I am about to start an epic pie fight. Enjoy!
Many of you will consider this diary pro-Elmo propaganda, but I just calls it like I see it.
Warning: Spoilers for both Farscape and The Muppet Christmas Carol below are major. I also take a shot at Firefly. If you don't hate me by the end of this diary, I did it wrong.
Come beneath the fold: the pie is tasty and the Muppets controversial.
Muppets Most Wanted has sort have made me realize how much the Muppets have evolved since Jim Henson's passing. I am going to straight up say that I am NOT the kind of person who believes the franchise went to Hell after he died. That is complete nonsense, and the grumblings of fanboys who have outgrown the franchise, and aren't self-aware enough to realize it. The Muppets ain't ever gonna be Game of Thrones. It's a kiddie franchise. Keep your expectations reasonable.
And frankly a TON of Muppet projects since Henson's death have been better than some of the so-so stuff he created when he was alive. I'll do a list of the three tiers of Muppet quality projects. I'm excluded both the Jason Segal movie and Muppets Most Wanted (although they'd be between the top and middle tier) because I want to focus exclusively on projects either Henson or his family were mainly responsible for.
The Muppet Christmas Carol:
Proof that the idea that the Muppets died when Henson did is a lie. It is the best Muppet Movie of all time. Nothing else comes close. Where to begin? Whoever's genius idea it was to have Michael Caine's Scrooge treat the Muppets as regular, people rather than wacky cartoon characters was brilliant. And by doing that, the movie gets the best performance out of a human in Muppet movie history.
It is also a contender for best Christmas Carol adaptation too. Don't think I'm serious? Rewatch the scene of Scrooge in the graveyard to realize how great it is, and how this has all other versions of the scene (including Dickens' original) beat. In it, Caine plays the scene as if he knows ALL along that it is his name on the grave. He tries to deny it, but as he slowly walks up, you can see the genuine fear and conflicting emotion on his face. He KNOWS it's him, and is dreading being proven right. It is heart-wrenching. Frankly, I have no idea why Dickens didn't do this in the first place. Scrooge being SO surprised he died alone and friendless, struck me as the mark of a character much stupider than Scrooge actually was. Sure, it sort of worked for the narrative Dickens was trying to tell, (and may have even fooled some members of the reading public) but it does NOT hold up to scrutiny. I mean, A Christmas Carol SHOULD be a story about the three ghosts gradually reforming Scrooge bit by bit by showing him the consequences of his actions. But by having his transformation be ONLY after realizing he dies if he doesn't shape up, sort of makes the rest of the story seem pointless. I know that isn't true in ALL Dickens' adaptations of the story, but when you see him being friendly with the Ghost of Christmas Present and heartbroken at his passing, you see HOW and why Scrooge changes. In a LOT of other Scrooge adaptations his reformation often strikes me as a deathbed repentance and not actually genuine. In the Muppet Christmas Carol, it totally IS genuine and it is the graveyard scene that illustrates it best.
Also, if you DON'T cry by the end of the song "When Love Is Gone" you literally have no soul. You are Angelus. Full stop.
Scorpius is quite possibly the best fictional villain created in the past twenty years. And yes, I'm aware Severus Snape exists. Because as evil and frightening as Scorpy is, for all we know, his goals may be benevolent! For one thing, he HATES the Scarrans even more than our heroes do. But he completely twisted John Crichton's mind and even killed Aeryn Sun (and later Zhaan)! What am I SUPPOSED to think?! He also has the best and scariest live-action villain design created for television. I think it may be even better than the Daleks. I'm not joking. And he whispers when he's angry! Yikes!
By the way, if there was any justice in the world, John Crichton would have defined the male sci-fi action hero in the late 1990's / early 2000's the way James T. Kirk did in the 1960's, and Jean-Luc Picard did in the late 80's / early 90's. Mal Reynolds is a NOTHING compared to him. You heard me. Come and get me.
Any truly impartial Muppet fan would admit this is better than the original series. It doesn't use all of our favorite characters (it misguidedly waited for Frank Oz's availability, rather than simply recasting him as the later projects have done). But quality-wise, it is top-notch.
The Great Muppet Caper:
Second best Muppet Movie. It really does NOT get enough credit with Muppet fans. It's the only one of the original Muppet movie trilogy to have an actual plot. And it's as tightly plotted as any genuine heist movie. It's mad funny too. Charles Grodin is the second best human performer in the Muppet movies and even if he doesn't QUITE treat the Muppets as real people as Michael Caine does, he at least treats Miss Piggy that way. The songs are all excellent too.
