Muppet Fans Who Grew Up

Friday, November 27, 2009

 

5 Hours of 40 Years


by Ryan Roe


I wish all my friends were more like Sesame Street, because Sesame Street has been celebrating its own birthday by giving us a ton of great presents. One of these, which I just finished consuming, is the two-disc DVD set 40 Years of Sunny Days.

Every season of the show is represented with at least one segment on this set, which pretty much guarantees you'll see some stuff you've known all your life, some stuff you've seen a time or two before, and at least one thing you've never seen.

For example, I had never seen the very first appearance of Telly Monster, in his initial incarnation as "the television monster." That's here, and it's almost worth the price of the DVD just to see it. That voice! Those swirling eyes! Boy, Telly's come a long way.

Then there's an appearance from the Fonz, and Bob and Linda performing "Who Are the People in Your Neighborhood" with an elevator operator, and some clips from the Hawaii episodes. (My goodness, but Mr. Hooper was hairy!) Oh, and Batman shows up at some point. It's a pretty comprehensive selection that goes way beyond the obvious.

The disc covering the first 20 seasons is a bit longer than the one covering seasons 21-40, and I'm guessing nobody's going to have a problem with that, as it's the old stuff that most people buying a Sesame retrospective DVD are looking for. So you got your Teeny Little Super Guy and your "Put Down the Duckie," and it all looks really fantastic, but there's plenty of great stuff from recent years, too. Mr. Noodle... Destiny's Child's cover of "I Got a New Way to Walk" with Zoe, Elmo, and Grover... season 40's groovealicious "Dance" iPod commercial parody... and "Can't Say the Alphabet Enough" by Gabi, Maria, and Gina, which I happen to love.

The extras are delightful too. There's a pretty healthy dose of "Behind the Street" footage that shows the cast and crew working on the show, and most of these focus on scenes that are included on the discs. As some folks on the Tough Pigs forum have noted, it seems like few people outside our little world of Muppet geeks would really be interested in a lot of this stuff, but that just proves that the Sesame people know we're out there and they want us to be entertained. (Hi, Sesame people! Thanks for the cool DVDs!)

My one and only fan-geek complaint is that I wish some of the clips were longer. I'm mostly talking about the street scenes... We get a few minutes of Snuffy being revealed to the grown-ups, and Gabriella's birth, and the hurricane, and so on, but it sure would have been nice to see a little bit more. It seems like we get an impression of what the episodes are about, and then it moves on to the next clip just as things are getting good.

My favorite part of the Snuffy story is when Phil Donahue comes in and hugs everyone, but that's not included. My favorite part of the baby Gabriella story is when Oscar sadistically withholds the news of the new baby from everyone, but that's not included either.

But that doesn't prevent this from being a dynamite DVD set. If you don't already have it, I suggest adding it to your Christmas wish list. If you do already have it, I suggest buying it for all your friends and family for Christmas. If they ever watched Sesame Street, chances are they'll dig it, and they'll thank you for getting "Ladybug Picnic" stuck in their heads.



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ToughPigsRyan@yahoo.com

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Thursday, November 26, 2009

 

Happy Thanksgiving from ToughPigs!


by Joe Hennes

What are you most thankful for this year?? Are you thankful for all the great stuff we've gotten through Sesame Street's 40th anniversary celebration? Or the Muppets' amazing new Bohemian Rhapsody video? Or perhaps Sarah Palin's new book? Whatever it is, we at ToughPigs wish you a happy Turkey Day.

If you're reading this early in the morning, don't forget that the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade (which airs on NBC from 9am until noon in all time zones) will feature the entire Sesame Street gang, Kermit and Abby Cadabby floats, and the less-floaty Kermit the Frog singing "I Believe" with Tiffany Thornton. I was lucky enough to see the balloon inflation on Thanksgiving Eve, so here's a sneak peek at what you'll be seeing on Thanksgiving morning.


And even though they don't have Thanksgiving in Australia, ToughPigs' own Peter Savieri drew this fantastic image to share with everyone.
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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

 

Review: Muppet Peter Pan #3


by Ryan Roe


Boom! Kids' Muppet Peter Pan #3 by Grace Randolph and Amy Mebberson flies into comic book stores tomorrow, Wednesday, November 25th, and in a development that should surprise no one, it is a good comic book.

This one picks up right where we left off last issue, with all the characters spread out over Neverswamp. Peter Pan/Kermit introduces John/Scooter and Michael/Bean to the Lost Boys, Captain Gonzo is hunting for Peter, and Wendy/Janice is trying to figure out where the heck she is.


I won't tell you who the Lost Boys are, though you can probably guess by now. I've been wondering how writer Grace Randolph would choose to depict the Indians from the Peter Pan story in this adaptation, and her solution is delightful. The Electric Mayhem shows up as "the Hippen Grovee tribe," who welcome Janice into their fold. If you're a Mayhem fan, you should like this issue... They get the first 10 pages of the story! [Note: A reliable source at Boom! Kids has informed me that artist Amy Mebberson was largely responsible for conceptualizing the Hippen Groovee characters, among her many other creative contributions to the book]


There's some really interesting stuff with the Peter Pan & Wendy dynamic in this issue, with Wendy coming to realize that maybe a boy who never grows up might not be the most responsible person ever.


It's a bit startling to see Kermit and Janice getting mad at each other, but it's surprisingly compelling, and adds another dimension to the storytelling on top of just being a silly spoof. And as you can see, Mebberson's art continues to convey the characters' emotions nicely without ever doing anything so cartoony that they don't look like the puppets. And just look at that beautiful Piggy on cover B up there... zowie.

And then the whole thing ends with a cliffhanger even more urgent than last month's, involving the lovely Piggytink and a really mean pirate rat. To be continued!



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YouTubian Rhapsody


by Joe Hennes

The next Muppet internet sensation just hit the web! Check out all your favorite Muppets (yeah, all of them) in their rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody!


I know what you're thinking, that song sounds familiar. That's because Johnny and Sal sang it in 2005 at the Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon. I mean, that obscure video was way more popular than Wayne's World, right? Here it is again for posterity.


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Sunday, November 22, 2009

 

The Muppets Take Brooklyn


by Joe Hennes

On Saturday, November 21, The Brooklyn Public Library hosted a day of Sesame Street events. (Did you miss it? It's not like we didn't warn you!) Thankfully for us (and our lawyers), everything that Sesame Workshop advertised came true. There was music and art and puppets and panels, and we were there firsthand to see it and give you the full report. You can thank us later.
The day began just like any other, with a concert by Bob McGrath (what, he doesn't come to your house to sing you awake every morning??). While wearing one of Bill Cosby's sweaters, Bob sang a few songs, which asked if we were happy (and if we were aware of the fact then we should clap our hands), about letters of the alphabet, funky dinosaurs, and he even sang a few Christmas tunes. (Before Thanksgiving? Too soon, Bob!) Sadly, Bob did not break out into "Sir Duke" like we'd hoped. Throughout the show, Bob was interacting with the kids in the front row, which was too adorable for words. Especially when a mother sat her baby on the stage next to Bob for a photo op, and the baby broke into tears of sheer horror. Who knew that Bob had it in him to actually scare someone?

After the show, we had a few hours to check out the exhibit in the library. The front cases held photo puppets, original scripts and sheet music, claymation Bert and Ernie, the Teeny Little Super Guy, an invitation to Maria and Luis' wedding, an Emmy, and of course, lots and lots of photos. It's always impressive to see this much Muppet stuff in one room, and moreso to see it all be given the museum treatment it deserves. Behind these cases was a set of framed art, with original art from Sesame Street storybooks (including one from our favorite, "The Together Book"). It's easy to forget that Sesame Street has published so many books. I'll bet they could fill the entire library with illustrations by guys like Joe Mathieu, Michael J. Smollin, and Jack Davis.






One thing on my checklist that we weren't getting done was to get one of the new Elmo library cards. The advertisements said that they were for "new accounts", but I figured it couldn't hurt to try. When I asked, the librarian told me that they were "for kids." As if that's ever stopped me! But when I pressed further, she told me that I could request one, but only if I wanted to deprive some other child of getting his or her own Elmo library card. Needless to say, Elmo does not grace the cover of my card. Curse you, librarian guilt!
The main attraction for the day was the panel discussion, moderated by Louise Gikow, and featuring Chris Cerf, Executive Producer Carol-Lynn Parente, puppet builder Rollie Krewson, Bob McGrath, and Fran Brill. (Sesame Workshop CEO Gary Knell delivered the introduction, and he revealed that Iftah Ya Simsim, the Kuwaiti Sesame Street, is back in production.) After the customary how-did-you-get-started questions (Bob was big in Japan! Fran cold-called Jim Henson for an audition!), Louise Gikow did a great job at keeping the conversation moving and interesting to both the casual fans and the seasoned vets.

One of the most interesting bits to me was the inclusion of Rollie Krewson, who doesn't normally get to sit on panels like this. Krewson talked about getting her start as Henson's first intern (the first puppet she ever built: a baby Koozebanian, or "Koozie-pup", with the help of Dave Goelz). Another interesting tidbit she gave is that she prefers to sculpt characters before building, rather than sketch them out like other puppet builders. I for one would love to see some of the early sculpts for familiar characters. Yet another tidbit: Krewson's daughter came up with the idea to put sparkles in Zoe's hair (or is that fur?).

