Tag Archives: Muppets

like flashy sparkles in the water or stars in the sky

Storybook Ball (2)

“It’s not easy being green.
It seems you blend in with so many other ordinary things.
And people tend to pass you over ’cause you’re not standing out
Like flashy sparkles in the water or stars in the sky.” 
“Bein’ Green” – written by Joe Raposo, sung by Kermit the Frog

I hate television.

I really do.

And right now I hate it even more than usual because ABC cancelled “The Muppets” after only one season.

The MUPPETS, people.

Who the hell cancels The Muppets?! I mean, you really must have one dark, shriveled, corroded soul to pull the plug on Kermit the Frog.

According to Variety, along with “disappointing ratings” in the 18-49 year old market, critics said the series was “not family-friendly enough and out of step with the history of the characters, created by the late Jim Henson.”

That, my dear Kermie, is pure bullshit.

Having watched every episode of the newest incarnation of “The Muppets,” this show more than did the late Jim Henson proud. The irony isn’t lost on me, either, that this news comes on the heels of today’s anniversary of 26 years since Jim Henson’s sudden and heartbreaking death. What a way to remember and honor the legacy of this creative genius.

As for not being family-friendly enough, the new “Muppets” had plenty of innocent laughs for the younger set combined with an abundance of in-jokes for those of us who remember with nostalgia days when iconic performers like Carol Burnett, Milton Berle, Lena Horne and many, many more were sidekicks to floppy, colorful, zany characters.

And really, since when is “not family friendly enough” a barometer for keeping a show on the air? Have you seen what crap supposedly passes for family-friendly TV these days? If we’re going to make that a criteria, then all we’d be left watching is a blank screen.

Maybe “The Muppets” were doomed in this entertainment culture.  As The Husband wrote in this post (“Remembering Sammy and Kermit: When Entertainment Was the True Reality Television”) which I published here six years ago,

“They were part of an era when ‘entertainment’ meant more than watching some fat bastard try to lose weight, some chick with enormous boobs and not-so-enormous talent try to win a karaoke contest, or some incredibly dysfunctional psychopaths try to raise eight children on television in an attempt to become famous. 

It meant real talent. Real magic.”

Real talent, indeed.  Those Muppets had it.

And we’re not likely to see their real magic ever again.

photo by me, taken at the Please Touch Museum in Philadelphia, Pa, May 2009 

The Sunday Salon: Dispatches from the Back Deck

The Sunday Salon

 

I can’t think of too many places I’d rather be writing this Sunday’s salon than my current location: my lounge chair situated on our back deck. These are the days that make the bullshit of the -13 degree temperatures with the -30 wind chills that we dealt with during this winter worth it.

There’s nothing better than that first time venturing back out onto the deck after such a winter. It’s glorious.

OK, yeah, sure … I admit that there are other more exotic places in the world, but right now on this almost 80-degree perfect weather Sunday with an occasional gust of a breeze and my daffodils in bloom and Don Draper back in my living room this evening and my kids getting along, this corner of southwestern Pennsylvania is as pretty close to heaven today as you can get.

It’s not, of course. Just several miles east of here, the Murraysville community is reeling from this week’s events at Franklin Regional High School where a 16 year old student stabbed more than 20 people. It has shaken many of us in the Pittsburgh area; we know none of us are isolated from this sort of thing and this week brought that reality and the powerless feelings ever so closer to home, once again.

My kids have been talking about the stabbings a little bit. It has come up in their classrooms and in conversations with their friends. As somewhat of a distraction from that and other things, we went to the movies earlier this morning and caught a 10:45 am. matinee of “The Muppet Movie: Most Wanted.” We’re big Muppet fans in this house and although the sequel was, as even The Muppets themselves admit, not as good as the first movie, there were enough fun moments to make it worthwhile. There’s a great very brief-don’t-blink-or-else-you’ll-miss-it cameo by Josh Groban, which I loved and the song “I’m Number One” will speak to anyone who has been in the position to someone who gets all the credit for your hard work.

