Sesame Street Memories

Today is the 50th anniversary of Sesame Street! HBO, where it airs primarily now (and has for several years), put together a video in which an interviewer asks the Sesame Street Muppets about their favorite memories. It’s quite cute and clever: 

Couple of things I noticed about it: 

  • Elmo does not appear in this video at all. And granted, I’m a grumpy Gen X-er who doesn’t have much use for Elmo in the first place, but I find that I didn’t miss him in the slightest or even notice his absence at first. 
  • There are only three characters in this video still performed by their original puppeteers: Abby, Rudy, and Rosita. That’s just an observation, not a value judgment of any kind. 
  • Whatever my mixed feelings may be about Peter Linz playing Ernie, I have to say that whoever’s writing Bert and Ernie’s banter nowadays is spot-on. Absolutely brilliant and perfect.
  • High definition hasn’t done Big Bird any favors in one important respect. The monofilament that connects his arms used to be all but invisible, but now it’s plain as day. It’s a shame, because it makes Big Bird seem slightly less magical as a result. 
  • However, I love that they revisited the idea of Big Bird being an artist. 
  • At first it seemed too easy to have Abby’s favorite Sesame Street memory be the day she moved there, but the payoff was worth it. 
  • Oscar’s interactions with Slimey have always been one of my favorite things about Sesame Street.
  • I don’t watch Sesame Street regularly, so I haven’t seen much with Rudy, but from what I have seen of him, I like him very much.
  • I love that some of the Muppets are wearing microphones during their interviews. That’s one of my favorite Muppet gags ever.

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Meeting Steve Whitmire, Part 2: “Nice” Is Not the Word I’m Looking For

This is Part 2 of a series of at least three. Click here for Part 1.

Steve’s booth was next to Gigi Edgley’s, who was also making an appearance at OCon. I had seen that that was the plan and wondered if that was going to be awkward, given her close association with Brian Henson. But I didn’t want to ask Steve if it was awkward, because I thought that that somehow might make it more awkward. However, Steve brought up the subject of her appearance, asking me if I was familiar with her work. I told him that I’d never seen Farscape but that I had watched Creature Shop Challenge. He said that he hadn’t met her before this convention and wasn’t familiar with her work, but that he’d gotten acquainted with her over the course of the convention.

Clearly there’s no bad blood there.

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Muppet Heresy: The Many Facets of Kermit

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If there’s one thing that Muppet fans agree on, it’s that there are variations to Kermit’s behavior/personality. Many see the differences as a negative and attribute them to the change(s) in performer. Both Steve Whitmire and the writers are frequent targets of this criticism, with fans on forums claiming that the writers and Steve alike have been too “precious” about Kermit, resulting in Kermit’s having become too soft, too bland, or too nice. I understand what they mean, and I understand that “precious” is meant to be a pejorative in this case, but personally, I think that being “too precious” with Kermit and the other Muppets is vastly preferable than treating them like old socks that can be tossed around willy-nilly, as Disney is doing now.*

However, I get the impression (and this is pure conjecture on my part) that Steve had been hearing criticisms in this vein for years and years. No more than one day before Cheryl Henson infamously weaponized the criticisms against him in a Facebook post (which, in her defense, was apparently intended to be private), he made the following statement in a blog entry“[T]here is actually no such thing as Jim’s Kermit and Steve’s Kermit – There is only Kermit.”

In my opinion, the whole issue is a lot more complex than anyone, perhaps even Steve, is willing and/or able to fully acknowledge.

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Side Effects May Include…

So Kermit has been working the talk show circuit promoting his bizarre, random part in the upcoming Wizard of Oz pantomime in Los Angeles happening this month. (Which, by the way, does sound like a lot of fun. I would go see it if I had any way of getting to Los Angeles). One stop he made was on the Late Late Show with James Corden, which I didn’t watch because I don’t stay up that late late anymore:

I liked the whole “Man or Muppet” bit, I very much enjoyed Matt’s money note, and I’m just thankful Kermit’s little microphone didn’t smack anybody in the eye (as far as we know) when it went flying at the end.

I could do more in-depth analysis about it, but honestly, at this point I’m basically just saying…it is what it is. I can accept this iteration as Kermit, but he’s not “my” Kermit. I can enjoy what he’s doing, but I can’t emotionally invest in him. 

And that could very well change. I have keep reminding myself that it took me six years to fully embrace Steve’s Kermit, and Matt has only been doing it for just over a year.

I’m just grateful that they didn’t sing “Rainbow Connection.” Kermit did sing “Rainbow Connection” on The Talk with his panto co-star Marissa Jaret Winokur. There was no warning, so I didn’t have time to prepare mentally, but I curbed my kneejerk reaction to leap from the couch and turn off the TV, so that’s something, I guess. And it was fine. It was a perfectly lovely performance, and it brought back fond memories of seeing Winokur perform in Hairspray when I was in college. So I’m pretty okay with the whole situation. It’s not bad, it’s not good…but it is what it is.

But now to the real reason I wanted to bring up this appearance on the Late Late Show. I wanted to make a comment about one of the interview segments, and it actually has nothing to do with Kermit at all. It has to do with the closed captions:

At the beginning of this segment Minka Kelly (whoever she is) is talking about her background working as a scrub nurse. Turn on the closed captioning during that part; it’s hilarious. “Craniotomy” becomes “crane yot me” and “hysterectomy” becomes (and this is epic) “‘histoires d’hiver’ recht me,” or…removal of French winter stories, I guess? It reminds me of the time I spent editing speech recognition documents as a medical transcriptionist.