Chris Cerf, who lost his voice the day before, spoke briefly about working at Random House ("It helps when your father owns the company"), being in the army with Jeff Moss, and attending Harvard with Joe Raposo. He said that he got his start writing songs on Sesame Street because he "knew rock and roll", which is how his first song, "Count It Higher", came into fruition.

Bob McGrath talked about having trouble in his first year of Sesame Street because he couldn't figure out who his character was supposed to be. Jon Stone gave him the direction to "be himself", because kids can tell in an instant when an adult is faking it. Fran Brill spoke about the creation of Prairie Dawn, and how she started as "sweet, innocent and docile," but soon became a "neurotic perfectionist." According to Brill, the difference between Prairie Dawn and Zoe is that "Prairie would never go near a puddle, while Zoe would jump right in."

A few short tidbits from the panel: Fran Brill is 5'4", and sometimes has to wear 7" platform shoes, but she has never fallen. While performing a live-hand puppet, Frank Oz would sometimes rest his left hand over the right to keep the second puppeteer from over-gesticulating. Chris Cerf once wrote a sketch after receiving a letter from the Dairy Goat Association, in which a dairy goat apologized for a previous cartoon featuring a goat eating a sneaker (of course, it ended with a non-dairy goat asking, "are you going to eat those sneakers?"). The puppeteers and writers love Zoe's pet rock, Rocco, but they felt that he made Zoe "a little too bossy" (thankfully for all you Rocco fans, he'll be back in season 41). The Mr. Snuffleupagus costume weighs 115 lbs. While Paul Simon was on set in between takes, he walked past Oscars can, and Oscar popped out and said "Boy, you are short!". Paul Simon was not amused (Caroll Spinney said, "I don't know why I did that! I love Paul Simon!").

The highlight of the panel was an impromptu concert with Chris Cerf and Bob McGrath. Unfortunately, Cerf's voice was almost completely lost at this point in the night, so it's better in theory than in practice. But that doesn't stop these guys from being living legends, so enjoy this video of Chris and Bob singing a few famous Sesame tunes!

A million thanks go out to the great folks at Sesame Workshop and the Brooklyn Public Library for organizing this event. It was a lot of fun, we learned a lot, and we were thrilled to see so many people attend and show some love for Sesame Street.

If you'd like to see the exhibit, it will be on display at the Brooklyn Public Library at Grand Army Plaza until February 21, 2010.
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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

 

Halloween Parade 2009: Super Grover Bonus!


by Joe Hennes

Did you catch the annual ToughPigs Halloween Parade earlier this week? You'd better check it out! It's a pretty big deal.

ToughPigs' own Scott Hanson, who is also an administrator on the Muppet Wiki, has been collecting pictures of people dressed as Super Grover (hey, we all need hobbies!), and he was generous enough to share the pictures with us. And damn but is it a great collection!

So now, presenting the further adventures of everybody's favorite superhero, the man who is faster than lightning, stronger than steel, smarter than a speeding bullet... it's (people dressed as) Super Grover!






























Special thanks to Scott Hanson for providing these amazing pictures!

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Sunday, November 15, 2009

 

Halloween Parade 2009!


by Joe Hennes

Halloween has once again come and gone. Not only did we eat our weight in sweets, but we encouraged strangers' children to do the same. And while we work off those extra calories in preparation for indulging on Thanksgiving turkey (which we'll burn off before gaining Christmas dinner calories, which we'll burn off before Groundhog's Day brunch... it's an endless cycle), let's take a peek-a-roo at all of those nutty people who decided it was a good idea to dress as a puppet.

For past ToughPigs Halloween Parades, give these a click: 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2008.

And as always, give those naughty images a spanking a click to embiggen. Now let's get on with this craziness we attempt to pass off as entertainment!

I have to wonder how most ladyfriends react when their boyfriends suggest that they dress as Kermit and Miss Piggy. There's got to be at least a few who are insulted at the insinuation that she look like a snout-less pig. Still, it almost always ends up being a sickeningly cute couples costume. Also, I'm enjoying the number of people who modify a green hoodie with a collar and eyes for a simple Kermit costume. I would totally buy a collared Kermit hoodie for everyday use (are you listening, Disney???).

The Gonzo costume in the middle is my favorite of this collage because of the purple tux. That's all it takes to win my affection. He could be orange and I'd still award him bonus points for the tux. Though the Baby Gonzo in the upper right corner is a good-lookin' costume, even though he's way bigger than a baby. Minus points for the guy dressed as Jim Henson (top row, orange shirt) for thinking it's okay for Jim to be holding an Elmo puppet. It's not okay, and I wish you'd stop. Don't make me open a can of Muppet Wiki on you.

Now that's how you make a Jim costume. Alls you need is a beard, a brown jacket, and, y'know, a puppet that Jim actually performed.

This is what it would look like if your parents dressed up as Kermit and Miss Piggy. "Look kids! We're ruining your beloved childhood icons!"

People sure do like dressing up as Beaker for Halloween. I always love seeing the different ways folks build the giant cylinder head (of course, with the exception of the guy in the upper right corner). The Bunsens aren't bad either, though I don't think I've ever seen a Bunsen costume that wasn't paired with a Beaker. There's no love for (solo) Doc Honeydew.

The picture on the left is of ToughPigs' own Alaina, who went all-out on her Dr. Teeth costume, molding the necklace out of sculpey and threading the vest herself. If you could see the whole costume, you'd see that even the boots are accurate (thanks, Palisades action figure!). As for the people dressed as Animal, I have a theory that they only chose that costume so they'd have an excuse to shout obscenities after getting drunk.

The picture on the left is how the Electric Mayhem would look if they were real people. The picture on the right is how the Electric Mayhem would look if they were attending your wedding.

Apron? Check. Bow tie? Check. Giant eyebrows? Check. The Swedish Chef costume gets a lot of play every year, probably because he kinda looks like a real dude, and you can make it out of stuff you've got lying around the house. I'm giving double points go to the guy in the middle of the upper row, who actually built a puppety head that looks just like the Chef. But then I'm taking away all of his points because he gave himself puppety hands too. You came so close to accuracy, bro!

SCENE 1: COSTUME STORE, INTERIOR, DAY. "Hey look, that wig looks like David Bowie's hair in Labyrinth! If I just buy a Jack Sparrow shirt and some gray tights, I can dress as Jareth for Halloween! I'm probably gonna have to stuff the tights though..."

Sad Ludo has no friends. What'd you do to piss off the rocks, Ludo??

That sure is a lot of Sesame Street costumes. But really, I can't stop staring at that Telly costume in the lower left corner. I'd dress as Telly every day if I owned that costume.

In the past, I've complained that the giant-head Bert and Ernie costumes were starting to creep me out. The picture in the upper right corner has convinced me that the bigheads aren't so bad. Also, I am totally digging on those crocheted Bert and Ernie hats in the lower left corner. Though they are looking a little surprised to be hats.

So wait. Which ones are the real Bert and Ernie?? Too many unibrows!!!

Guys, seriously, you're not helping to stop those rumors about you right now. On an unrelated note, it looks like Bert's been working out.

There are apparently only two important things to keep in mind when putting together a successful Count costume: the sash and the widow's peak.

As far as couples costumes go, this is way better than the "plug and outlet", "Raggedy Ann and Andy", and "brick and brick layer" costumes put together.

You might've noticed how I (unintentionally) put these pictures in decreasing order of fuzziness, yet increasing order of grouchiness.

The Yip-Yip Martians make their triumphant return to the Halloween Parade, once again as one of the most popular Muppet costumes of the year. I wonder if the word "redundant" is in their book. ("Book, book! Uh huh, uh huh.")

I was surprised at the lack of Fraggle costumes this year: only one Red and two Doozers that I could find. I'm especially amazed at the girl on the left for her excellent Doozer helmet. Next year, I'm hoping for at least one Trash Heap costume.

The runner-up for the My Favorite Muppet Costume Award goes to this unbelievable Grover costume. If Grover was human-sized, this is exactly what he'd look like. If I saw that in real life, I don't think I'd be able to resist the urge to give him a hug.

But my favorite costume of the year goes to this Miss Piggy costume. Not because it's a terribly remarkable Piggy, but because it's obviously Miss Piggy from The Muppets Take Manhattan. She's got the 80s dress, the white purse, and the frizzy hairdo. But most importantly, she's got the scowl. Maybe she just saw Kermit giving Jenny the "huggies".

And that's it for this year's batch of Muppet costumes! Special thanks to Joy Satterwhite, Stephanie Kaye, Lucy Posen, Jonathan Little, Robyn Learn, Jen and Tim Coles, Alaina Breeden, and everyone else involved for sending in their pictures of themselves or their loved ones dressed like characters from a kiddie show.

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Saturday, November 14, 2009

 

A Pox upon Sesame!


by Joe Hennes


Recently, Sesame Street has come under fire from conservative news sources about a two-year-old joke in which Oscar the Grouch's girlfriend Grundgetta claims to want to watch "POX News: Now there's a trashy news show!" As we all know, conservative ears have trouble differentiating the P and F sounds, so the O'Reilly Militia immediately started shouting at the top of their lungs about how Sesame Street's liberal agenda has crossed the line by slamming their beloved FOX News network.