Mrs. PoeIn bookish news, I’ve been feeling somewhat behind in … well, everything. I have a bunch of reviews and posts that I want to get written, and I can’t remember when I last sat down with a book for a long chunk of time. Next to me here on the deck is my current read, Mrs. Poe by Lynn Cullen, so I’m hoping to make some more headway with that this afternoon.

GoneSomething I did read – and finish this week was Colum McCann’s new short story “Gone,” which is now available as a Kindle Single.  I will, as you know, read anything that Colum McCann writes; he could write the Yellow Pages and I would devour it. (With this, I made the mistake of starting it at lunchtime and I didn’t have enough time to finish it; don’t be like me and do that.) When a child with special needs goes missing, McCann gets to the heart of parental guilt, anguish, and self-blame.

I’m also reading Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens with my son as part of a school project (and listening to the audio book in the car, to try and stay ahead of the game). That deserves a whole separate post, which I’m hoping to get to soon. 

Year of the SnakeAs I mentioned in my previous post, my friend Melissa Luznicky Garrett published her 7th novel yesterday. Year of the Snake is the third book of hers that I’ve had the honor of editing. On the back cover, I give this endorsement:

“In Year of the Snake, Amelia embarks on a year-long journey of self-discovery and, in the process, learns what it’s like to truly fall in love. In her seventh novel, author Melissa Luznicky Garrett proves her own growing versatility as a writer. With madcap plot twists and delightful surprises,Year of the Snake wraps the reader tightly around Amelia, Mason and Desmond and keeps one guessing about who will be Amelia’s ultimate choice. A light romantic read, it’s impossible not to look more closely at our own lives to discover what stories are inside us that are just waiting to be written.” 

Now I’m off to spend some time with Mrs. Poe and perhaps a glass of wine. Here’s to good books, and to spring finally being in bloom. (At least for today, until it becomes 45 degrees again later this week.)

Such is spring in Pittsburgh.

Daffodils in bloom 2014

 

 

My One Sentence Review of "The Muppets"

Original Kermit doll, on display and under glass at the
Please Touch Museum, Philadelphia, PA
Photo taken by me, May 2009

We just came back from seeing “The Muppets” in the theater.

(Which was a big, big deal for us as it was our first outing ever to the movies as a family – mind you, my kids just turned 10 – and The Husband’s first movie in a theater since seeing “Titanic” in 1997.)

We are, it must be said, Muppet devotees.  In our minds, Jim Henson is akin to God. (As proof, kindly see The Husband’s brilliant – if I do say so myself – guest post on this here blog, “Remembering Sammy and Kermit: When Entertainment Was the True Reality Television” from May 16, 2010, commemorating the 20th anniversary of the passing of two of show biz’s greats.)

We have Seasons 1-3 of “The Muppet Show” on DVD. They’re watched frequently in this house. One of the hallmarks of Boo’s autism is that he recites episodes of “The Muppet Show” verbatim.

For hours.

So, that being said, “The Muppets” had a lot to live up to with us – and much potential to disappoint.

After seeing this, my review is all of one sentence:

Muppets, you done Jim Henson (and us) most proud.  
Go see this.  If you don’t love this, you don’t have a heart.  

copyright 2011, Melissa, The Betty and Boo Chronicles If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

The Sunday Salon: Catching Up on Three Months of Reading Wrap Ups

This is how it happens:

When the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve, you make yourself a big ol’ New Years blogging resolution to be more on top of your reading wrap up posts and challenge updates and all these other nerdish hoosie-moosies we bookish folk get ourselves into. And that works pretty well through January and even a bit into February.

And then in March you’re like, “Ehhhh … nobody will notice if I just let this lapse into April.”  And then April slips slides away into May, and before you know it, you’re staring down the mid-point of the year almost and remembering how much you swore on December 30 as you wrote your wrap-up post for the year how much easier it would have been if you just had your shit together during the 11 other months gone by.

Or maybe that’s just me.

Yeah, I’m a little behind on my reading recap posts. I was going to say how pathetic these totals are, but 12 books in three months averages out to be almost a book a week.  At this point, I’ll take it. 