And now you all know what that’s like. You’re welcome. 😉

Torchbearers Redux

I have some more thoughts that I edited out of my post from yesterday on the grounds that it was still supposed to be a post for Matt’s birthday, and I felt some of what I wanted to say wasn’t necessarily very sensitive. Maybe it would have been okay, but I wanted to err on the side of caution.

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Sesame Saturday: The Torchbearers

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that there was a little boy born in Georgia on Jim Henson’s birthday in 1959, who loved Muppets so much that he was nicknamed “Kermit” in high school.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that there was another little boy born in Kansas on this date in 1970 with a last name that means “bird” in German, who received prophetic Sesame Street toys as Christmas gifts. 

And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the great and good Caroll Spinney took each of them under his figurative wing and served as a mentor to them both.

Matt Vogel and Steve Whitmire were each born to be torchbearers, to keep the flame alive and to light the way for others. 

I debated with myself about the appropriateness of talking about Steve on Matt’s birthday, but “Journey to Ernie,” the most prominent example of Matt playing Big Bird that I know of, also prominently features Steve, and that didn’t feel like a coincidence either, so I decided I had to honor it.

These “Journey to Ernie” segments, which teach the very important skill of deductive reasoning, are fairly clever and utterly delightful due to the talents of Matt, Steve, Joey Mazzarino and David Rudman as the Two-Headed Monster, unidentified voice actors and animators, and whoever was on right-handed Duckie duty.

Luceat lux vestra

Matt Vogel: Gnarly to the Max

Happy birthday to Matt Vogel! Yes, I know that his birthday is actually tomorrow. Today I want to celebrate him and some of his Muppet troupe characters, and tomorrow I want to say something in regard to his work on Sesame Street

When people talk about Matt Vogel, they usually talk about all the characters that were originated by other people that he has nobly endeavored to keep alive. That’s all well and good, but today I’d prefer to concentrate primarily on his original characters (with one exception, but I’ll explain when I get to it).

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Muppet Heresy: In Defense of Muppets’ Wizard of Oz

 

A couple of weeks ago, it was announced that Kermit the Frog will be performing the title role in a live stage production of The Wizard of Oz which, as I’m sure we can all agree, seems really weird and random. Why that production? Why that role? Why just Kermit and not the whole Muppet troupe? It sounds to me like somebody in a decision-making role with the Muppets has a friend who called in a favor. But I digress.

Predictably, some of the reactions to the news involved some variation on the extremely witty comment, “I hope this production is better than Muppets’ Wizard of Oz, because that really sucked!”

I’ve never understood the hatred that people level against Muppets’ Wizard of Oz. Admittedly, it’s not the best thing that the Muppets have ever done, but it’s not the worst thing either, and there’s a lot of fun to be had with it, especially if–like me–you’re primarily familiar with the story from the original novel rather than the 1939 film adaptation.

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Twitter Interlude

I do not now, nor will I ever, understand this way of relating to one another. That being said, I love Matt for his self-deprecation. 

(Not that I didn’t love him before, but I love him even more now.)

“Don’t You Know I’m Just Human?”

If you recall, I had mixed feelings about the possibility of entering this contest, but then it was revealed that the winner gets to pick the songs. That, the possibility of meeting Matt, and the fact that the money goes to support a good cause rather than lining Disney execs’ pockets made the prospect irresistible to me. 

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Walter and Robin

Based on his appearances in the “Muppet Thought of the Week” videos on YouTube, Walter has now become one of the funniest Muppets. Does that qualify as irony?

Prior to last summer, Walter was sometimes paired with Robin the Frog (as performed by Matt Vogel) in “Thoughts of the Week” and other short videos, a pairing that works pretty well, given that they’re both characters who are supposed to be a little younger. Check ’em out:

However, since Matt started performing Kermit, performing Robin as well would have been difficult, particularly during those live shows that everyone seemed to enjoy so much. Peter Linz now describes himself (on his Twitter profile and elsewhere) as the performer for Robin, so I guess that recast is now official.

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Karaoke with Kermit

This is a contest to benefit the WE Schools charity, which is a worthy cause. Apparently, Disney is not going to see a cent of the money, so I can support this and spread the word with a clear conscience. However, I have mixed feelings about the prize and the promotions.

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The World Turned Upside Down

As I mentioned previously, I still have feelings I need to work through in regard to the Schism, starting with how I first found out about it. It was through this disturbing introductory bit on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert:

It wasn’t just that the bit was tacky and unfunny; it was that they didn’t provide any explanation afterward. I sat through the entire subsequent monologue on the edge of my seat, screaming at the TV, “What’s going on with Steve Whitmire and Kermit?!? You can’t just turn my world 90 degrees on its axis without further comment or followup!”

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Sesame Saturday: Sesame Celebrates the Fourth…Ay, yi, yi

For whatever reason, Sesame Workshop chose to mark the occasion of the Fourth of July this year with a parody of NSYNC’s “Bye, Bye, Bye”:

Okay, so let’s just get this out of the way right off the bat: This video is not good. The reference is dated, it’s not close enough to the original to be readily recognizable, Ernie sounds like Walter in spots, and what the heck is up with the gratuitous autotune?

With that said, I’m glad that they did something that steered clear of frank patriotism because, as I have observed before, it is difficult to take pride in a country where children are being put in cages, and given Sesame’s mission and ethos, it would be disingenuous of them to do so. 

I also enjoy Oscar’s contributions to the video because he’s basically saying out loud what I’m just thinking. And bless Matt Vogel’s heart, he’s in fine voice as the Count and really giving it his all. His level of commitment is admirable regardless of the overall end result.

Yeah…