Of course, if they had taken the time to hit the rewind button on their VCRs (it's a well-known fact that Republicans don't own Tivo), they would have seen that the premise of this episode is that Oscar is a newscaster for GNN, the Grouch News Network, which promotes "All grouchy, all disgusting, all yucky news, all the time." That sure sounds like FOX News' mission statement to me. GNN reports on Horatio the Elephant taking a bath in Maria's bathroom (obviously because of the Republican party's love for their elephant mascot) and Prince Charming and Sleeping Beauty's game of checkers (because they love lazy heads of state). Ultra-liberals Gordon and Bob both claim to watch GNN to get "both sides of the story," so they must not be the intended audience. No, the intended audience is Grundgetta.

In the now Internet Famous clip (which is way better than Regular Famous), Grundgetta claims that GNN isn't trashy enough for her, which is what gains POX News another point in the Female Grouches demographic. But how much trash could one Grouch need? GNN not only employs Oscar the Grouch, but also notable Grouches Dan Rather-not and Walter Cranky. Even Meredith Beware-a and Diane Spoiler are mentioned as grouchy guests on the network.

So what does constitute as "liberal news" on Sesame Street? Elmo sits behind the desk at MNN: The Monster News Network, Charles Blitzen anchors CDN: The Counter Downer Network (which I'm sure gets great ratings around the Christmas season), and Nora Nicks is a VJ over at NTV (they probably have NTV News, right?). There's also whatever network on which Kermit the Frog broadcasts his Sesame Street News Flashes. We can only assume that the residents of Sesame Street can't pick up the signals of DNN, DTV, KMUP, or WHHZ. Every one of these networks is bound to be the antithesis of POX News, so Grundgetta should be content with the level of trash on GNN.

But at the end of the day, GNN proves itself to be the yucky news network it set out to be by winning a Phlegmmy Award. And that's an honor that not even the real FOX News has achieved. So maybe the conservatives should do a little less finger-pointing at Sesame Street and work a little harder at bringing a fair and balanced amount of trash, rudeness, intolerance, and all-around grouchiness to their viewers.

Good night, and good yuck.
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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

 

Michelle Obama, Cameron Diaz, and the Letter H


by Ryan Roe


Maybe you heard: The season premiere of Sesame Street aired yesterday. (What season are they on now, anyway? I'm not sure.) It was episode 4187 -- that's the four thousand, one hundred and eight-seventh episode -- and when 7:00 AM rolled around, I was sitting too close to my TV impatiently waiting for the show to begin. It was exactly like it was when I was four years old, only I was slightly stubblier.

I've been doing jumping jacks of anticipation for season 40, but I'll confess that when I heard that the show was switching to a "block programming" format hosted by Murray Monster, I was a little nervous. Of course I trust the Sesame people to know what holds a child's interest better than I would, and I think Murray is great, but I was crossing my fingers and hoping it wouldn't feel like a completely different show. In fact, it feels a lot like Sesame Street, which is good, because it would have been very difficult for me to type this with my fingers still crossed. Here's what we saw in this show:

A new theme song sequence. I think it's actually the same arrangement of the theme as last year but with a nifty new animated chalk drawing motif.



It's interesting to note that the itty-bitty Zoe puppet is seen here... In early 2009 we heard that they were switching permanently to the smaller Zoe, but in recent interviews she's been back to her normal, non-freakishly-small self. I wonder if she'll grow and shrink throughout the new season, kinda like Oprah.


The street story. When Big Bird complains about the cold on Sesame Street, he's ambushed by Frank Flapman from Flychert Real Estate, who insists that what Big Bird needs is a new habitat. (Habitat! That's the Word on the Street! Take a shot!) Flapman is played by Lin-Manuel Miranda of Broadway's In the Heights, and as he takes Big Bird on a virtual tour of various habitats, he raps about them. Man, how great would it be if all real estate agents rapped their descriptions of their properties? I'd love to hear a rhyme for "Jacuzzi bathtub."

So Big Bird decides to
migrate ("migrate" being a sort of secondary Word of the Day, apparently) away from Sesame Street and go to live in the rain forest. He says goodbye to everyone, and everyone is completely baffled, but then it becomes clear that Big Bird doesn't quite realize how far away the rain forest is. Hooper's doesn't deliver there, and Snuffy won't be around, so Big Bird decides to stay, and he sings a nice-but-forgettable song about how Sesame Street is his habitat, and then everyone's happy again. "Welcome back, Bird," says Snuffy, which is a lovely thing to say even though that he didn't actually go anywhere.

This was a fine street story: I'm always happy to see all the humans, and it's great to have the season start off with a Big Bird-focused show. It was lacking in silliness, but we still have the rest of the season for that.


Cameron Diaz and some Muppet animals explain habitat. Have we ever seen that raccoon before? He looks less Muppety than his pals there, somehow.

The Letter of the Day. Today it's H, and Murray talks about H words before introducing a film about kids looking for H words. Is it me, or did they used to spend more time focusing on the Letter of the Day?

Abby's Flying Fairy School. The new show-within-a-show took up a pretty large chunk of the episode, as an animated Abby and her fairy friends chased down Niblet, the class pet gerbilcorn. It's definitely kids' stuff, but it's bright and colorful, and it had a few pretty good jokes. (Fairy kids: "We'll never find him!" Teacher: "Never? Do fairies say never?" Fairy kids: "NEVER!") "Gerbilcorn" is supposed to indicate the fact that Niblet is a gerbil with a horn, but it kind of sounds like a brand of pet food. The fairies end up jumping into a crayon drawing in their pursuit of Niblet, and I was halfway expecting them to take a wrong turn and end up in Elmo's World.

I'm sort of hoping Flying Fairy School doesn't show up every day, so as to make room for other material, but it's charming enough. But wow, it's weird to see Abby blinking.

Bert and Ernie's Great Adventures. I think this was recycled from last year, but I had never seen it: Bert and Ernie are detectives investigating a maltese duck. Pretty good, but I hope we see the puppet Ernie and Bert on the show soon, even if it's in an existing sketch.

Elmo's World. It's a plague of frogs! And Kermit makes a very brief cameo! That's pretty amazing right there. But hey, if this is a new episode, it looks like Elmo's World is still being shot in a standard 4:3 ratio, while the rest of the show is in widescreen. I hope Elmo asks about aspect ratios sometime this year so we can figure that one out.


And that's pretty much it. I was entertained by this episode, and while I hope they vary the format a bit from day to day, I have no major complaints. Oh, and I almost forgot... Michelle Obama showed up to teach kids how to bury things.



Yay! Golly gee whiz, I want to be the First Lady when I grow up, so a tomato will cheer for me.
So did you see the show today? What did you think? Drop by the Tough Pigs forum to let us know!

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Monday, November 9, 2009

 

Review: The Treasure of Peg-Leg Wilson #4


by Joe Hennes

The Muppet Show Comic Book: The Treasure of Peg-Leg Wilson #4 is due in stores this week, thus concluding the second chapter of Roger Langridge's Muppet epic. Thankfully for everyone involved, Langridge keeps the momentum that he's built up over the previous 7 issues to give us a story that ties up all of our loose ends while still keeping that Muppet Show voice that the kids seem to like.

In this issue, Rizzo and Kismet the Toad and the Seven Dwarfs are racing to see who can find Peg-Leg Wilson's treasure first, no matter how much of the Muppet Theater they have to obliterate. Meanwhile, Animal is still acting like he's one of the Boston elite, Miss Piggy is after Kismet the Toad's blood, and Kermit is left trying to keep the show running (while keeping a roof above their heads). It's a lot to cram into one issue, but Langridge managed it without a hitch. Unfortunately, some mainstays had to take a back seat, like Pigs in Space. Short skits of Vet's Hospital, Muppet Labs, and Gonzo's daredevil act are the only on-stage scenes, as well as one sketch featuring Robin and Sweetums discussing stamp collecting is featured, which is definitely the dud of the issue. But I'm alright with that, because I'm a sucker for some satisfying closure. And closure is what we get with all these strange plotlines that were set up way back in issue #1.

So how does this story compare to the first 4-issue arc of The Muppet Show Comic Book? Well, they're the same size. Is that what you meant? Or did you want to know about the stuff inside? Yeah, I can talk about that stuff. The done-in-ones from the first arc definitely had more in common with The Muppet Show, but the more recent miniseries was much more satisfying. Beyond the fact that it allowed Langridge to tell larger stories, and beyonder the fact that it gave us an additional reason to look forward to the next issue, the beyondest is that Langridge has had the time to hone his artistic style and voice to the point where it doesn't feel like he's copying the Muppets anymore. Instead, he's put himself in the same category as Jerry Juhl, being a real visionary behind The Muppet Show (comic).

The other fantastic thing about the latest issue is how it sets up the next story arc: On the Road. I am absolutely loving the anticipation of getting something Muppety every month (which is only second to the satisfaction of actually having something Muppety in your hands every month). Of course, before the Muppets hit the road, we'll have the Pigs in Space one-shot to look forward to. (See what I mean? Looking forward to stuff is the second-best feeling ever!)

The Muppet Show Comic Book: The Treasure of Peg-Leg Wilson #4 will be at your local comic book store on Wednesday, November 11.
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Saturday, November 7, 2009

 

Sesame Street's 40th Anniversary Roundup


by Joe Hennes

Sesame Street's 40th anniversary is fast approaching, and there has been a slew of birthday-related shenanigans going on all around us. Let's take a moment to fondly remember them before Sesame Street gets old enough to need bifocals.