Books I Read in March (7)

(Links at the end of the book covers take you to my reviews, in case you missed them or are just curious.  I also have reviews for all but two of the others but just haven’t posted them yet.)

Talking to Girls About Duran Duran, by Rob Sheffield
  
Room, by Emma Donoghue

I Curse the River of Time, by Per Petterson


Everybody Loves Somebody, by Joanna Scott


The Solitude of Prime Numbers, by Paolo Giordano

The Box: Tales from the Darkroom, by Gunter Grass

American Wasteland: How America Throws Away Nearly Half Its Food

March was a great reading month, quality-wise. I really liked Everybody Loves Somebody (a great short story collection), Room, The Solitude of Prime Numbers, and American Wasteland best. Talking to Girls About Duran Duran deserves a mention too.  It was very funny and a light read, despite the mudslinging that Sheffield delivers to Paul McCartney, which I found excessive and kind of unnecessary.

I Curse the River of Time and The Box weren’t really for me and I didn’t enjoy either of them much.  I have reviews written (just not posted) for both of these.

Books I Read in April  (2)
 In the Neighborhood: The Search for Community on an American Street,
One Sleepover at a Time, by Peter Lovenheim
Fragile Beasts, by Tawni O’Dell
Getting our house ready for the market was a process and a half that went into high gear in April, so my reading time became much more limited – hence, only two books read.  In the Neighborhood: The Search for Community on an American Street, One Sleepover at a Time, by Peter Lovenheim is a really interesting memoir.  After one of his neighbors is murdered in a domestic violence incident, Peter Lovenheim realizes he really doesn’t know his neighbors at all – and the book is his quest to do that, by striking up conversations and eventually asking them if he can sleep over at their houses and observe them in the spirit of getting to know them better. A few said no, but several agreed. 

(Those of you who know me and The Husband in real life can probably guess what camp we would fall into. It’s a pretty good bet that we won’t be having any sleepovers – unless they involve our 9 year old twins -in our house or the one we’re moving to.)

Fragile Beasts started out well for me – I was really engrossed in the story – but it lost me a bit midway, and then completely at the end with some gratuitous-seeming (at least to me) storylines.

I’ll have more to say in my reviews of both of these.

Books Finished in May (3)

The Monsters of Templeton, by Lauren Groff
Carlyle’s House and Other Sketches, by Virginia Woolf
Breaking Night: A Memoir of Forgiveness, Survival, and
My Journey From Homeless to Harvard, by Liz Murray

The Monsters of Templeton is probably going to make it onto my best books read this year.  I really enjoyed this novel about the residents of Templeton, NY (a stand-in for Cooperstown) and their interconnected lives (boy, are they ever interconnected!).  There’s a bit of magical realism in this one too, with a monster that lives at the bottom of Lake Glimmerglass, and whose presence has a significant impact on the townsfolk.  (Not in an oooooohhhhhh!!! Big-skeeeerrrrry-monnnnnnnsterrrrrrr!!! kind of way.  He’s a gentle soul.  Think Mr. Snuffleupagus. More along the lines of a monster conjuring up sympathy and compassion and being symbolic for how we all have demons that we’re burying and that ultimately, we need to bring to the surface, no matter how much doing so makes us tremble inside.)  Review to come. 

I’m not sure I’ll do a formal review of Carlyle’s House. These are five fairly brief essays (or “sketches”) by Virginia Woolf and I only read it because … well, because it’s Virginia Woolf.  Truth be told, I liked the introductions to the essays a bit better than the writings themselves. 

And finally, I just finished Breaking Night earlier this week and have A LOT to say about this one in my review.  It’s a powerful book in terms of the story.  The writing itself was such that I found to be a little flat, but the story was what pulled me along.  It has been compared to The Glass Castle, and I see the similarities, but also the differences.

So there you have it.  All caught up for another month. 

