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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Hard Out

Comedy From The Closet

Janice and Jeffrey Available Now On IFC's Comedy Crib

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She’s been referred to as “the love child of Amy Sedaris and Tracy Ullman,” and he’s a self-described “Italian who knows how to cook a great spaghetti alla carbonara.” They’re Mollie Merkel and Matteo Lane, prolific indie comedians who blended their robust creative juices to bring us the new Comedy Crib series Janice and Jeffrey. Mollie and Matteo took time to answer our probing questions about their series and themselves. Here’s a taste.

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

Mollie & Matteo: Janice and Jeffrey is about a married couple experiencing intimacy issues but who don’t have a clue it’s because they are gay. Their oblivion makes them even more endearing.  Their total lack of awareness provides for a buffet of comedy.

IFC: What’s your origin story? How did you two people meet and how long have you been working together?

Mollie: We met at a dive bar in Wrigley Field Chicago. It was a show called Entertaining Julie… It was a cool variety scene with lots of talented people. I was doing Janice one night and Matteo was doing an impression of Liza Minnelli. We sort of just fell in love with each other’s… ACT! Matteo made the first move and told me how much he loved Janice and I drove home feeling like I just met someone really special.

IFC: How would Janice describe Jeffrey?

Mollie: “He can paint, cook homemade Bolognese, and sing Opera. Not to mention he has a great body. He makes me feel empowered and free. He doesn’t suffocate me with attention so our love has room to breath.”

IFC: How would Jeffrey describe Janice?

Matteo: “Like a Ford. Built to last.”

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Mollie & Matteo: Our current political world is mirroring and reflecting this belief that homosexuality is wrong. So what better time for satire. Everyone is so pro gay and equal rights, which is of course what we want, too. But no one is looking at middle America and people actually in the closet. No one is saying, hey this is really painful and tragic, and sitting with that. Having compassion but providing the desperate relief of laughter…This seemed like the healthiest, best way to “fight” the gay rights “fight”.

IFC: Hummus is hilarious. Why is it so funny?

Mollie: It just seems like something people take really seriously, which is funny to me. I started to see it in a lot of lesbians’ refrigerators at a time. It’s like observing a lesbian in a comfortable shoe. It’s a language we speak. Pass the Hummus. Turn on the Indigo Girls would ya?

See the whole season of Janice and Jeffrey right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Die Hard Dads

Inspiration For Die Hard Dads

Die Hard is on IFC all Father's Day Long

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIPHY

Yippee ki-yay, everybody! It’s time to celebrate the those most literal of mother-effers: dads!

And just in case the title of this post left anything to the imagination, IFC is giving dads balls-to-the-wall ’80s treatment with a glorious marathon of action trailblazer Die Hard.

There are so many things we could say about Die Hard. We could talk about how it was comedian Bruce Willis’s first foray into action flicks, or Alan Rickman’s big screen debut. But dads don’t give a sh!t about that stuff.

No, dads just want to fantasize that they could be deathproof quip factory John McClane in their own mundane lives. So while you celebrate the fathers in your life, consider how John McClane would respond to these traditional “dad” moments…

Wedding Toasts

Dads always struggle to find the right words of welcome to extend to new family. John McClane, on the other hand, is the master of inclusivity.
Die Hard wedding

Using Public Restrooms

While nine out of ten dads would rather die than use a disgusting public bathroom, McClane isn’t bothered one bit. So long as he can fit a bloody foot in the sink, he’s G2G.
Die Hard restroom

Awkward Dancing

Because every dad needs a signature move.
Die Hard dance

Writing Thank You Notes

It can be hard for dads to express gratitude. Not only can McClane articulate his thanks, he makes it feel personal.
Die Hard thank you

Valentine’s Day

How would John McClane say “I heart you” in a way that ain’t cliche? The image speaks for itself.
Die Hard valentines

Shopping

The only thing most dads hate more than shopping is fielding eleventh-hour phone calls with additional items for the list. But does McClane throw a typical man-tantrum? Nope. He finds the words to express his feelings like a goddam adult.
Die Hard thank you

Last Minute Errands

John McClane knows when a fight isn’t worth fighting.
Die Hard errands

Sneaking Out Of The Office Early

What is this, high school? Make a real exit, dads.
Die Hard office

Think you or your dad could stand to be more like Bruce? Role model fodder abounds in the Die Hard marathon all Father’s Day long on IFC.

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Founding Farters

Know Your Nerd History

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIFs via Giphy

That we live in the heyday of nerds is no hot secret. Scientists are celebrities, musicians are robots and late night hosts can recite every word of the Silmarillion. It’s too easy to think that it’s always been this way. But the truth is we owe much to our nerd forebearers who toiled through the jock-filled ’80s so that we might take over the world.

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Our humble beginnings are perhaps best captured in iconic ’80s romp Revenge of the Nerds. Like the founding fathers of our Country, the titular nerds rose above their circumstances to culturally pave the way for every Colbert and deGrasse Tyson that we know and love today.

To make sure you’re in the know about our very important cultural roots, here’s a quick download of the vengeful nerds without whom our shameful stereotypes might never have evolved.

Lewis Skolnick

The George Washington of nerds whose unflappable optimism – even in the face of humiliating self-awareness – basically gave birth to the Geek Pride movement.

Gilbert Lowe

OK, this guy is wet blanket, but an important wet blanket. Think Aaron Burr to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. His glass-mostly-empty attitude is a galvanizing force for Lewis. Who knows if Lewis could have kept up his optimism without Lowe’s Debbie-Downer outlook?

Arnold Poindexter

A music nerd who, after a soft start (inside joke, you’ll get it later), came out of his shell and let his passion lead instead of his anxiety. If you played an instrument (specifically, electric violin), and you were a nerd, this was your patron saint.

Booger

A sex-loving, blunt-smoking, nose-picking guitar hero. If you don’t think he sounds like a classic nerd, you’re absolutely right. And that’s the whole point. Along with Lamar, he simultaneously expanded the definition of nerd and gave pre-existing nerds a twisted sort of cred by association.

Lamar Latrell

Black, gay, and a crazy good breakdancer. In other words, a total groundbreaker. He proved to the world that nerds don’t have a single mold, but are simply outcasts waiting for their moment.

Ogre

Exceedingly stupid, this dumbass was monumental because he (in a sequel) leaves the jocks to become a nerd. Totally unheard of back then. Now all jocks are basically nerds.

Well, there they are. Never forget that we stand on their shoulders.

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC all month long.

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