The most noticeable celebration has been over at Google, where Sesame Street characters have been incorporated into the Google logo every day. As of press time, we've seen Big Bird, Cookie Monster, Bert and Ernie, and Oscar, as well as a handful of international characters on the international Google sites. We'll keep on seeing more Sesame characters every day until the official anniversary on Tuesday, but who will we see next? I'm holding out hope for Herbert Birdsfoot hovering over the "I'm Feeling Lucky" button.

Pretty much every news source in the world is talking about Sesame Street this week. From New York to Chicago, all over the USA, in merry old London, and even the bizarre planet known as CNN, you just can't get away from it. But frankly, why would you want to?

Sesame Street has finally caved in and joined the Twitter and Facebook games. And that's pretty impressive, considering the fact that most 40-year-olds still don't know how to turn on their computers.



Big Bird traded barbs with Jimmy Kimmel on his show last week in an interview that reminded us how great these live appearances can be. A few furry friends will be on that other Jimmy's show (Fallon) on Monday the 9th, and on the same day Oscar will show up on Bonnie Hunt's show, probably to mock her fake relationship with Brian Williams.

Elmo, Abby Cadabby, and Cookie Monster showed up on The Today Show this week, most likely airing at the same time as Sesame Street on many PBS stations. What a ratings killer!


No Sesame celebration would be complete without a little controversy. A two-year-old Sesame Street clip was recently discovered by the right-wingers in which Grundgetta declares her love for trashy news show, "POX News". Naturally, the Bill O'Reilly fan club got all up in arms because they hate all of that un-American tolerance and education and Michelle Obamas that Sesame promotes. Of course, Sesame Workshop and PBS aren't apologizing for the joke, but they are saying that they could have made the "P" a little clearer to avoid confusion that grouches actually watch FOX News. Spoiler: Only grouches watch FOX News.

And don't forget about the new Sesame Street anniversary book (and our interview with writer Louise Gikow, here and here), the Sesame Street: 40 Years of Sunny Days DVD, the paperback printing of Street Gang, and of course, the 40th season, which premieres on Tuesday, November 10 on your local PBS station.

Click here to count to 40 on the ToughPigs forum!
joe.toughpigs@gmail.com

Bonus: Revisit past birthdays with our recent "My Week with Sesame Anniversaries" anthology: 10th, 20th, 25th, 30th, 35th (Ah, ah, ah!!).

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Friday, November 6, 2009

 

My Week with Sesame Anniversaries: Day 5, Year 35


by Ryan Roe

This week I'm watching Sesame Street's past anniversary specials as we all get giddy with excitement about the show's 40th anniversary next week. If you haven't already, check out my thoughts on the 10th anniversary, the 20th anniversary, the 25th anniversary, and the 30th anniversary!

No, seriously. Can you believe Sesame Street has been around for 40 years? Why, it seems like just yesterday that we were saying, “No, seriously. Can you believe Sesame Street has been around for 35 years?”

That was in 2004, when the anniversary special The Street We Live On aired on PBS. This one is a different animal… It’s really just an episode of the show that happens to be all about the show itself. I’m not sure why they did it this way. Maybe none of the broadcast networks were interested in yet another Sesame birthday party, or maybe the producers just wanted to be meta. So we ended up with this, and that's fine, 'cause I never meta Sesame special I didn't like.

Now here’s Grover, and – oh, right. Here’s one thing that’s changed since the Elmopalooza. Frank Oz’s characters are now performed more often than not by Eric Jacobson (Grover and Bert) and David Rudman (Cookie Monster). It's a great decision... The increased presence of those three characters has really made Sesame feel more like itself since the dawn of the 2000s.

In 2004, the once and future Fix-It Shop was in its Mail-It Shop phase, and Maria and Luis have hired Grover to deliver an important package to Oscar. This seems like a really inefficient way to do business considering Oscar lives about twelve steps away… and anyway, isn’t Grover pretty bad at every job he attempts? No wonder the Mail-It Shop didn’t last.

On his epic journey to the other end of the block, Grover passes by pretty much every major character, Muppet and human, plus three chickens. I love when they do stuff like this -- I think it usually happens in the season premieres, when they do a big street scene with everyone as an introduction/re-introduction to all the folks who populate the street. Plus three chickens.

When he finally arrives at the can (Oscar’s can, not the bathroom), Grover gives Oscar the parcel, and hey, it’s from Elmo (whom Oscar refers to as “the little red menace”). It’s a drawing of Dorothy with spaghetti spilled on it. Mmm, that sounds tasteful. Ha. And with that, we transition to Elmo’s World, where the—

Whoa! Hit the brakes there, buddy! Are they really doing this? A show celebrating the past 35 years of Sesame history, and five minutes in they toss us into Elmo’s World, without any kind of warning?


Answer: Yep. Before we know what hit us, we're off the street and hanging with Elmo and Dorothy. But hey, today Elmo is thinking about Sesame Street (“You know… Sesame Street!”) so all the usual parts of the Elmo’s World formula are related to the show. The question for Mr. Noodle is “How does Cookie Monster eat a cookie?” (Answer: By crumbling it all over the place without ever really eating it.) When Elmo asks a baby, that baby is big, blue and furry: It’s Cookie Monster himself in a “clever disguise.”

The remains of the cookie remind Cookie of the letter C, and now we have a few letter C inserts, some older and some newer. And later, Elmo and the Count count monsters to determine the Number of the Day. (It’s 10, in case you were wondering.)

So all the familiar Sesame elements are here, as are all the Elmo’s World elements. I’m not convinced this was the absolute best way to go about it, but it very well may have been the most effective way to simultaneously get kids high on learning and shoot their parents up with nostalgia. Or, how about this: If you think of a normal episode as a peanut M&M, with the peanut of Elmo’s World inside the candy-covered milk chocolate of Sesame Street, then The Street We Live On is like a reverse M&M. The milk chocolate is all there, but it’s inside the peanut. Come to think of it, that’s some damn skilled candy-making on the part of the Sesame producers.

After Elmo does some other stuff, Grover shows up and takes him on a magical taxi ride (What would an anniversary special be without Grover driving?) to witness scenes of Sesame Street… before he was born! Elmo gets to see Mr. Hooper, and baby Miles, and Maria’s wedding, and… Hey, wait a minute! Isn’t that Elmo as the ring-bearer at that wedding?

After his trip through the space-time continuum, Elmo runs out to the street and demands that everyone gather on the stoop, and they immediately drop what they’re doing to do his bidding. They all sing a song that I’m guessing is called “The Street We Live On,” which is nice enough, although it’s a bit adult contemporary for my tastes. My aunt would probably like it. Everyone gets to sing a line (including Dorothy! And… a CGI tree?!), and when Miles gets his turn he gives a hilariously melismatic performance. Don't wish your neighborhood had regular sing-alongs where everyone magically knew the words?

And so we come to the end of The Street We Live On, an hour that honors the show’s legacy and embodies the fact that it’s still going strong as it reaches today’s youngsters. The end of the song is the end of the special, and everyone says bye-bye… but we’ll be back. After all, we live there too.

Other things about this special:

Status update on Oscar’s grouchiness this time in 2004: I am happy to report that Oscar yells “Get lost!” at various characters about three times, with no provocation whatsoever. I know, I know, it's far from the the most blatantly dickish thing he’s ever done, but it’s still pretty darn grouchy.

In the lead-in to “Journey to Ernie,” Bert finds himself in Elmo’s World, at which point he asks, “How do I get out of Elmo’s World?” thus echoing the sentiment of millions of parents watching at home.

Were the writers worried kids watching this show might get bored with vintage clips and such? There are four different moments here where the kids are instructed to get up and do a dance along with the characters. One of these is led by Snuffy, and is a popular Snuffleupagus dance called “The Snuffleupagus.” Isn’t that a weird name for a Snuffleupagus dance? You don’t see us doing a dance called “The Homo Sapien.”

There’s an extended version of the song “Dance Myself to Sleep” that features celebrities dancing. Julianne Moore is adorable, while Larry King doesn’t even bother to get up from his desk:


Then again, it’s possible that Larry King is physically unable to stand up, or perhaps he forgot to wear pants that day, again.


BONUS! What’s the Name of That Song?

Believe it or not, there was also a direct-to-DVD special billed as a 35th anniversary celebration. It’s really similar to A Musical Celebration ten years earlier, with Big Bird, Super Grover, and Elmo searching for a song that everyone can sing, interspersed with cool Sesame Street songs. It’s perhaps most notable for the fact that, after 31 years, the cast finally determines that “What’s the Name of That Song?” is the name of that song.

Naturally, this special ends with a big group musical number, and it's another groovy medley. (In which Bob comes in with his arm around Gina. Could she be his rebound gal after Linda left the show?). Yay, everyone can sing together, and yay, Sesame Street has a lot of good songs, and yay, we love it.

Whew! That was a lot of anniversaries. If this were a less interesting television program -- like say, Fishing with Roland Martin, or Senate Judiciary Committee in Session on C-SPAN, or Friends -- I would pretty sick of it by now, but this is Sesame Street, so I want more. Lucky for me, then, that new episodes of the show start on Tuesday, November 10 when the 40th season hits PBS. Tune in, and then come back here to see what we thought of it!


Click here to see yourself before you were born on the Tough Pigs forum!

ToughPigsRyan@yahoo.com

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Thursday, November 5, 2009

 

My Week with Sesame Anniversaries: Day 4, Year 30


by Ryan Roe

This week, I'm marking Sesame Street's 40th anniversary by watching specials from the show's previous anniversaries. On Monday I celebrated the 30th anniversary of the 10th anniversary special, on Tuesday I comemmorated the 20th anniversary of the 20th anniversary special, and yesterday I marked the 15th anniversary of the 25th anniversary special. Join me now as I check out Elmopalooza, a special commemorating Sesame Street's 30th year.

