DID YOU READ

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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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.

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Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.

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Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!

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Inter-not

Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.

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Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.

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If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.