Nov 19 - 23, 2001
I am SUCH a Muppet fan.
My devotion to the Muppets is so deep that I'm actually going to spend the next week of my life watching Family Feud. I never thought it would come to this.
Monday, Nov 19:
First, let's get this out of the way -- Louie Anderson. I just don't get him. How is this man employed and put on public display? He's not pleasant to look at. He's not pleasant to listen to. He's not charming or winning in any way. He doesn't even do small talk that well -- the best he can manage is, "So, Pepe. What ARE you?" He whines and spits and frightens the horses. The best thing I can say about him is that so far I haven't seen him fall off the stage. Even by game show host standards, he's just utterly repellent. It's baffling.
Anyway, there are these Dixie Chicks. And they've brought along a couple of their Friends. I'm assuming that the girls are Dixie Chicks and the guys are Friends, although that isn't made particularly clear. And then there are Muppets, and there isn't a lot of explanation for them either.
But Louie has no time for nonsense. The fact that half the people on stage with him aren't human gives him not a moment's pause. He just barrels right into the game. "Look, there's Dixie Chicks! And over there are Muppets! Let's play FEUD!" He keeps referring to it as FEUD, as if he's so insistent on playing the game that he doesn't even have enough time to say the whole name of the show. Hey, Kermit! Hey, Emily! C'mon up and get your hands on the damn buzzers!
Kermit gets approximately six seconds of airtime before the Dixie Chicks take control of the game. Then he goes back to his little area and the Muppets aren't mentioned again for about three minutes. No mention is made of the fact that Kermit is a frog, and that having a frog as a game show contestant is a little unusual. We don't have TIME for that! We have to play FEUD!
And Feud they do. The first question is: "If Mr. Potato Head was served in a restaurant, how might he be served?" -- which I personally found a little insensitive, given that some of the contestants are also fictional characters who could conceivably be served in restaurants.
Anyway, Dixie Chicks and Friends. Emily is a cross-eyed Sela Ward type. Keith is a blond surfer boy who is described as "a wonderful artist" in some unspecified medium, and he seems to be the only human on the show today who finds the Muppets even remotely funny. There's also Buck Owens, who has apparently written forty Top Ten hits in his life, none of which are worth mentioning on the air. Louie approaches a Dixie Chick: "Not a lot of people know this... this is actually NEWS." The Dixie Chick has recently eloped. An actual moment of real human drama on the show! They don't discuss the matter any further. She thinks Mr. Potato Head could be Boiled.
When Pepe comes up to play, he announces that he will strike the button with his chin. Keith cracks up -- and, in a gesture of good sportsmanship, he also puts his chin on the button. Louie graciously allows a moment of levity. Then it's time to play FEUD! The Muppets get to play, and Kermit announces that they're playing to raise money for "Save the Children." Which children? What are we saving them from? There's no time for such questions. We have more important things to think about, like which sport people who are afraid of heights should stay away from.
Also on the Muppets team: Dr. Phil van Neuter flutters around the whole time, acting jumpy. Both of his hands move, so apparently they flew in an extra puppeteer just to operate Dr. Phil's hands. I find that admirable. Sweetums is also on the team. Sweetums looks great, but he doesn't get much chance to shine in this episode. There's also Mo the Frackle, who has a funny Brooklyn accent. (Mo is performed by Bruce Lanoil and sounds like Stevenson the Parrot from the Muppet Treasure Island CD-Rom game, if you recall that game, and you almost certainly don't.) Mo tries to act up a little. "How ya doin', Louie?" he snaps. "You seem to enjoy your work." Louie doesn't pause to chat. Louie wants to know what cats eat on their pizza.
Louie is desperately shrieking us into a commercial break. "Triple the points when we come back! FEUD!" he cries, as if his life has any meaning. The Dixie Chicks win and raise $20,000 for a children's hospital, which is nice. Then they all run over and hug the Muppets. The credits roll and about fifteen seconds later the show is over.
So, did I miss something? Is this the game show version of Speed, where we have to get through a round of Family Feud or the bus blows up? They're acting like they suddenly have to pack Family Feud into a half-hour, when it used to be an all-day event. If you've got Muppets on your stage, why not take a little time to interact with them, and let them be funny? What's so all-fired important about playing this damn game? Couldn't we just give the children their money, give the cats their pizza, and then take a second to breathe?
I guess what I'm afraid of is that watching this show seems to actually make time go faster. I'm concerned that by the end of the week, it'll start going so fast that we'll go backwards, and it'll be Monday again.
Tuesday, Nov 20:
A hundred people were surveyed on this question. The top five answers are on the board. The question is: Who is the funniest Muppet on Family Feud today?
And the number one answer, of course, is Johnny Fiama, who manages to cut through Louie Anderson's bluster and make the show fun today. The Muppets really struck gold when they hired Bill Barretta. Pepe was the star yesterday, and today, it's all about Johnny.
It's Johnny's turn at the button, and he's shaking. "Very nervous," he explains. He gets an answer on the board, and the Muppets get to play. Then there's a little love-fest between Louie and Johnny:
Louie: "You were nervous, but you pulled through."
Johnny: "Well, I try, baby, you know."
Louie: "You're gorgeous, man."
Johnny: "Hey -- I love your suit."
It's excellent. Notice that Louie is actually a professional comedian, and Johnny is running circles around him. Go Johnny.
Then Johnny starts choking. Asked who a child might mention in his prayers, Johnny panics and yells, "Cannolis!"
Then, in the final round, the Muppets have one more chance to guess what the flavor of a green jellybean could be. It's Johnny's turn. "Oh, my God," he mutters... "Eh... OLIVE!"
"Olive" is not on the board. The Muppets lose the game. But God bless ya, Johnny, for making us laugh at Family Feud again.
Wednesday, Nov 21:
The Feud gets ugly
Okay. I never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever thought I'd say this, but... is it possible that the Muppets aren't as smart as the Dixie Chicks?
I mean, it's a horrible thing to say about anybody. But the fact remains that the score so far is: Dixie Chicks: 3, Muppets: 0.
Even Louie Anderson is mocking the Muppets by this point. At the very end of today's episode, the Dixie Chicks are just 11 points away from their third consecutive victory.
Emily, the cross-eyed Sela Ward, posits: "So if I lose this, then..."
"Then you're a Muppet," says Louie.
The Muppets, naturally, get offended. Sweetums yells: "Hey! I know where you live!" It's a funny moment. But if the Muppets don't win even once this week, it's gonna be a sad sad week.
Anyway. The front-runner so far for Weirdest Muppet Moment is this. The question is: Which body part would you describe as round? The Dixie Chicks have guessed belly, face, ears, shoulders, "arse"... They don't get them all, and it goes over to the Muppets.
"Well, ah..." says Kermit. "I think the most delicate way to say this would be -- ahem -- mammary glands."
Goooood night, everybody! And a happy Thanksgiving to you all.
Thursday, Nov 22:
Family Feud was pre-empted for me today because of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. So, instead of writing about today's Feud, I'm just going to talk about being thankful.
I don't want to get all sentimental and corny today. But I am really truly thankful that the Muppets still exist. For all of the ups and downs of the last couple years, it's so amazing that the Muppets are still around. What other 25-year-old show is still creating new characters and new productions?
Think about all the reunion shows of the last couple years -- The Bradys, Mary and Rhoda, The Facts of Life Reunion... They're inevitably sad, and wooden. The people involved have nothing new to say about the characters. We just watch them get older and less funny.
The Muppets are still alive. Not just still existing, not just a nostalgic retread. They're alive. Gonzo and Rizzo, Johnny and Sal, Pepe, Kermie Hilflipper, Muppetfest, Elmo's World and Bear in the Big Blue House... They're still creative, still coming up with new ways to make us laugh. And now they're spending a week on a game show. It's awesome. We have a lot to be thankful for, and a lot to look forward to.
Friday, Nov 23:
Performance Art Heaven
Okay, you wanna talk Thanksgiving? I'll give ya Thanksgiving. I personally will be giving thanks at the end of this week, when I no longer have to listen to Louie Anderson's screechy, nasal whine.
"Come aaaahhhhnnnn! Let's play Feuuuuuuuuud!" I can't believe Louie Anderson is employed in any capacity. He's so horrible. Do people actually watch this show of their own free will? It's enough to make me lie back and long for death.
In order to get through this, I've started fantasizing that the host of Family Feud isn't Louie Anderson -- it's elfin performance art diva Laurie Anderson. Laurie comes out on stage playing the theme song on her electric violin. Behind her, huge screens show repeating film clips of telephone poles and deserted mesas. Laurie welcomes us to the show: "There was this man. And there was this woman. And they were playing..." Plink, plink, plink. "... Family Feud." She paces around the stage. "It was a long road." Glance at the telephone poles. "It was a very..." Plink, plink. "... Long road." And then she plays an eight-minute piano solo on her tie.
I mean, wouldn't that be great? I'd pay good money to see that. Unfortunately, we're stuck with Louie instead. Well, as long we're here. Come on. Let's play Feud.
The Muppets have a whole new strategy today. I think they've decided that there's no way they're going to win the game, so they're just being funny. It's working. Louie asks Johnny where he's from, and Johnny says: "I'm from Camden, New Jersey." That joke is probably lost on a lot of people, but I actually live in Philadelphia, across the river from Camden, New Jersey, and I assure you -- that is a very funny place for Johnny to be from. This fills me with joy and I can get through the next couple of minutes of Louie.
The first question is: How would a stupid man try to fix a toupee on his head? Sweetums' answer: "Avocado!" The other Muppets jeer and hiss at him. Then it's Kermit's turn: "I think perhaps he might try -- and I don't mean anything by this, folks, but -- to screw it!" Man. Apparently that whole "mammary glands" thing really juiced Kermit up. Johnny buckles under pressure and answers "Cannolis" again. They lose.
"DIXie Chiiiiicks!" Louie screeches. "You're playing Faaaast MONNNNNNNeeeeey!" The Dixie Chicks bounce around, squealing with excitement.
Then the lights dim, and Laurie Anderson comes out. She's wearing a bright white suit, and she's standing in a dramatic spotlight. The synthesizer swells. Laurie has come to take me away from all this. I go with her, into the light. Laurie brings me to Performance Art Heaven, which is a big empty warehouse in Soho, backlit with rear-projection screens showing black and white film clips. There are no game shows in Performance Art Heaven, and no country music, and everyone has a clever criticism of American culture.
It's wonderful. I'm at peace here. I don't ever want to go back.