that best suits their preference.

However, many members of the Muppet fan conglomerate think it gets played too often, and it makes them mad as hell. If they had their way, “Rainbow Connection” would get locked in a vault and only taken out every 15 years or so, like a lot of other Disney content.

And although I take verbal jabs at them for what I consider to be their misplaced vehemence over something that is relatively inconsequential, I have to admit that I sort of understand where they’re coming from. “Rainbow Connection” is a beautiful song, but there are other absolutely lovely Muppet songs, and it might be nice if some of them had more exposure.

And while I don’t get tired of “Rainbow Connection” itself, there are some versions of it that I like much better than others. For example, while I have listened to Matt Vogel sing it a few times, I am convinced that I could live out the rest of my life quite happily without hearing it him sing it again because I know now that he will never be Kermit to me. That sounds like a critique of his performance, and to some extent it is, but to a greater extent, it is a deliberate decision on my part. But that’s a topic for another time.

But I don’t get tired of the song itself. Ever. At least, I haven’t yet, and it’s been decades since I first heard it, so if it was going to happen, you’d think it would have occurred by now. Nevertheless, there are songs, including Muppet songs, that I DO get tired of hearing. In my opinion, the following Muppet songs are much more deserving of the fandom’s contempt due to overexposure than “Rainbow Connection.”

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Muppets Now and Earth to Ned

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.

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Muppet Show Viewing Guide: Season 4

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.

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Muppet Show Content Warnings

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. 

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My 5 Favorite Dinosaurs Episodes

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 Episodesand 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.

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Fraggle’s Original Sin

“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.

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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.

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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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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Cave-In Episode 9: The Mouse Is Out of the Bag

Now I can tell you what Steve told me back in November about these mid-episode pieces without spoiling anything. He told me that Weldon was going to do a “Mickey Mouse Club” parody recruiting members for the Troll Mob, and then Bret Iwan was going to come in and talk to him.

I told you last week that I didn’t know exactly what to expect, and that’s true, because, as I recall, Steve didn’t go into much more detail than that. (I sort of had the mistaken idea that Bret was going to talk to Weldon as Mickey; not sure how that happened.) So I didn’t know what to expect, and I was not prepared.

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We All Win With Cave-In

Weldon’s guest on Friday’s Cave-In is Bret Iwan. For those of you who do not recognize the name (and who, like me, didn’t see the subtle emblem in the background until JUST NOW), Bret Iwan is the current voice of Mickey Mouse. 

So this oughtta be good

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