Here we are now in 1998*. Has anything changed since the 25th anniversary a few years ago? You bet your sweet bippy it has, and it’s all because of a little thing called Tickle Me Elmo, the toy that captured the hearts of America’s children while simultaneously driving their parents to violent rioting in the aisles at Toys ‘R’ Us. The little red monster is a huge star now, and that explains why this special, which aired on ABC, is called Elmopalooza and not Sesamepalooza or BigBirdapalooza, or Sesamestreet celebratesitsbirthdaywithaprimetimetelevisionspecialpalooza.

But don’t judge a TV special by its cover: As Tough Pigs founder Danny Horn
once pointed out here on the site, the show is really an ensemble piece, with the whole cast of Sesame Street Muppets putting on a show for us. Elmopalooza is a change of pace from previous anniversaries in that it is absolutely not a clip show. Clips are so 1994, so this is a variety show, coming to us live from Radio City Music Hall! And just to throw us off, nobody ever mentions the fact that it's the 30th anniversary.

Our host is Jon Stewart, during the post-Jon Stewart Show, pre-Daily Show era in which he was not yet the most trusted TV journalist in America. The director is Prairie Dawn. I’m a big Prairie Dawn fan – she’s a funny character who tends to get overlooked, so it’s nice to see her used so well here. She even gets to utter the show's one shocking obscenity: “We’re in deep doo-doo!” Yikes! What's next, Ernie saying "consarn it?" (I apologize if the previous sentence offended anyone.)


So why are they in deep doo-doo? Well, here’s what happens: It seems the door to the dressing room sticks when you close it… and Elmo, unaware of this fact, closes said door, trapping Jon Stewart and Prairie Dawn and the entire crew inside, just moments before the show is supposed to start. Jeez, Radio City Music Hall must be a pretty crappy little theater to only have one dressing room.

But now Elmo has ruined everything ("Just like he always does!" shout the old-school cynics), and that’s why he and all his friends have to run the show themselves. The show consists of a bunch of slickly produced music videos of classic Sesame Street songs performed by famous singers with Muppets. I don't know... If I bought an expensive ticket to a big show at Radio City, I'd probably be pretty disappointed if all they did was play some videos, but at least most of the videos are pretty cool.

It just occurred to me that none of the songs they chose are very educational, and I wonder if that was a deliberate for the primetime audience. “Mambo I, I, I” and “The Zig Zag Dance” (sung here by Gloria Estefan and the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, respectively) are sort of about letters, but not really. Really they’re just catchy songs.


Some of the song covers are better than others. Shawn Colvin and Ernie sing “I Don’t Want to Live on the Moon” while on a romantic road trip (I swear, Colvin comes this close to asking Ernie to marry her). It’s quite lovely, although I’m not sure their driver would agree. He looks pretty unamused... I’m guessing he’s a Bert fan, and he’s never forgiven Ernie for that time he ate Bert’s piece of chocolate cake.

The Fugees do a hippety-hoppety version of “Happy to Be Me” on the streets of New York City, with Big Bird and Snuffy. I really like seeing Snuffy outdoors on location, and I wish we could see more of that on the show, although I would settle for seeing him walking down the street outside my house tomorrow morning.
En Vogue shows up to do “I Want a Monster to Be My Friend,” and although the song loses a lot in the translation to an R&B arrangement, there’s some fun stuff with the Sesame Street monsters hanging out with the En Voguers. One of them is seen at a drive-in movie with the Two-Headed Monster, and I swear, this special is all about pop singers dating Muppets.

Meanwhile, the humans of Sesame Street – Susan, Gordon, Bob, Mr. Handford, and Gina – are on their way to the show, but they’re having some problems getting there because their driver is, of course, Grover. It was established 10 years earlier that Grover does not know how to get to Sesame Street by car, and now it seems he’s not so great at getting to 6th Avenue at 50th Street either. His wrong turns lead them to a snowy landscape where Grover picks up a few penguins, and Roswell, New Mexico, where one of the “Yip-Yip” Martians hitches a ride. How does Grover keep getting jobs? There's no way he's ever gotten a positive letter of recommendation.

The show goes on, even as various attempts to release Jon Stewart and Prairie Dawn from their well-furnished prison fail miserably. And guess who shows up again? It's Rosie O'Donnell, who, like Elmo, has become a lot more famous since appearing in Stars and Street Forever in 1994. (His fame rose because he was ticklish, hers rose because she threw Koosh balls at people.) They do an onstage performance of the song "Nearly Missed"... I believe it was originally sung by Susan, but Rosie and Elmo do a rap arrangement, and I can't say it's an improvement.

At the end of their song, Rosie does a big, theatrical, "ta-da!" gesture, knocking Elmo clear off the stage and into the wings, where he crashes into the stagehand monsters, resulting in all the scenery collapsing all over the stage. Elmo is despondent about having messed up the whole show, but I'd just like to point out that the destruction of this particular number was caused by Rosie O'Donnell. Not that she takes responsibility for it, no sir. She just lets Elmo -- an innocent three-year-old! -- feel sorry for himself. Didn't O'Donnell have the nickname "Queen of Nice" in those days? Well, in reality, she's a heartless beast.

And then a bunch of stuff happens, and everything's fine, and then the cast does a closing medley of their greatest hits onstage. With just a handful of Muppets and humans, it seems kind of small compared to the cast-of-thousands finales we've seen in previous shows, but who cares? Sesame Street has been around for 30 years, and as this show proves, everyone in the world loves it, from Jimmy Buffett to Chris Rock. Say it with me: Ten more years! Ten more years!

Other things about this special:

●So how's Oscar's grouchiness in 1998? Well, he doesn't get much time in the spotlight, so it's hard to tell. But for the second anniversary special in a row, he ultimately comes up with the solution that saves the day. Oscar the hero? It sure looks like he's getting nicer as he gets older.

●The video for "One Small Voice" tells a little story, with a kid at a talent show feeling too nervous to sing until Big Bird offers him some encouragement. The celebrity guest on this one is Kenny Loggins, but he doesn't appear at the talent show, no does he interact with anyone ever... He's apparently trapped in limbo, where he's surrounded by blackness and forced to sing inspirational children's songs for all eternity.


●And now a few more images... Check out Maria’s amazing pants in the “Mambo, I, I, I” video!


●Bob gets cozy with a penguin:


●The Count looks short when you can see his whole body:


So that's Elmopalooza. Tomorrow it'll be 2004, and Elmo will be itching to learn about Sesame Street for the 35th anniversary show The Street We Live On.


Click here for
The Street We Live On. And
click here to do the Zig Zag dance on the Tough Pigs forum!


ToughPigsRyan@yahoo.com

*That's right: Although this was marketed as a 30th anniversary special, it aired in 1998, the show's 29th anniversary, so either they were so excited about turning 30 they just couldn't wait another year, or they're not as good at counting as they've always led us to believe.

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Wednesday, November 4, 2009

 

My Week with Sesame Anniversaries: Day 3, Year 25


by Ryan Roe

This week, I’m preparing for the beginning of Sesame Street’s 40th season next week by watching old Sesame Street anniversary specials. Check out my thoughts on the 10th anniversary and the 20th anniversary.

So here we are in 1994, and it’s Sesame Street’s 25th anniversary, and wow. A lot has changed since the 20th anniversary five short years ago. In fact, there were more changes between the 20th and 25th years of the show than there were between the 10th and 20th. A few important people are gone – Jim Henson, Richard Hunt, Northern Calloway – and that makes a huge difference. But beyond that, the street itself has undergone a makeover. Everything’s a little brighter, and we now have the “Around the Corner” area, with a bunch of new sets and characters to go with it.

There’s Celina, and Ruthie, and Benny, and Zoe, and the Furry Arms Hotel, and the Finders Keepers store, and, and, and… I was well past the target audience by 1994, but I was already a Sesame geek, so I was pretty excited about Around the Corner’s debut. Now, though, I can see how it just wasn’t necessary. I mean, there were some funny street stories at the Furry Arms, but does a fancy hotel really belong on Sesame Street?

The guest star-filled special Stars and Street aired on ABC, and it has more of a narrative than the previous, more strictly retrospective anniversaries. The writers had to come up with a plot that emphasizes how valuable Sesame Street is, and they achieve that by threatening to take the street away. Joe Pesci plays real estate tycoon Ronald Grump, who wants to demolish Sesame Street to build his Grump Tower. He’s a spoof of the similarly-named real-life real estate mogul, of course, and while Pesci has played some bad guys in his career, you can’t get much more evil than Donald Trump.

Meanwhile, Julia Louis-Dreyfus is covering the whole story as it unfolds, as a reporter named Kathie Lee Kathie. Which is… funny? I guess? A look at the credits reveal that wacky Hollywood Squares regular Bruce Vilanch provided “additional material” for this special, and I have to wonder if some of this Kathie Lee Kathie stuff is his. We find out later that Kathie used to have a talk show, but it was canceled, and Elmo makes some snarky remarks about it. I love it when Elmo gets snarky.

But while there is a story, not much actually happens. The characters mostly stand around alternating between anger and depression, saying things like “How can we stop Grump? He’s so rich! And so mean!” And there’s a lot of restating the premise: Grump wants to get rid of Sesame Street, that makes us feel bad. I guess the writers were catering to the little kids in the audience. Man, little kids are dumb.

