Kermit must die

Kermit must die (photo)

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Recommended reading for any Muppets fans out there: over at The Awl, author Elizabeth Stevens has written a lengthy examination of their uneven and unsatisfying life after the death of Muppets mastermind Jim Henson. Stevens argues that Henson should never have been replaced as the performer of Kermit the Frog; instead Kermit should have died or retired or been otherwise removed as leader of the group. She adds that slotting unqualified puppeteers into the role has diluted the Muppets’ magic.

It’s a complicated piece that you can’t really summarize with a single pull-quote. But that’s never stopped me before; here’s a single pull-quote about what happened when Steve Whitmire replaced Henson as Kermit:

“Instead of an organic personnel shift, Whitmire became Kermit, which wasn’t only a disservice to that character, but also a real disservice to Whitmire. There was no place for him to take the role. If he strays too far from Henson, embodying Kermit with the parts of his personality that weren’t in Henson, nostalgic fans will be disappointed. He can only attempt the same impression over and over. It’s not the kind of art Henson produced. It’s very un-Muppet. What it is, though, is very, very Disney–not in the original spirit of Walt, but in the style of a corporation that runs on licensing. This is “art” defined as mass duplication, not wonderment. It is the art of selling Tigger toys to millions of people all over the country who have houses filled with Tigger toys.”

Stevens, who is clearly a very knowledgable expert on the subject of all things Muppetish, makes an interesting argument. The Henson family sold the Disney company the rights to the Muppet characters, but according to Stevens, those Muppets were a lot more than the sum of their fuzzy hand puppets and ping pong eyeballs. These characters were strange alchemical creations, the unique combination of puppet and performer. Elmo existed before Kevin Clash, but it was Clash’s uniquely innocent take on the character that made him “Elmo,” the undisputed titan of children’s television. Replicating the Muppets’ cutesy exteriors without also recapturing their tart personalities misses the point entirely. It’s a fair, if a tad idealistic, position. It’s also kind of cruel when you think about it: she’s basically arguing for a Muppet death penalty! Won’t some please think of the children?

I also agree with Stevens’ tangential but accurate assessment of the way that analog effects, like the Muppets riding bicycles in “The Great Muppet Caper,” are far more powerful than digital ones, like the ghostly Statler and Waldorf in “The Muppet Christmas Carol.” Though I was a devotee of the “Muppet Babies” cartoon show as a kid, Muppets as anything other than puppets sort of misses the point. Back at South by Southwest, I got to interview Elmo and witness Clash’s work in action. It was an awe-inspiring sight. All the fancy computer graphics in the world can’t match the magic of watching one of these inanimate creatures spring to life. Even though there’s an adult man’s arm sticking out of his butt, you very quickly convince yourself that Elmo is real and that he is sitting next to you and he’s totally making fun of how you’re conducting the interview (Look, not all of us have our adorable good looks to fall back on Elmo!). Heaven help us if they throw all of that away and turn the Muppets into full-time cartoon characters.

Here’s the one part where Stevens loses me. Again, it’s about Kermit who, let’s not forget, she’s basically given a death sentence:

“There have been some moments of genuine art in the last twenty-one years. In ‘Muppets From Space,’ Bobo Bear’s interplay with Jeffery Tambor contains echoes of Ernie-and-Bert banter. Gonzo has never wavered in his dedication to… Gonzoness. But these days Kermit offers out-of-character wisecracks like, ‘Get down with your bad selves.’ This isn’t Kermit’s humor. Kermit was a square, but he was never one-note dorky, a depository for one-liners and pop-culture satire. That line could have been plucked from Steve Urkel, from ‘ALF,’ from any sitcom from ’78 on. That’s what’s disappointing. A character without specificity is not one.”

First off, why you gotta cheapshot my man ALF like that? Not cool.

My real problem, though, is when Stevens — or anyone — assumes the fanboy position of “That character would never act like that and I know better.” How do you know? Saying “this isn’t Kermit’s humor” is a bit like saying these aren’t Spider-Man’s webshooters. This is not the argument of the critic; it’s the argument of the fan.

