Monday, May 25, 2009

It's Time to Start the Music

First: ball news. Game 2 is also a loss. I've been switched to catcher, a role that I've fallen into not because I can throw a ball all the way to the pitcher (I can't. It's not far, but I can't. Hence the reason why I'm not great at baseball.), but because I have absolutely no fear of getting hit by baseball. Bring it, ball.

Now, today's main topic. One of the most beloved programs of my childhood was the Muppets. Beyond knowledge of the characters, I remember exactly two things about the show: the general tune of the theme song, and that Muppets are awesome. Based on those two points, I recently tried to secure some episodes of the original series, but, through a miscommunication, would up with the entire series of the '96-97 attempted revival, Muppets Tonight. It's a tv show now, not a theatre, and everything shifts according: Waldorf and Statler heckle from their living room chairs, each episode is run as if it's the production of a late night talk show, and, most significantly, show leader Kermit has been replaced (well, downgraded, he's still there, but runs things from a more hands-off, behind the scenes approach) by Clifford.
This is Clifford:
Oh, sorry. That's internationally-known, adored by generations of children around the world Clifford. THIS is Muppet Tonight's Clifford:And that's a good a place as any to start with the show's big problem: the Muppets are, to me at least, about a dysfunctional, yet caring, family. Muppets Tonight feels like the Muppets designed by studio execs. Clifford's a prime example: he looks and acts like what you'd get if you took a bunch of people, sat them down at a table, and told them you wanted an updated Kermit, something that comes off as current and hip, but without being offensive. And voila--Clifford. I have nothing against Clifford--but nothing for him either. He's just there.

Other problems are also symptoms of this main failing: whoever decided to put their money behind Clifford downgraded the "core" muppets--it's very rare that Kermit, Miss Piggy, Gonzo, and Fozzie all appear on the same episode. And their replacements--Jonny Fiamo, Lou, Bobo, and Clifford--are okay, but they just don't have the same dynamic as a group. It seems like the show knows this a weak point, as it tries to gloss over this element and replace it with a huge, gigantic cavalcade of guest stars. I know the original series had its fair share, but it feels like here, the guest of the week is all the plot ever revolves around.

And that's the problem. But there's lots of good stuff too. First, in the area of not so much good as curious, it's interesting to note Statler and Waldorf's changing roles as the series goes by. Originally, it would just cut to them after a scene and they'd heckle from what was very clearly a nursing home. I'm guessing someone felt this was too depressing an end for the two, because all of a sudden, they started doing their heckling from chique locations, such as ocean resorts, pool side views, gigantic foyers, and, once, a ski lift. And they're often surrounded by a bevy of (especially if they're poolside) scantily clad women. That sounds like a good retirement to me.

Next, on the subject of guest stars, most of the stars actually give fairly decent performances. Since the whole operation is financed by Disney now, we see some big (well, 90s big) names, including movie stars like Michelle Pfiefer and Pierce Brosnan, musicians ranging from Tony Bennett to Coolio, and comedians like Don Rickles and Billy Crystal. It's clear that they're having a lot of fun too, which is nice to see.

And with that, let's go into the list of the 4 best scenes in Muppets Tonight.
Number 4: Out of all the guest stars on the show, I gotta say I think Garth Brooks got the most out of it. His schtick for the episode is that he wants to perform song styles outside his usual repetoire. So, we get Brooks hamming it up in renditions of Salsa, a Tom Jones impersonation, and, the best, his rendition of Fiddler on the Roof, complete with gratutious chicken-kicking.

Number 3: Speaking of hams, George Takei delivers, playing himself during Beaker's week long Trek-A-Fari--at least, himself as a long-winded blowhard. He thinks he'll finally get his chance to be captain after their captain abandons ship, but he is preempted by Robert Keeshan (Captain Kangaroo), who reminds him that Keeshan has seniority. Takei: "Mr. Beaker, set ego for 'bruised.'" (I think it's the delivery that really sells this one.)

Number 2: Where would the Muppets be without references that predate 90% of their supposed demographic? During the Bill Crystal episode, we see a remake of When Harry Met Sally's most famous scene, complete with a cameo from a Rob Reiner muppet. Piggy, playing the Sally role, tells Bill that he wouldn't be able to tell if she was faking it--it being a sneeze, of course. Keep your mind out of the gutter. A demonstration follows, which leads to the inevitable punchline: "I'll have what she's having! But with less pepper."

Number 1: Leave it to the old school to show you how it's done. The very best, most awesome, incrediblistic thing to happen in the entire course of Muppets Tonight was performed by the macdaddy, K-Frog himself. Watch below, as Kermit sings a cover for Talking Head's "Once in a Lifetime."

And that's why the frog will always be king.

Later Days.

No comments: