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Tag Archive: Saturday Night Live


Review by C.J. Bunce

The beginning of a new film references the scope of the success of the Muppets: In 1978 the Muppets were seen weekly by more than 235 million people in more than 102 countries, and Time Magazine called them “the most popular entertainment on Earth.”  Created by Jim Henson in 1955 and starring in Sesame Street, in feature films, and in animated films, the Muppets endure to this day.  Regularly returning on television and in movies, they continue to entertain and educate young and old alike.  Frank Oz, the creator and actor behind Sesame Street and The Muppet Show’s Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Cookie Monster, Grover, Animal, and Sam the Eagle, Aughra and Chamberlain in The Dark Crystal, and the performer and voice of Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back and Star Wars: The Last Jedi (and director of countless other films), has produced and directed a new film with four other original Muppet performers to recount the development–and fun–of working in their timeless fantasy world.

Feeling like an informal dinner party among old friends, but even more like the first hour of a 12-part series, Muppet Guys Talking–Secrets Behind the Show the Whole World Watched, is a wonderful, cheery glimpse at life working with Jim Henson, who Emmy-winning performer Frank Oz says “wanted to make a better world.”  Originally premiering at last year’s South by Southwest film festival in Austin, Texas, the film will be available for fans everywhere for the first time next week at MuppetGuysTalking.comFrank Oz brings together Emmy-winner Jerry Nelson, creator and performer of Count von Count, Snuffleupagus, Lew Zealand, Statler, Floyd, and Gobo Fraggle; Emmy-winner Dave Goelz, creator and performer of The Great Gonzo, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, Zoot, and Fizzgig from The Dark Crystal; Emmy-winner Fran Brill, creator and performer of Prairie Dawn, Zoe, Little Bird, Betty Lou, and The Land of Gorch’s Vazh; and Bill Barretta, BTVA Award-winning creator and performer of Pepe the King Prawn, Johnny Fiama, Bobo the Bear, and Big Mean Carl.  Along with providing insight into Muppet mastermind Jim Henson, the “Muppet Guys” provide some advice on creating characters that will be worthwhile to creators in many media, as well as offering a great peek into the job of performing with puppetry.  The most difficult part?  Yep, holding your arms over your head inside the Muppets for a very long time.

From John Denver and the Muppets Rocky Mountain Holiday.  You don’t see the dozen human performers underneath the ground working the Muppets and speaking their lines.

Oz and Goelz recount major difficulties in the craft, like building a hole in the ground around a bonfire with a propane tank near their heads, so they could stand and perform their characters sitting around a real campfire above, as filmed for the famous John Denver Rocky Mountain Holiday TV special and album.  They also discuss Henson performing the risky opening scene of The Muppet Movie, stuffed inside a tube submerged in a backlot, underwater stage swamp with a small TV monitor and his arms above his head to perform Kermit singing and playing banjo on “The Rainbow Connection.”  The discussions among these friends are fun to watch, and the viewers will feel like they are a part of the room.  And viewers can’t help but listen for the performers slipping in and out of various voices–like the sound of Grover and Cookie Monster from Oz a few times when he gets animated or is laughing.  The most valuable bits center around what seems to be a shared tool among the performers–Oz developed a thorough backstory for each of his characters that never makes it beyond his own mind, to assist with his performance (like method acting).

Other highlights include Dave Goelz recounting how he got into the business when he was a young aspiring puppeteer working an office job at Hewlett-Packard, Bill Barretta discussing his inspiration for the King Prawn character Pepe, Fran Brill discussing her fix for performing while not being as tall as the others, and Jerry Nelson coming up with the voice of Snuffleupagus and discussing the late performer Richie Hunt (who performed characters including Scooter, Beaker, Statler, Janice and Sweetums).  Sadly documentary contributor Jerry Nelson passed away before the premiere of the documentary at South by Southwest, and the show is dedicated to him.

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One of the best subjects I have discussed with a celebrity was asking Peter Mayhew–the actor known for playing Chewbacca from Star Wars–to talk about working with the Muppets when he guest-starred on The Muppet Show with Mark Hamill as Luke and Anthony Daniels as C-3PO in January 1980.  Mayhew beamed as the memories flooded back and he described two incredible worlds he was immersed in–interacting with these great furry characters from television just as if they were real people, and looking down below them to see an entire separate world of creators sprawled across each other with their hands working in every direction like a giant work of magic.  Frank Oz, the actor and voice of Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back and The Last Jedi, and the creator and actor behind Sesame Street and The Muppet Show’s Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Cookie Monster, Grover, Animal, and many more, has created a new documentary with five of the original Muppet performers to recount the creation of their timeless fantasy world.

Originally premiering at last year’s South by Southwest film festival in Austin, Texas, Muppet Guys Talking: Secrets Behind the Show the Whole World Watched, will be available for fans everywhere for the first time in March.  Emmy-winning performer Frank Oz, who also was co-director of The Dark Crystal and director of movies from Dirty Rotten Scoundrels to HouseSitter, brings together Emmy-winner Jerry Nelson, creator and performer of Count von Count, Snuffleupagus, Lew Zealand, Statler, Gobo Fraggle, and the original Saturday Night Live character Scred; Emmy-winner Dave Goelz, creator and performer of The Great Gonzo, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, Zoot, Waldorf/Robert Marley, and Fizzgig from The Dark Crystal; Emmy-winner Fran Brill, creator and performer of Prairie Dawn, Zoe, Little Bird, Betty Lou, and The Land of Gorch’s Vazh (and recurring Law and Order actress); and Bill Barretta, BTVA Award-winning creator and performer of Pepe the King Prawn, Johnny Fiama, Bobo the Bear, and Big Mean Carl.