The Muppet Movie:
As an origin story, it doesn't really work but as a movie? It is magic. Two words: Rainbow Connection.
I don't even know WHY this is a Henson project, but it is, and it is excellent. What is green, hangs from a wall, and whistles? A trout. You can paint it green. You can nail it to a wall. And the whistling thing was just to make it not seem so obvious.
The ONLY good part of The Jim Henson Hour. John Hurt is magnificent.
Follow That Bird!
The Adventures Of Elmo In Grouchland:
Best Henson project created exclusively for preschoolers ever made. Even Follow That Bird catered a lot to the parents in the audience. The Elmo movie is exclusive a right and wrong fable for four year olds, and is unapologetic about it. And if the adults don't like it, raspberries.
Sesame Street Old School (1960's and 70's)
I'll admit I prefer Elmo to all other Muppets (I went there), but there is no denying the vast amounts of groundbreaking songs and skits that have lasted for 50 years created just in the program's first couple of years. And Groundbreaking doesn't quite cover it. More like legendary.
Sesame Street (80's and 90's)
When Elmo was an important part, but not the focus. It's easy to see WHY he became the focus (he's lovable and appealing) but it was a mistake for the franchise. I understand why it happened (Elmo sells merchandise) but Elmo is a VERY polarizing character who works best in small doses. I actually don't care much for Big Bird, but he always made a MUCH better center than Elmo. Elmo used to be the Creed from The Office / Bill Murray in Every Supporting Movie Role Ever of Sesame Street. You always wanted to see more of him but you only saw JUST a bit. Instead he didn't just become the Kenneth from 30 Rock (who you saw too much of till you were sick of him). He became the Fonz from Happy Days (who is Kenneth to the Nth degree). Also even though Elmo is a big part of the show at this point, they still always recycled the original songs and skits that didn't contain him, which the current version doesn't seem to. So even if you don't like Elmo, you still saw an equal amount of your old favorites.
Jim Henson created world peace. At least between children in the 80's. It is now more topical than ever.
Bear In The Big Blue House:
They never should have canceled this. It should have been as evergreen a property as Sesame Street. Disney Channel is stupid.
Brings the horrifying book to life without the depressing ending. If you have fingernails left after seeing this, I envy you.
The Christmas Toy:
This beat Toy Story to the punch by a decade. And I'm sorry, the toys in this are put in MUCH direr jeopardy than Woody and company (at least until the third movie). I am STILL traumatized by Mew being "frozen forever." On the other hand, Rigby the Tiger is detestable and self-absorbed, and the rest of the characters aren't much more likeable. This is the Muppets version of Seinfeld.
The Dark Crystal:
Yeah, its creepy and freaky, but as a movie? It is REALLY slow-going, and makes me antsy every time I see it. I'm always checking the clock. It's the only Henson project that does that.
Admittedly, WAAAYYYY better than The Dark Crystal (and David Bowie and Jennifer Connelly have amazing chemistry), but the ending sucked, so it drops to the middle tier.
The Muppet Show:
Sacrilege. Yes, I know. But rewatching the show on DVD made me realize how unfunny those vaudeville jokes actually are. They weren't even cogent puns. The eye-popping musical numbers are the thing that saved the series. It would be a chore to watch otherwise.
It's A Very, Merry, Muppet Christmas Movie:
There is no difference in sensibility between this and the Jason Segal movie. None. People saying that movie changed the game for the Muppets missed this. It is identical in tone, even if the songs are nowhere NEAR as good, and it contains Whoopi Goldberg (groan) and the cast of Scrubs, rather than Amy Adams and the kid from Modern Family.
Muppet Babies (1st and 2nd seasons):
The show was always vastly overrated, but the first season was better than any other cartoon on television at that point. The second season was slightly worse, and then the show jumped the shark from seasons three on, but the first season totally doesn't suck. And I'd put the first season's songs in the league of ANY Muppet or Sesame song ever written. B-b-b-b-best Friends, indeed.
I love it, and think its politics are still relevant, but unlike Fraggle Rock, it hasn't aged well. They still have jokes making fun of the French's obsession with Jerry Lewis. Let it go, comedy. It was never a funny observation, and it seems even stupider 20 years later. But it gets points for having the guts to go BLEAK in its series finale (as it should have), and Baby Sinclair is the Henson character not currently in use I miss most (Tutter from Bear In The Big Blue House is second).
