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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Voting Is REALLY Important!

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.

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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.

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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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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Your Favorite Jim Henson Moments?

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I had so much fun doing 60 for 60 last year for Steve’s birthday that I’ve been toying with the idea of doing something similar in honor of Jim Henson—who was, after all, the founder of the feast. The year 2020 not only marks the 30th anniversary of Jim Henson’s death (as unbelievable as that seems), but it also would have been his 84th birthday. Now, 84 is not a milestone the way we usually think of it, but it is divisible by 12. So in theory, I could do what I did for 60 in 60, only with seven pieces a month instead of five. 

Nevertheless, it’s a daunting prospect. Jim was so prolific that even with an extra two pieces a month, it would be difficult to cover everything. I could make an entire year-long tribute out of Sesame Street clips alone. Also, so much of his career happened before I was born, and there’s a lot of material that I have never even seen. 

I haven’t decided yet if this is an idea I will follow through on, but it got me wondering: What are your favorite Jim Henson moments, friends? What are the songs and skits that make you laugh or cry? What would you cite to represent the best of him and his work? Why do you gravitate toward the productions that you do? What about a specific work resonates with you?

Share your ideas in the comments, and please feel free to include video clips as well!

The Final Pieces to the Puzzle: Steve Whitmire’s OCon Q&A

I originally drafted this back in August but held off posting it in hopes that the OCon organizers would post video of the Q&A. They have yet to do so, but I revisited this entry and discovered that it is as complete as it can be under the circumstances, so I’m posting it now. 

When I first met Steve on that Sunday morning in Omaha Council Bluffs, one of the first things we talked about was the Q&A that he was scheduled to do at noon that day. I told him that I intended to take notes at the Q&A so I could write about it on my blog later. I also pointed out that I’d never really done anything like that before, so I wasn’t sure how it was going to go.

If I’d been more savvy and better organized, I would have tried to record it rather than taking notes. That way, even if I wasn’t able to post the video online, I would still have it as a reference and memory aid to help me write it.

Nevertheless, my notes of the Q&A probably would have been sufficient if I hadn’t spent the day at Steve’s booth and then devoted most of my mental energy towards remembering everything else that happened there. I should have reviewed my notes a few times in the immediate aftermath to encode those memories properly. Alas, I did not.

All of which is just to say that even with the benefit of notes, my memory of the Q&A is woefully incomplete. There are multiple phrases included in them that I have no idea what they mean. So unfortunately, (and ironically) my account of the Q&A is going to be less detailed than those of the rest of my day. I apologize. I’ll know better next time.

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Remembering Caroll Spinney

Today would have been Caroll Spinney’s 86th birthday. I knew that I didn’t want to let the occasion pass without comment, but at the same time, I didn’t know what I could say that hadn’t already been said. Then I ran across a tribute that I hadn’t seen yet from Good Morning America

Here’s what makes it most noteworthy for me: On the occasion of Mr. Spinney’s retirement, I wrote about how when I was little, I couldn’t figure out Oscar’s raison d’etre. In this video, there is footage of Mr. Spinney himself expressing similar confusion, and it’s nice to know that I wasn’t the only one. 

I know that I need hardly ask, but I hope you will all join me in holding the Spinney family in your hearts during this time that should have been joyous but is instead steeped in tragedy.

Muppet Christmas Double Feature

Merry Christmas, all! By the time I post this, it will technically be Christmas Day, but in my mind, at least, it is still Christmas Eve. This evening I watched Christmas Eve on Sesame Street and “The Bells of Fraggle Rock” back to back. I decided to do that merely because I hadn’t watched either of them yet this season, but in the process I found that they are more closely related thematically than I ever realized, and probably more so than anyone involved intended. 

I have some deep thoughts about that, and I’d like to share them, but it’s really late right now (or early, depending on your point of view), and I am tired. So I’d just like to observe that if Cantus had been on Sesame Street while Big Bird was having his crisis of faith, he probably could have explained to Big Bird how Santa gets down the chimneys. 

However, knowing Cantus, he probably would have done so in an oblique, metaphorical way that would probably just have confused and frustrated Big Bird, so he probably would have ended up on the roof anyway. 

Nevertheless, that’s a scene that I wish existed, because I would love to see it.