Of course, the threat of No More Sesame Street is really just an excuse for (guess what?) montages, as everyone reminisces about memorable moments. It’s not just the obvious letter montage/number montage/international montage setup. There are some other themes, like a series of clips featuring characters overcoming adversity, a group of slapstick-y, comic clips, and one that includes lots of hugging and smooching. (I'm sure Elmo remembers fondly the time Gina kissed him all over his furry face.) But grumpy Grump is unmoved by all this history: “If there’s one thing I despise,” he says, “it’s cheap sentiment. Hugs, kiddie television, cute, furry animals…”

Kiddie television? Naturally, that got me to thinking, AGAIN, about the issue of Sesame Street characters’ perception of their own reality. When they talk about “all the great things that have happened here on Sesame Street,” they’re not exclusively referring to a physical location. A lot of the stuff in the montages – Ed Grimley in a park, opera singer Marilyn Horne performing “C Is For Cookie” – obviously didn’t happen within a three- or four-block stretch of a New York city street. So are Gordon, Maria, and Savion aware that they’re actually campaigning for a TV show, and not just a street? Who knows? And indeed, who, besides me, cares?

At one point, Benny Rabbit (a cranky, high-strung character who's not around anymore probably because the producers realized they only needed one Oscar) approaches Grump and offers to help him with his evil plan, in exchange for a job as a doorman at Grump's new building. Grump immediately brushes him off, but I almost wish they had pursued that potential subplot. Benny's willingness to be a furry Judas is an unusually dark turn for a Sesame character. But then, Grump himself is unusual because it's not often we see villains in Sesame Street productions, especially not with hairpieces.

You want more guest stars? This show's got 'em. Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman have the thankless job of playing giant worms on Slimey’s favorite cable channel, WormTV. I’m a little suspicious of the idea that Slimey can afford cable on a worm’s salary, so I’m guessing Oscar just steals it. This leads to a montage of popular music-style songs, including one I’d never seen before with a dashing Kevin Kline and a fetching Phoebe Cates singing about measurements. I found the full clip on YouTube, which is at least 72 inches of delightful:



There’s a scene where Kathie Lee Kathie, seeking advice, calls up Regis Philbin and the real Kathie Lee Gifford, which dilutes the joke of her name even further. Those of you still playing the Kathie Lee Gifford drinking game can take a shot, because naturally Gifford manages to work in a reference to her son Cody.

Hey, remember when people still liked Rosie O’Donnell? They must have at some point, which explains why she’s here as the Spirit of Hope, who shows up when Telly, Luis, and Savion are at their most hopeless and helps them out by buying them all several beers. I mean, by showing them a particularly optimistic montage. Then she has to run, because “Hope’s very much in demand during sweeps week.”

The best guest stars are Susan Sarandon and the always-dependable Charles Grodin, playing a couple of rich twits who are considering buying a home in the Grump Tower. They’re horrified to see Oscar, which is not an unreasonable reaction. Grump assures them he’ll be gone along with the rest of the street once the tower is built, but guess what? It turns out Oscar’s can is on city property, so Grump can’t build unless Oscar moves.

Why would Oscar give up his trash can? It's spacious, affordable, and convenient to the subway, so he’s not going anywhere. I know, I know, that’s a spoiler. I’d like to apologize to anyone reading this who thought maybe Sesame Street was destroyed and replaced by a high-rise in 1994.

All the other poor saps on Sesame Street don’t know about this development yet, so they start the world's most pointless protest march. Their chant, “1, 2, 3, 4, Sesame Street forever more!” is no "What do we want? Freedom!/When do we want it? Now!" but it’s catchy enough. They quickly discover the truth, and Oscar is a hero, much to his dismay.

The show closes with everyone singing "Sing." Whoa, deja vu! That's the exact same song they used to end 20 and Still Counting, but this time around it's mashed up with a new song I'll assume is called "Our Favorite Street." Even the guest stars join in, and if you ever wondered whether Corbin Bernsen and Rosie O'Donnell are stunningly bad signers, I can assure you that they are.

So, Sesame Street in 1994. A lot of old-school fans will tell you that this is about the time the show started to lose its mojo. It definitely has a different vibe than it did five or ten years earlier, but it's still Sesame Street, and that means it was still evolving and developing, and I'm going to go ahead and say it was very nearly as good as it had ever been.

It's funny that the show seems to carry an anti-gentrification message, with the characters insisting that their urban neighborhood is fine just the way it is and nothing needs to change... but maybe that was the point. Maybe the writers were trying to let us know that even when things get tweaked here and there, the spirit of the show stays the same, and those closest to it are never going to let it become unrecognizable as Sesame Street, because they're always committed to continuing the elements that make it great. Or some crap like that.

Other things about this special:

●Back when Zoe first started wearing her tutu, I thought it was pretty silly, but I've gotten so used to it that now it's weird to see her naked, as she is here. Even weirder, though, is the fact that Ruth Buzzi also spends the entire special naked.

●Once again my copy of this special has the original commercials, and guess who shows up in a spot for Jell-O? Besides Bill Cosby, I mean. It's none other than tiny, adorable Desiree Casado, who plays Gabi on the show and in this special.


I'm sure millions of children saw this, and said to their parents, "Look, parents! Gabi from Sesame Street says I should eat Jell-O, so you have to buy me as much Jell-O as I want now or I'll never learn the alphabet!" And that's how the childhood obesity epidemic started.

●The important question: How grouchy is Oscar in this special? Stars and Street emphasizes the yucky aspect of Oscar's grouch-hood more than the jerk aspect. He's still grouchy, but not as aggressively so as in the previous two anniversary specials. Maybe he was just having a bad day. Or would that be a good day?

BONUS! Sesame Street: A Musical Celebration

As crazy as it sounds, there were actually two 25th anniversary specials. The other one aired on PBS as Sesame Street Jam: A Musical Celebration, and released on video as 25 Wonderful Years: A Musical Celebration. I have the home video version. I don’t have as much to say about it, because it’s mostly just songs from the show, with a framing story in which Big Bird, Telly, and Prairie Dawn are searching for singers, dancers, and “la-la-ers” in a city park.

Some of the song choices are obvious – “C Is For Cookie” and “Rubber Duckie” are required by law by this point, I think – but a few are more interesting, like En Vogue’s “Adventure,” and “Count It Higher.” “Do De Rubber Duck” shows up too, and how much do I love that song? A lot, that’s how much. In fact, I’m totally going to invite all my friends over to sing and dance with me in the bathtub in tribute to that song. Do you want in?

The big conflict in this special is that Big Bird gets depressed when he can’t find any la-la-ers, even with Mumford’s help, but what do you expect from an incompetent magician. Fortunately, Ladysmith Black Mambazo shows up out of nowhere to do some la-las, and then Big Bird’s happy again and everyone joins in a rousing rendition of… yep, you guessed it. “Sing." All right, it's a pretty song and everything, but now they're just getting lazy.

And so Sesame Street has reached its silver anniversary. It’s grown, it’s evolved, and it’s marked the occasion with two specials using the exact same closing number. They’ll do another special when the 30th anniversary rolls around, but this time, not much will have changed... except for one thing, and that one thing is the skyrocketing superstardom of a little guy with a red face. And I don’t mean Mickey Rooney!


Click here for Elmopalooza. And click here to make your reservation for the Furry Arms hotel on the Tough Pigs forum!

ToughPigsRyan@yahoo.com

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Tuesday, November 3, 2009

 

My Week with Sesame Anniversaries: Day 2, Year 20


by Ryan Roe


This week, I’m preparing for the beginning of Sesame Street’s 40th season next week by watching old Sesame Street anniversary specials. Yesterday I watched the 10th anniversary special A Walking Tour of Sesame Street, and today I’m watching 1989’s Sesame Street: 20 and Still Counting.

A ten-year anniversary is definitely cause for celebration. Fifteen years? Not so much. Who cares about fifteen years? But twenty years, now that’s something to brag about, preferably on primetime network television, and so we have Sesame Street: 20 and Still Counting, an hourlong special that aired on NBC in 1989. (By the way, I don’t want to spoil anything for you, but that’s the most clever title of all the anniversary specials.)

This special begins with Jim Henson and Kermit welcoming us. Jim says, “Back in 1968, I was asked to take part in an experiment to see if you could use television to teach preschool children. We all figured it would last a few seasons at most, but here we are 20 years later, and Sesame Street is still going strong.” Yeah, man! It’s 1989, and it is still going strong. That’s so, like, radical! Tubular! Gnarly! (That’s how people talked in 1989, right?)

It makes me think: When the show first started, the producers had no expectations about how long it would last, but what about after they crossed the 10-year mark? The 15-year mark? At what point did it become understood that Sesame Street was going to be around long enough for the kids who watched it to grow up and show it to their kids? At what point did it cease to be surprising that Sesame Street would stay on the air long enough for seven U.S. presidents to come and go?

Jim introduces our host, Bill Cosby, and then just to be on the safe side, Cosby appears with a title on the screen reading BILL COSBY, in case we haven’t been paying attention and don’t recognize the star of TV’s #1 sitcom. (Hiring Cosby, of course, continues the policy of hiring cast members from the 1978 film A Piece of the Action to host Sesame Street anniversary specials. One can only assume that if there had been a 15th anniversary special, it would have been hosted by Sidney Poitier.)

