Thursday, January 26, 2006
I've been watching the Muppets Season One DVD set, and it's interesting how much of the pleasure of the show is in the "acting" of the puppets, or of the puppeteers through the puppets. I never really thought about it when I was a kid grooving on the slapstick, but the way the puppeteers are able to simulate real human physical responses to emotional stimuli (little things like slouching, shrugging, lowering ones' eyelids in weariness) is just as important as the exciting and colorful character designs. On the other hand it's a bit disappointing how uneven the jokes are, and how weak Jim Henson's ubiquitious singing is. Still, Gonzo's willfully impenetrable avant-guarde routines and Miss Piggy's deranged courtship of Kermit are still funny, and I like how they stole a page from Jack Benny's playbook: female guest stars flirt outrageously with Kermit. Of course Benny always acted like it was only his due, while Kermit always seems abashed... Another surprise, at least for me; the more serious musical routines that emphasis strong singing (from the guest) and lyrical puppetry (like the graceful green dancing things in the first episode) are some of my favorite bits now. When I was a kid they couldn't be over and out of the way fast enough. Not that they aren't open to accusations of kitchiness, but they suggest possibilities for puppetry that the Jim Henson crew continued to explore over the years. I remember some show they did around 1988 with great fondness, in which they really worked the full cinematic possibilities of puppetry and did more storytelling along with the sketch comedy.