Or, you know … maybe three. 

copyright 2011, Melissa, The Betty and Boo Chronicles If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Links I Liked

I’m telling you, I learn something new with every Moms Rising post.  I’d heard that antibacterial soaps and the like aren’t all they’re cracked up (and promoted) to be, but I never knew exactly why.  Alice Shabecoff’s post, Antibacterials = Anti Health explains this in great detail.  Clearly, I need to be paying more attention to this.

Speaking of paying attention (or, more accurately, not paying attention) this Newsweek piece by Andrew Romano offers some thoughts (which I agree with) on Why the Media Ignored the Nashville Flood.

My friend Kirsten is a development consultant for nonprofits in the Louisville, KY area and has a great post on her blog, Fundraising Headlines about the importance of marketing for nonprofits.

And my other friend (and the blogger behind Stephanie’s Stories) Stephanie is auditioning – in her bathrobe, no less! – for a chance to be Oprah’s next talk show host. Go here and vote – up to 100 times a day – for Aunt Steph’s Stoop.  Even if you don’t like Stephanie’s audition tape, you gotta give props to Stephanie for having enough chutzpah to be filmed in her bathrobe knowing that Oprah herself is watching.

Finally, yesterday (Sunday 5/16) marked the 20th anniversary of the deaths of Sammy Davis Jr. and Jim Henson. My husband has a tribute to both men in his post, Sammy and Kermit: Remembering When Entertainment was the True Reality.  Well worth the read. (I’d be linking to this even if the author wasn’t the guy on the laptop next to mine.)

copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo’s Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Remembering Sammy and Kermit: When Entertainment Was the True Reality Television

I wish I could take credit for this post, but instead, it’s a guest post from my husband. 

How is it possible that 20 years have passed? It is simply inconceivable to me. I can remember the day as though it was just a week ago. The double-whammy. One you knew was imminent, the other was a punch in the gut. 20 years. May 16, 1990. On that day, 20 years ago, we lost two of the greats: Sammy Davis Jr. and Jim Henson.

What I can’t remember, however, is whose death I learned of first [Henson died first, early on the morning of May 16th]. I want to say it was Sammy’s, but that may have more to do with the inordinate amount of media coverage it garnered compared to when word of Henson’s death was released. Sammy had been in deteriorating health from throat cancer. When he was admitted to Cedar-Sinai Medical Center in early 1990, doctors told him they might be able to save his life with a radical new procedure that included the removal of his vocal chords. Perhaps apocryphal, the story goes that Sammy looked at the doctors and said, “I’m not leavin’ [this Earth] without my pipes, man.” True to his word, Davis discharged himself from the hospital in mid-March 1990 and went home to die. For weeks, a morbid vigil developed in front of Davis’ California home as reporters seemingly eagerly awaited word of the entertainer’s death.

It was that preparation and expectation that may explain the way Henson’s death was – at the time – overlooked by many. The mainstream media was ready for Davis’ death. True, Davis was also a larger ‘star’. But Henson’s death at any other time would have been the lead story. Instead, it was largely overlooked at the time. It was only as days passed – particularly the moving memorial tribute to him by Big Bird at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City on May 22nd – that the reality of Henson’s death began to sink in. I defy anyone to watch it and not be moved to tears.

Being of the same age as Sesame Street, I grew up with Henson – although I was probably about 10 when I first heard his name. My favorite Muppet was always Kermit the Frog. I enjoyed the others, but to me Kermit was the star.

Humble, funny, sarcastic without malice, and above all: an entertainer. That describes both Henson and Sammy Davis [not to mention Kermit]. That was another factor that made their deaths so ironic and sad: there are too few nice people in the world; to lose two in one day sucked.

