Laughing Matters — Muppets Tonight, “Sid Knishes and His Mosh-Pit-atoes”

Sometimes comedy illuminates hard truths with a pointed urgency that other means can’t quite achieve. Sometimes comedy is just funny. This series of posts is mostly about the former instances, but the latter is valuable, too.

In the past several days, I’ve taken great delight in the Emmet’s Otter’s Jugband Christmas outtakes making the rounds, and I’ve done everything I can to avoid the new trailers for The Happytime Murders, convinced to the pit of my stomach that a deliberately edgy, R-rated adventure populated by Muppets is a bad idea, even if a Henson scion is behind it. The brand of character crafted into life by Jim Henson and his compatriots haven’t been nearly as durable and adaptable as their less-than-benevolent corporate overlords at Disney surely hoped. Jason Segel’s valiant effort to return them to the big screen was enjoyable, if only because his clear affection cast a golden glow on the entire endeavor. Most other attempts has been messy, rife with evidence that no one quite knows what to do with these frolicking, felt vaudevillians

Although I’m must sure the answer truly lies there, as a lifelong fan I’ll note my enduring affection for the mid-nineteen-nineties stab at securing them a spot on television, a program called Muppets Tonight. Following the rough template of the original The Muppet Show, but with the conceit of a theatrical performance replaced overtly replaced with that of a television show, Muppets Tonight at least recaptured some of the joyously maniacal idea-flinging of the earlier success. Some of the best bits were over in a snap. The most recent prime time series tried to hard to wedge the Muppets into a sitcom template, with ongoing story lines that were an ill fit. In an era that thrives on shareable chunks of content, the little throwaways did far better.

Muppets Tonight wasn’t comprised of nothing but throwaways, by any means, but I could imagine the show thriving if it had existed at a time when people were eager to log into social media so they could share their favorite new discoveries. One of the bits from the episode of the show featuring Prince as a guest star even made the rounds not so long ago (though sadly not the sketch that should’ve taken off). I know this for sure: had I the means at the time, I would have cross-posted the live performance of Sid Knishes and His Mosh-Pit-atoes onto every digital platform available to me.

Spectrum Check

Ah, here’s Spectrum Check, back at it’s regularly scheduled time. So the first piece I had go up this week happened as a direct result of the intervention of my friend, a fabulous babe who a generation of Madison music fans know as Casino Queen. Somewhere around the midpoint of my ongoing countdown of the best films of the nineteen-eighties, she emailed me with the gentle but firm assertion that our friendship might be in jeopardy if the 1981 cinematic extravaganza The Great Muppet Caper wasn’t included somewhere on the list. I sheepishly informed her that it indeed would not appear on the tally, including a feeble (but accurate) excuse that I hadn’t seen it recently enough to gauge its quality aside from my admittedly nostalgic memories. Shortly thereafter, a DVD copy of the film arrived in the mail with a sticky note attached: “For Your Consideration.” While I wasn’t prepared to make a revision to the ongoing countdown, regardless of the outcome of a fresh viewing, Spectrum Culture luckily has a recurring feature perfectly suited to this situation. I only wish I could have better conveyed the enjoyment I got out of seeing Charles Grodin acting uncharacteristically goofy in the film.

I also wrote about a reissue of seventies psychedelic rock by an Iranian musician. Usually, we writers select the albums we want to write about, but I don’t recall putting in for this one. I believe it was assigned to me, presumably because I’d reviewed a similarly-themed release from the same label earlier in the year. I like the challenge of these reviews from the outer edge of my comfort zone, but I’ll admit to feeling a little out of my depth on this one at first. I tend to hone in on lyrics, so having every last one of them delivered in Persian was very tricky for me. I think I did fine with the review, but the earlier effort was probably better.

Then again, sometimes the prospect of having albums assigned for often than not holds its own appeal. When the debut album from Wild Flag showed up on out list of available releases, I snagged it as quick as I could. While I really did make every effort to bring a measured critical acumen to writing about the album, I was fairly certain that I’d be exceedingly pleased by the album. I saw them play live back in the spring and loved every moment of it. Given my strong affection for at least one of the bands this group emanated from, I had no reason to believe it would all fall apart on record. As far as I’m concerned, the quality absolutely carried over. Again, I feel confident in my review, but I do worry about at-the-ready fanboy palpitations shading my assessment. I guess that always comes with the territory, though.

If you’re a human being, take a break from the race

Given that Muppet-related videos make regular appearances at this humble little corner of the Web, it feels a little weird to refrain from embedding the trailer to the upcoming revival film, The Muppets. But then again, I did link to it yesterday on Twitter, and, by now, it seems to be practically everywhere. So instead, I’ll simply acknowledge that I’ve watched it multiple times and my reaction is the same with each fresh viewing. It looks a little like this:

Also, I’d wager this is the precise moment when Jason Segel is the happiest he’s ever been, or will ever be, in his life:

Spectrum Check

There was a time when Uma Thurman was an actress that demanded attention. If she was in a film, it merited at least some amount of consideration. Maybe the finished project was actually not very good (or even downright awful) but she alone made it something that at least went into the “maybe” pile when sorting out film-going options. Sadly, I’ve noticed lately that, as I spin the digital dial considering movies to add to our overstuffed DVR, the opposite is now true. Uma’s inclusion in the cast list–especially at the top of it–is a signal to stay away. I must report that the new film Ceremony does not alter that impression.

On the positive side, I also got to write about the welcome return to recording by The Feelies. I’ll confess that this piece needed a little polishing after I submitted it, but I’ll accept that as a victory considering I wrote it quickly while huddled in a northern cabin in the hours immediately preceding the beginning of The World’s Largest Trivia ContestTM. I was, to put it gently, a little distracted.

The personal effort I’m most pleased with this week is my latest contribution to the ongoing “Oeuvre” series, tracking through the films of François Truffaut. I wrote about The Bride Wore Black (thanks to a crucial assist from my friend and teammate Andy and his Interweb wizardry). Writing about Truffaut is intimidating, so I consider myself lucky that I figured out the angle I wanted to take fairly quickly and easily.

And then there was this week’s List Inconsequential, in which I proved once again that I will never turn down an opportunity to write about the Muppets.