Cosby interacts with the Sesame characters a lot more than James Earl Jones did ten years ago. Pretty much every time Cosby introduces a clip montage, he's accompanied or interrupted by a Muppet. This includes Elmo, who learns the meaning of the word "curriculum," and Placido Flamingo, who ends up singing a duet with Placido Domingo, "the other greatest opera singer in the world." Honestly, I'd rather hear the flamingo than the Domingo, but at least the song is in English, because if it had been an operatic piece in Spanish or Italian, all the kids watching would have gotten restless. And when I say "all the kids watching," I mean me.

Like James Earl Jones before him, Cosby can’t resist approaching Oscar’s trash can. He opens the lid, and a bunch of toy snakes come sproinging out. Oscar tells him to mind his own business, Ph.D-face, and Cosby does that funny sort of eye-rolling grin he does. “I’ve been insulted by Oscar the Grouch…”

So, for the record, Oscar is just as grouchy in 1989 as he was in 1979, and he’s still yelling at hosts of anniversary specials. He’s also pretty good at creative insults. "Ph.D-face," that's really hitting Cosby where he lives.

Cosby also meets Big Bird, which leads to a montage of great Bird moments, including one where it looks like he’s standing in a lake(!). I can't imagine that they would ever let a puppet get wet like that, so I can only assume this means Big Bird is real. Hey, remember when Big Bird was the star of Sesame Street? I remember that. When Cosby asks Big Bird how he can still be six years old when he’s been around for 20 years, the bird has a perfect answer: “Just lucky, I guess!” And then he walks away la-la-la-ing, leaving Bill Cosby speechless.

The clip montages are entertaining -- besides the usual letter and number bits, there's a run of Muppets falling over backwards, and one of characters getting sprayed with water -- but they really just make me wish I could see all the sketches in their entirety. I can't wait until they release a Sesame Street complete series DVD set of all 4,000 episodes on 80 discs. That's gonna be great.

There are a few bits that run throughout the special, like the one that follows aspiring documentarians Ernie and Bert using a video camera to take footage of Sesame Street so they can see it on television. This is despite Bert's misgivings: “Who wants to see Sesame Street on TV?” They film kids waving at the camera, they film Maria and Luis fixing a toaster. So basically, they suck as filmmakers. This is a street where giant birds ride unicycles, where a species descended from wooly mammoths and unknown to science sings the alphabet, and the best they can do is a married couple fixing a toaster? The Maysles brothers they ain't.

While this is going on, Bob, Gordon, and Susan are reminiscing over in Hooper's Store. Or maybe it’s actually Bob McGrath, Roscoe Orman, and Loretta Long. It's kind of unclear, probably in a deliberate effort to avoid making any toddler heads spin. Like if Gordon had said, "Well, it sure has been fun being an actor playing a character named Gordon on TV who is not actually real, just like the Tooth Fairy is not real!" that would have been ill-advised. But whoever they are, it's lovely listening in. At one point, Susan/Loretta says, “Well, I’m up for 20 more, how ‘bout you guys?” and I love that. Because it’s true! They do go on for 20 more years!

Out on a real-life city street, reporter Kermit keeps tries to ask the Question of the Day: "Can you tell me how to get to Sesame Street?" He keeps getting interrupted by Grover, who’s making a lot of noise working as an ice cream salesman and later as a jackhammer monster. It strikes me as funny that Grover bothers to wear a hardhat while jackhammering, despite the fact that he’s not wearing any clothes.

When Kermit approaches two young women, there’s a spark of recognition. It’s Fanny and Shala, Kermit’s costars from 1973’s “next to” sketch! In that sketch, Kermit demonstrates being next to each kid, and they squeeze him a lot. He asks them for an update, and they both tell him they’re in college. That proves that Sesame Street makes kids smart! Then they squeeze him again, which proves that Kermit is cuddly. But they forget to answer the Question of the Day, and so Kermit is still empty-handed. Thanks for nothing, Fanny and Shala.

Later in the show, we see the classic insert where Herry counts to 20 with everyone’s favorite Sesame kid, John-John… and then they reunite Herry with the grown-up John-John, and they count again! The notion of bringing back the all-growed-up kids works so well, I wish they had done more of it. I know I would have liked to see an older version of Joey, the little girl who frustrated Kermit by insisting that Cookie Monster was a letter of the alphabet, or maybe the girl who turned Paul Simon’s performance of “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard” into an impromptu sing-along. Where they at?

When Cosby tells us that Sesame Street has a mother, and her name is Joan Ganz Cooney, we cut to Cooney and Jim Henson chatting about the show. She says she's especially proud of the co-productions, but most thrilled to know that they have Sesame Street in the Middle East now. Her dream is that someday peace will break out in the Middle East over shared recognition of a Bert & Ernie sketch. Of course, we all know that that is exactly what happened in 1997, when Yasser Arafat and Benjamin Netanyahu performed the “Why do you have a banana in your ear?” sketch at Camp David, with Bill Clinton playing the role of the banana.

A montage about life stuff includes a clip of Big Bird finding out that there’s a baby growing inside Maria’s body. When he asks how it happened, Luis grins as he explains, “We decided to start a family, so together we started a baby growing inside Maria’s body!” He’s so proud of himself, heh heh heh. They also show the clip from the show about the death of Mr. Hooper. It never gets any less heartbreaking, does it?

Cosby says, “And so Big Bird learned about death, birth, love, marriage, adoption, and that life is constantly changing, as Sesame Street keeps changing.” Just then Cookie Monster pops up and asks for a cookie, to which Cosby replies, “Some things never change!” Oh yeah?! I hear they're changing his name to Vegetable M— oh, nevermind.

By the end of the special, Kermit is still outside, and he still has no answer to his Question of the Day. He admits his complete failure as a journalist and hails a cab back to Sesame Street, and guess who’s driving? Yeah, it’s Grover. And now Kermit has a new problem, because Grover has no idea how to get to Sesame Street. This is not the last time Grover’s poor grasp of geography will cause trouble in an anniversary special. (Ooh, foreshadowing!)

By this point, Bert and Ernie have finished their documentary, but Cookie Monster eats the tape (I hear they're changing his name to Hi-8 Videocassette Monster). Argh, now no one will ever get to see Sesame Street on television! “What’re we gonna do now?” Bert cries, and Don Music has the only logical solution: “Let’s sing!”

So they sing “Sing,” and as each character gets a closeup, the actor’s name appears on the screen. There’s also a terrific moment where a kid spontaneously tousles Don Music’s hair and Don does a double take. Then Little Miles Orman appears as Gordon and Susan’s son Miles, and he’s cute, but he obviously doesn’t know the words. How unprofessional.

Finally, a huge crowd of humans and Muppets do the la-la-la-la-la’s. I'm pretty sure they're spilling off the sidewalk and out into the street, which is a major safety hazard, but fortunately nobody gets run over by a bus.


Bill Cosby tells a baby, “Sesame Street is 20 years old, and going on for another 20!” And holy cow, he’s right! He’s so right! This is one of my favorite things about these anniversary specials, when they say, “Hey, maybe we’ll keep going for another decade or two!” and they have no idea if they will or not, but I know because I live in the future.

So while the message of the 10th anniversary show was "Sesame Street is a television program that teaches kids stuff," this one is more like, "Wow, you guys. Sesame Street is a really, really, really, really good show." And yes, that's really, really, really, really true.


So now Sesame Street is old enough to drive, vote, smoke, and get drafted. Tomorrow we'll watch Stars and Street Forever and see how the show celebrates being old enough to rent a car! Woo-hoo!

Other things about this special:

●Jim Henson’s sweater is reminiscent of a Cliff Huxtable sweater from The Cosby Show. Then Bob, Gordon, and Susan are wearing sweaters too! I'm now certain that Bill Cosby gave everyone on the set his hand-me-downs during the making of this special, and nothing will ever convince me otherwise.

●Cosby begins by saying, "I’m standing on the most famous street in America, maybe the whole world.” For a minute there I thought he was going to compare it to Flugelhorn Street, or whatever, like James Earl Jones did.

●Cosby remarks, "[Sesame Street is] now seen all over the world, and they’re still asking how to get here.” And then, providing a vital clue to superfans eagerly awaiting the creation of Muppet Wiki sixteen years later, he says, “I took the A train.” It's a clue!

●It’s interesting to glimpse all the characters who were prominent in 1989, but who aren’t around anymore: Snuffy’s sister Alice, Uncle Wally, Ruby Monster, Meryl Sheep. Say, have I ever talked about how much I dig Meryl Sheep? Of course nobody in the world remembers her now, but she was a pretty great character. Here she is with Susan Sarandon:




●My tape of this special has all the commercials intact… and hey, there’s a promo for The Jim Henson Hour! Man, I can’t wait to watch that show. It’s gonna be so good, and I bet it’ll be a big hit like The Muppet Show.

●In case you were wondering, this special was sponsored by Clorox. The next time you use Clorox, offer a few words of thanks for bringing Ruby Monster into your home.


Click here to read about the 25th anniversary special! And click here to answer the Question of the Day on the Tough Pigs forum!


ToughPigsRyan@yahoo.com

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Monday, November 2, 2009

 

My Week with Sesame Anniversaries: Day 1, Year 10


by Ryan Roe

You know what happens next week? The 40th season of Sesame Street starts, that's what. And yes: 40 years is amazing, what a legacy, so many children educated, blah blah blah. Sesame Workshop is releasing a cool new book and a cool new DVD, but there's no TV special to celebrate the show going over the hill.