Unlike Davis’ terminal illness, Henson’s death was completely unexpected. The entire episode took less than four full days. On May 12th Henson traveled to visit his father in North Carolina. The next morning he awoke not feeling well. Surprisingly – considering his Christian Science religious background – he sought out a doctor for consultation that day. The doctor found nothing to indicate pneumonia and simply told Henson to take aspirin and try to sleep. Henson decided to fly back home to New York. Henson was visited at home by his wife – from whom he was now separated – where they talked long into the evening. He fell asleep but awoke at 2 am on May 15th coughing up blood and having difficulty breathing. He uncharacteristically told Jane he thought he was dying. Around 4 am he consented to being taken to the hospital. He was admitted at 4:58 am at roughly the same time he became unable to breathe on his own at all. He was placed on a ventilator and pumped with an aggressive series of antibiotics. It was no use. Twenty hours later, at 1:21 am on May 16th, he died. The cause of death was organ failure due to a streptococcal infection.

While Henson was extremely influential on my childhood memories, so was Sammy. I first saw him singing The Candyman somewhere. He appeared in an episode of All in the Family a little later [this was, no doubt, a re-run, as the original episode aired in 1972]. I saw him in old clips. Singing, dancing. Laughing. Sammy was the real deal, and I knew it even as a kid. As much as I loved Michael Jackson as a kid, I scoffed at comparisons between he and Davis when it came to entertainment and dancing. While Davis had almost as bizarre a personal life as did Jackson [although I knew about neither man’s peccadilloes until much later], Sammy had charisma and charm. Jackson had surprisingly almost no personality at all.

There was something endearing about Sammy. He’d appear on a sitcom [I seem to remember a recurring character on Diff’rent Strokes] throughout the 1980s and I came to truly love his music and his persona. To me, even as a kid, Sammy Davis was cool.

So, today, on the 20th anniversary of their deaths, I remember these two great men. I sit here in wonder that it has been 20 years. Today, had they lived, Henson would have been 73 and Davis 84. Over the past twenty years many of their collaborators and contemporaries are gone. Indeed, the last person with whom Sammy recorded a song – Lena Horne – died just the other day [the song, by the way, is phenomenal: I Wish I’d Met You].

They were part of an era when ‘entertainment’ meant more than watching some fat bastard try to lose weight, some chick with enormous tits and not-so-enormous talent try to win a karaoke contest, or some incredibly dysfunctional psychopaths try to raise eight children on television in an attempt to become famous.

It meant real talent. Real magic.

Sammy Davis and Jim Henson. They were the ultimate and true reality television. RIP gentlemen, 20 years later you are still sorely missed.

Book Review: Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street, by Michael Davis

Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street, by Michael Davis

It all started with a conversation among friends.

Lloyd Morrisett, a psychologist and vice president with the Carnegie Corporation, was a guest at a Manhattan dinner party in 1966 hosted by Tim and Joan Ganz Cooney. The evening’s conversation naturally turned to television, given Joan’s profession as a producer at Channel Thirteen and Lloyd’s interest in the medium from a funder’s and a parent’s perspective. His 3 year old was fascinated with TV.

He wondered aloud about whether TV could be used to entertain and teach kids, even ones as young as his daughter Sarah.

There were other children’s shows prior to Sesame Street – such as Ding Dong School, Kukla Fran and Ollie, Captain Kangaroo (which gets a lot of ink in the first third or so of the book), and Romper Room – but as Michael Davis writes in Street Gang:

“Sesame Street came along and rewrote the book. Never before had anyone assembled an A-list of advisers to develop a series with stated educational norms and objectives. Never before had anyone viewed a children’s show as a living laboratory, where results would be vigorously and continually tested. Never before in television had anyone thought to commingle writers and social science researchers, a forced marriage that, with surprising ease and good humor, endured and thrived.”

The book opens with a vivid description of Jim Henson’s funeral on May 21, 1990. Those passages and all in between represent an extensively researched and very, very detailed book (Davis even includes the page number from the Julia Child cookbook where one could find the exact boeuf bourgieonne recipe that Joan Ganz Cooney, who would later become the founder of Sesame Street and the head of the Children’s Television Workshop, made that very night of her dinner party).

Throughout Street Gang, Davis meticulously takes his reader through each step leading to Sesame Street’s creation, which did not happen immediately. It would be three years from the dinner party before the first episode of Sesame Street went on the air.