The Muppets Take Manhattan:
I was SORELY tempted to put this in the bottom tier, simply because it has a completely undeserved good reputation, and because it is the third most badly written Muppet project after MuppetTelevision and Kermit's Swamp Years. Even Muppets From Space's dialogue makes me cringe less. And it has the worst guest cast of any Muppet film. But I CAN'T put in it the bottom tier. "Saying Goodbye", man. It gets me. Every. Dang. TIME! Bonus points for the debut of The Muppet Babies in their first (and best) musical number "I'm Always Gonna Love You."
UPDATE: A Muppet Family Christmas:
Can't believe I forgot this one. The biggest Muppet crossover event in history! The Muppets! Sesame Street! Fraggle Rock! Even the Muppet Babies show up! Yowza!
Sesame Street (2000's to Present):
Unlike most of the other projects in the bottom tier, I still like this, but it sometimes REALLY tries my patience. I understand why the producers switched to Daycare and Elmo's World format (studies showed structure is better for children) but BOY, I don't like that at all. Sesame Street no longer has its best quality: unpredictability. You used to have no idea if you were gonna be treated to Put Down The Duckie or I Don't Want To Live On The Moon, or be grossed out with the baby with chocolate cookie all over his face or that creepy "B is for Bubble" segment. I miss never knowing. But again, this is the complaining fanboy in me. I know deep down it's okay, and that it's not meant for me. But I still don't think they should have made Elmo the main character. You do not know how dismayed I am to see online how hated he is, when he is my favorite. People are sick of him. That NEVER should have happened.
Muppet Treasure Island:
There is a genuine debate to be had whether this so-so movie actually belongs in the middle tier, but it is the most boring of the Muppet movies. Only The Dark Crystal is slower. And it's not very funny either.
Muppets Wizard Of Oz:
Same problems as Treasure Island, but it is also not actually terrible.
Muppets From Space:
Nowhere near as bad as it reputation suggests, but to quote Opus the Penguin: "But Lord, it wasn't good." It's not so much that I don't think you can't center a movie around Gonzo. It's that I don't think you can center a GOOD one around him.
A Muppets Christmas: Letters To Santa:
Last major Muppet project before the Segal update. It is easy to see why the update was necessary. It is awful.
Muppet Babies (Seasons 3-)
Twaddle. And contains possibly the most annoying voices on Saturday morning television in the 1980's. Admittedly, the first two seasons did too, but it was a LOT less noticeable.
Kermit's Swamp Years:
Worst Henson film of all time. I am surprised they actually released this. It is so bad, you would think they'd pull a "Little Muppet Monsters" and pull it from circulation due to embarrassing the company's quality standards. It still being available on DVD strikes me as George Lucas being proud of The Star Wars Holiday Special. It should be gathering dust in the Muppet vault.
I'm sorry, but people who say The Henson Company sold out after Jim's death never saw this. It (and Little Muppet Monsters) are probably the worst Henson projects of all time (although Kermit's Swamp Years is a contender). Jim was NOT infallible.
The Rest of The Jim Henson Hour (Besides The Storyteller):
Yeah, Dog City famously won the Emmy (and ticked off Dennis Miller, which is always a plus). But it still sucked.
The Storyteller: Greek Myths
Whose genius idea was it to adapt the completely depressing and inappropriate Greek Myths for kids? Be thankful it only lasted four miserable episodes. And as much as I admire Michael Gambon for his work in both Harry Potter and Doctor Who, his Storyteller SUCKED. John Hurt was absolutely irreplaceable.
Aliens In The Family:
I only saw one episode of this. That was enough.
TBD (haven't seen it yet)
Dog City: The Animated Series.
The Secret Life Of Toys.
Mother Goose Stories.
Brats Of The Lost Nebula.
Emmett Otter's Jug-Band Christmas.
The Ghost Of Faffner Hall.
The Wubbulous World Of Doctor Suess (I've seen six episodes of this one but no others. It was all right.)
Fraggle Rock: The Animated Series (haven't seen this since I was little, so I can't say for sure).
Little Muppet Monsters. (Only seen bits of this over the air 3 decades ago, but I remember it sucking).
What'd I miss?