If, as Stevens claims, she really wants the Muppets to grow and experiment like they did back in the good old days, she should also be open to the idea of the characters doing things that are “out of character.” If any deviation from the norm is deemed not in keeping with the character’s spirit, the Muppets are doomed to remain exactly the sort of nostalgia tribute act she claims they’ve been forced to be for the last twenty years.

Stevens says she has hope for Jason Segel‘s upcoming relaunch of the Muppet big-screen franchise. I do too. But Kermit will be there. And if he makes cheesy jokes, they’re not out of character; they’re in character for a new Kermit.

Do you think there’s hope for The Muppets yet? Tell us in the comments below or on Facebook and Twitter!

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Millennial Wisdom

Charles Speaks For Us All

Get to know Charles, the social media whiz of Brockmire.

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He may be an unlikely radio producer Brockmire, but Charles is #1 when it comes to delivering quips that tie a nice little bow on the absurdity of any given situation.

Charles also perfectly captures the jaded outlook of Millennials. Or at least Millennials as mythologized by marketers and news idiots. You know who you are.

Played superbly by Tyrel Jackson Williams, Charles’s quippy nuggets target just about any subject matter, from entry-level jobs in social media (“I plan on getting some experience here, then moving to New York to finally start my life.”) to the ramifications of fictional celebrity hookups (“Drake and Taylor Swift are dating! Albums y’all!”). But where he really nails the whole Millennial POV thing is when he comments on America’s second favorite past-time after type II diabetes: baseball.

Here are a few pearls.

On Baseball’s Lasting Cultural Relevance

“Baseball’s one of those old-timey things you don’t need anymore. Like cursive. Or email.”

On The Dramatic Value Of Double-Headers

“The only thing dumber than playing two boring-ass baseball games in one day is putting a two-hour delay between the boring-ass games.”

On Sartorial Tradition

“Is dressing badly just a thing for baseball, because that would explain his jacket.”

On Baseball, In A Nutshell

“Baseball is a f-cked up sport, and I want you to know it.”

Learn more about Charles in the behind-the-scenes video below.

And if you were born before the late ’80s and want to know what the kids think about Baseball, watch Brockmire Wednesdays at 10P on IFC.

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Crown Jules

Amanda Peet FTW on Brockmire

Amanda Peet brings it on Brockmire Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

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GIFS via Giphy

On Brockmire, Jules is the unexpected yin to Jim Brockmire’s yang. Which is saying a lot, because Brockmire’s yang is way out there. Played by Amanda Peet, Jules is hard-drinking, truth-spewing, baseball-loving…everything Brockmire is, and perhaps what he never expected to encounter in another human.

“We’re the same level of functional alcoholic.”

But Jules takes that commonality and transforms it into something special: a new beginning. A new beginning for failing minor league baseball team “The Frackers”, who suddenly about-face into a winning streak; and a new beginning for Brockmire, whose life gets a jumpstart when Jules lures him back to baseball. As for herself, her unexpected connection with Brockmire gives her own life a surprising and much needed goose.

“You’re a Goddamn Disaster and you’re starting To look good to me.”

This palpable dynamic adds depth and complexity to the narrative and pushes the series far beyond expected comedy. See for yourself in this behind-the-scenes video (and brace yourself for a unforgettable description of Brockmire’s genitals)…

Want more about Amanda Peet? She’s all over the place, and has even penned a recent self-reflective piece in the New York Times.

And of course you can watch the Jim-Jules relationship hysterically unfold in new episodes of Brockmire, every Wednesday at 10PM on IFC.

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Draught Pick

Sam Adams “Keeps It Brockmire”

All New Brockmire airs Wednesdays at 10P on IFC.

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From baseball to beer, Jim Brockmire calls ’em like he sees ’em.


It’s no wonder at all, then, that Sam Adams would reach out to Brockmire to be their shockingly-honest (and inevitably short-term) new spokesperson. Unscripted and unrestrained, he’ll talk straight about Sam—and we’ll take his word. Check out this new testimonial for proof:

See more Brockmire Wednesdays at 10P on IFC, presented by Samuel Adams. Good f***** beer.

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