So I’m commemorating the show's 40th season by watching the previous anniversary specials, starting with 1979's 10-year show, A Walking Tour of Sesame Street with James Earl Jones. Later this week I’ll be watching the 20th anniversary special Sesame Street: 20 and Still Counting, the 25th anniversary special Stars and Street Forever, the 30th anniversary special Elmopalooza, and the 35th anniversary special The Street We Live On. Man, that’s a lot of anniversaries. Let’s get started.

So in 1979, Sesame Street had been around for a decade. That's quite an accomplishment for any TV series, although 30 years later it kinda seems pretty wimpy. As we've often heard, the show was created as an experiment to see if TV could teach kids in an entertaining way, so the point of the tenth anniversary special is basically to say, "Dude, it works!"

As you've most likely guessed unless you're pretty stupid, our host for this half hour is James Earl Jones, and he meanders down Sesame Street while talking to us. Sesame Street’s not a very big place, so a walking tour really doesn’t take very long. Jones takes a lot of breaks while we watch montages of clips from the show, which make up the bulk of the special. I don't know what he's doing while we're watching the clips... If I were James Earl Jones I'd probably just stand there saying random words out loud and marveling at how cool they sounded in my deep, rich voice. Words like "lugubrious."

There’s an alphabet montage that kicks off with a first-season clip of Jones himself reciting the alphabet – “I did it without cue cards!” he claims, although I remain unconvinced. That's not to say it’s not effective… James Earl Jones glaring at the camera while sternly growling the alphabet is a clip that taught a generation of children their ABCs while simultaneously terrifying them.

This montage also includes bits of alphabet segments with Flip Wilson, the cast of Bonanza, and Bill Cosby, who wears this remarkable getup:



Is Cos trying to look like a kid, or was there actually a time when that was an acceptable outfit? If Bill Cosby is reading this, I encourage him to call me up and let me know.

In this special, all the residents of Sesame Street are just going about their business while James Earl Jones addresses the camera. There’s nothing unusual about that – Susan and Gordon and the gang talk to the camera all the time. But to them, Sesame Street is a real place, where they live. Do they notice that James Earl Jones keeps talking referring to it as a television show? I hope not; if they were to become aware of their fictional nature they might suffer a complete nervous breakdown.

Man, overanalyzing the reality of Sesame Street is one of my favorite things to do.


Anyway, James Earl Jones is a good host for this show, because when he talks everyone listens, but he doesn’t seem entirely comfortable doing this gig. I’m pretty sure he is, in fact, reading from cue cards, and in his three-piece suit he comes across as overdressed, especially compared to Big Bird, who is of course one of the world’s most famous nudists.

At one point Jones says, “Sesame Street learned early on that the more we offered, the more the kids in the audience learned, and so the curriculum expanded.”

Hold it! What’s this “we” business? Since when does James Earl Jones write Sesame Street? And he keeps doing this throughout the show. I mean, really... The producers graciously offer him the privilege of hosting this special, and what does he do? When nobody's looking, he goes off-book, slips in a few “We did thises” and “We teach kids thatses,” and takes all the credit for the show himself. Pretty sneaky, Mr. Darth Vader!

One thing that's largely missing from the street scenes of this special so far is Muppets. Jones says hi to a bunch of humans, but we don’t see anyone furry until he approaches Oscar’s trash can halfway through the show. Oscar pops out, and Jones greets him: “Well, if it isn’t Oscar the Grouch!” Oscar says, “Well, if it isn’t Oscar the Grouch, someone’s been cloning around!”

That, by the way, is a perfect example of why Sesame Street deserved to last for 10 years and have its anniversary celebrated. It’s the kind of kids’ show that features a bitter, angry character who lives surrounded by trash, and who can deliver jokes that are deliberately constructed to go over the heads of the children in the audience. Yep, I'd say the show is a success.

Another observation: This is a pretty grouchy Oscar. I think some of the fans believe Oscar isn’t quite as grouchy he used to be, so I can’t wait to track his progress through all these anniversary specials and see how 10-year Oscar compares to 20-year Oscar, and 25-year Oscar and so on.

After one group of clips, we return to the street, where Jones is strolling – completely uninvited – into Big Bird’s empty nest area. Not cool, bro! Does Big Bird break into your house while you're not home? But Jones doesn’t give it a moment’s thought, he just keeps on talking to us about international co-productions or some crap. I'm not so sure about this Jones fellow.

One segment from the show that's presented here is a bit shot on location at the Metropolitan Opera House, with Big Bird trying to get the grown-ups to see Mr. Snuffleupagus, who’s coming to attend the opera. I can’t help but notice that, damn, the adults were mean to Big Bird back then.

Not only do they not believe that there’s a Snuffleupagus, they actively make fun of him for talking about it! While they all stand in front of a fountain, Snuffy walks by in the background, and Big Bird starts yelling: There he is! Turn around so you can see him, he’s right over there! And they just stand there, and they’re all like, “Oh, sure Big Bird, so all we have to do is turn around and we’ll see him, yeah, of course, sure…” and by the time they turn around, the fountain shoots up a wall of water, and Snuffy is completely obscured, and they all shake their heads and roll their eyes and leave. I know some kids of the 70s believe it was a mistake for the show to make Snuffy visible to the adults, but I think it was a great choice, because this clip makes me want to punch the TV.

Our Walking Tour wraps up with James Earl Jones sharing some final thoughts, and this is when Big Bird finally shows up. He appears to sniff Jones, and then he says, “You know, I’ve learned a lot on Sesame Street.” There’s an awkward pause (waiting for the cue card guy to switch to the next card?) and then Jones says, “And I’ve… met… many friends.” Then they stand there for a second like they’re not sure what to do… Is that it? And then they walk away from the camera, and that’s the end of that.

So it’s really not much of a 10th birthday party, really. (At least, it's not as exciting as my 10th birthday party when we played Battletoads all night). But here they are, and they must be amazed and overjoyed that they made it to ten years. And just think, this show is going to last long enough to see its fortieth anniversary! It’s perfectly reasonable, then, that the next anniversary special is a bit more self-congratulatory. And you can read about it tomorrow!

Other things about this special:

●When Jones first appears standing in front Hooper’s Store, he announces that he’s on one of the most famous streets in the world: "It’s not Flugel Street, and it’s not Pennsylvania Avenue… It’s not even the street where you live!" I'm sorry, but what the heck is Flugel Street?

●Here’s a fun fact: Will Lee, the actor who played Mr. Hooper, taught James Earl Jones acting at the American Theater Wing. Which is why it’s nifty, not to mention adorable, that Mr. Hooper greets Jones with a "Hi, Jimmy, nice to see you!"

●The Grover waiter sketch they use has Jerry Nelson’s Fat Blue customer Muppet making a mistake: Complaining about his alphabet soup, he says, “There’s a Y missing!” then corrects himself, saying, “No, not the Y… It’s the Z. The Z is missing.” I love stuff like that. I know it only happened because they didn’t want to do another take, but I find it endearing.

●The numbers montage includes a really funky song called “Gimme Five” that I don’t remember ever seeing on the show, but now I can't stop thinking about it:




Entertaining and educational! What a great TV show.


Special thanks to Tough Pigs' own Scott H for research assistance. Click here for the 20th anniversary special Sesame Street: 20 and Still Counting! And click here to mock Big Bird on the Tough Pigs forum!

ToughPigsRyan@yahoo.com

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Review: Muppet Peter Pan #2


by Ryan Roe


Last Wednesday, October 28, saw the release of Muppet Peter Pan #2, another fine Muppet comic book from Boom! Kids, written by Grace Randolph with art by Amy Mebberson. If you haven't already, I recommend shooting yourself out of a cannon pointed at your local comic book store to pick it up.

In issue 1, Peter Pan/Kermit showed up to take the Darling children to his homeland of Neverswamp. This month, we meet Peter's arch-enemy Captain Hook, and his crew of pirates. (I'm not sure his name is really "Captain Hook" in this story... I noticed Janice calling him "Captain Gonzo," but I didn't see anyone actually calling him Hook.) If the Muppets ever did a full-blown movie or TV special adaptation of Peter Pan, I reckon the role of Hook would be played by a human guest star, but Randolph casts Gonzo, who's quite effective. I mean, he's not especially villainous, but he's funny.


The crew of Hook's ship includes a few other folks we know, like these guys:


Meanwhile, Miss Piggy as Piggytink continues to be written as a sympathetic-but-feisty character, just the way we like her.


As you can see, Amy Mebberson's art is lovely, and I just realized that I really like the way she draws the Muppets' eyes. They look just like real Muppet eyes! In particular, there's a brief scene in this issue with some very obscure old characters, and she gets them all exactly right.

As I said in my review of issue 1, I'm not all that familiar with the original Peter Pan story outside of other adaptations, so I don't really know how much plot there is or how quick the pacing is, but Muppet Peter Pan feels like a pretty loose adaptation, and one that takes its time. It's really more concerned with being silly and entertaining than sticking to the source material, and it's a successful strategy.

That doesn't mean nothing happens... In fact, the issue ends with a bit of a cliffhanger, so we'll all have to come back next month. And that's perfectly fine with me.



Click here to be sympathetic but feisty while talking about Muppet Peter Pan on the Tough Pigs forum!

ToughPigsRyan@yahoo.com

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