For as much as the brownstones of 123 Sesame Street are the backdrop for a carefree and breezy day, getting there proved to be anything but easy. There was funding to acquire (and in several cases, much convincing of project’s worthiness to the bigwigs who controlled those foundations’ coffers). And there was the question of who would be the executive director of Children’s Television Workshop, the head honcho in charge of bringing the as yet unnamed show to life. The logical choice would have seemed to be Joan Ganz Cooney herself.

But Joan wasn’t on the minds of many. Her perceived lack of experience for the executive director job – despite doing exhaustive research and writing the concept of what would become Sesame Street, travelling around the country meeting with everyone from esteemed academicians to kids in day care – was almost secondary to the fact that she was a woman. (Again, remember the times. We’re talking the late 60s, and even though the women’s movement was making strides, we still had a ways to go in the corporate echelons.) The perception was that a project headed by a woman couldn’t be taken seriously and attract the funding it would need to get off the ground ($8 million dollars, a hefty sum back then.) Not to mention the discussion about whether Joan was a good choice for the position because she had the audacity to be married.

Even casting the human characters (not to say that the Muppets aren’t akin to people) wasn’t a cakewalk. For example, just five months before the show was to begin taping, the cast hadn’t been assembled yet.

What’s interesting about this is that almost everyone on the show had some connection to another Sesame Street cast member – and that several initially said no (sometimes firmly) to an offer to become part of what was originally perceived to be just another children’s show. (Think of the quality of children’s television back then, and it’s understandable to see why actors who were already established with solid credentials were reluctant.)

Street Gang is, for the most part, a fascinating and satisfying glimpse into the world of children’s television, the development of the various beloved Sesame Street and Muppet characters we all know and love, and the episodes such as the death of Mr. Hooper that will live on forever. Michael Davis gives us all the stories behind the stories – the workplace dynamics, the personal lives of everyone involved (including, in several cases, their sad and tragic deaths).

Perhaps the most fitting description of the timeless quality of Sesame Street is this quote from singer/songwriter James Taylor, who appeared on the show as Jellyman Kelly in 1983.

“Elsewhere on television, there was a corporate Novacain that crept up and killed spontaneity. Television doesn’t trust spontaneity because it’s not reliable. The wonder of Sesame Street is that it has never tried to wrap children up in cellophane. It’s as if the show has been saying, ‘Come on and
join the real world,’ helping children relate to that world. …

Kids particularly need to find a vision of themselves that works in the world, a way in which they can tell themselves, ‘Yeah, there’s a place for me. I can go through and make it.’ They need to know this daily, and in time it all comes together. And it’s not only about children, it’s about us as grown individuals and how we see ourselves, how we react and what kind of internal myths and self-images we construct for ourselves out of what’s available. It’s what our
culture is.

I find it amazing how much Sesame Street has offered of that essential process, and what a wide range of people it offered it to, a hugely inclusive group. Always in a joyous way.” (pg. 253)

After reading Street Gang, I believe even more that Sesame Street is a national treasure, that those of us who grew up watching it (and “The Electric Company”) are so lucky and all the more richer for having this experience. I’ll even go as far to say that this is one factor that distinguishes those of us whose formative years were in the early and mid-70s with today’s generation of professionals who were weaned on the likes of Barney.

(I know, I shuddered too.)

I believe that we will not see the likes of “Sesame Street” again, given the corporatization and marketing driven nature of today’s children’s programming and the erosion of childhood itself.

Street Gang pays homage to a show that represents a time when we were all a little more innocent, a little more trusting, and the world was full of sunny days and a community to help us sweep the clouds away.

I got Street Gang from the New Releases shelf at the library.

What Others Had to Say (and Other Interesting Sites):

Although I read Street Gang in its printed version, I learned that the audio book is read by Caroll Spinney (perhaps better known as Big Bird). How cool is that?

Michael Davis’ website for Street Gang is http://www.streetgangthebook.com/

New York Times Book Review (I love the quote in this that describes Street Gang as the definitive book on Sesame Street, one that allows the viewer to touch Big Bird’s feathers.)

Shelf Life