Dave Goelz, Jerry Nelson, the late Jim Henson, Frank Oz, and the late Richard Hunt, with Gonzo, Floyd, Kermit, Fozzie, and Scooter.

The performers of so many beloved characters discuss their individual approaches to creating memorable characters and the impact Jim Henson had on their lives and work.  This is all a great tie-in to the 35th anniversary return of The Dark Crystal to theaters next month (check out our preview here and the Fathom Events website here for more information on that event).  For a taste of some of the fun to be had in Muppet Guys Talking, check out the website for the show, MuppetGuysTalking.com, and these quick previews:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

If you had a time machine and your goal was to find someone to give a master class in storytelling–a master class in worldbuilding–and bringing an idea to reality, would there be a better choice than Jim Henson?  Henson will be forever known first for his Sesame Street character Ernie and Muppets Kermit the Frog, Rowlf the Dog, Dr. Teeth, Waldorf, The Swedish Chef, and more.  The Muppet Movie and The Muppet Show are beloved by generations.  He made the unreal seem real, and fantasy as close to reality as we may ever see it.  Yet he was perhaps proudest of the creation of the first full-length, live-action motion picture where the stars were all creatures, The Dark Crystal, yet another of the unforgettable films from 1982 we’re celebrating this year here at borg.com.  The Henson family and The Jim Henson Company have opened their archive and published the remarkable story of the film from idea to the film’s release in The Dark Crystal: The Ultimate Visual History, available this month from Insight Editions.

Writer Caseen Gaines’ new chronicle of The Dark Crystal is not a typical “visual companion.”  The story told in the text provides a most intriguing account of Henson, a behind the scenes look at the man from his family and all those who worked with him, as he talked through the idea for a darker story while delayed on a chance cancelled flight with his daughter, as he cast a team of puppet builders, creative performance artists, artisans, costumers, and concept design artists, as he leveraged the success of The Muppet Movie, and strategically negotiated his way to gain investment dollars to make a film that stands alone in the history of fantasy film.  As daughter Cheryl Henson states in the book, “I don’t think my father ever tried to hide how something was done, because how it’s done is often as interesting as the final product”–and that proves true in The Ultimate Visual History.  She provides a foreword to the book and an introduction is provided by film creators Brian and Wendy Froud.

Gaines includes tipped-in replica memorabilia from the Jim Henson archives, which he integrates into the narrative to illustrate the five years of Henson’s concept to screen process.  Readers gain new appreciation for Henson as we witness his own hand-written notebook pages of ideas for the characters that would transform into the dualism of the Skeksis and Mystics, Brian Froud’s original concept book created to sell the idea to investors, outlines, story treatments, hand-drawn sketches, scene memos, and a concept art pitch book by Froud for a planned sequel.  Photographs document a chronological preparation of characters looking at first nothing like their final on-screen personas and the difficult process of creating the mechanics for each type of character, for Gelflings Jen and Kira, the exiled Skeksis Chamberlain, Jen’s dying Mystic master, a room full of potato-headed Podlings, the wise goddess/prophet Aughra, the majestic Landstriders, the giant beetle-like Garthim, and the cute and toothy fuzzy Fizzgig.  The new fantasy world had its roots in myths and folklore, yet Henson created something singular with all these magicians that was akin to Tolkien’s fantasy realm.

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Here I come to save the day!

This year marks the 75th anniversary of Mighty Mouse, who first appeared in short animated films from Terrytoons for 20th Century Fox throughout the 1940s, including one that was nominated for an Academy Award.  So what better time to bring back the powerful mouse who can protect Pearl Pureheart from Oil Can Harry, and maybe even save us all?  Dynamite Comics is answering the call with a new monthly series beginning today with an initial story arc that deals with bullying.

Mighty Mouse was created by Ralph Bakshi (known also for Fritz the Cat, the animated The Lord of the Rings, and the Kim Basinger flick Cool World) and Paul Terry, whose cartoons with sound beat Walt Disney’s Steamboat Willie to cinemas in 1928 (one of the first animators to use cel animation).  Mighty Mouse would appear as part of the Saturday morning cartoon line-up in various versions in each of the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s.  A rather odd update, the 1980s version would feature a crossover episode with Bakshi’s Mighty Heroes characters, a group of middle-aged lawyers that included a superhero called Diaper Man, and comedian Andy Kaufman would make famous for another generation the Mighty Mouse theme song in a skit for Saturday Night Live in the 1970s.  Marvel Comics produced a 10-issue comic book series in 1990-1991.

        

Today, writer Sholly Fisch and artist Igor Lima are bringing the classic mouse to the 21st century.  It’s a book for kids of all ages–the kind of comic book to introduce young kids to the medium.  A boy is getting bullied in school, and he’s a young artist and fan of the classic Mighty Mouse cartoons.  As he is watching television, a portal across dimensions interferes with his show, and with the characters within the television.  The third wall is breached as a boy meets his hero.

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First Impressions episode 1

By Elizabeth C. Bunce

We recently previewed USA’s First Impressions, starring Freddie Prinze, Jr. and Dana Carvey.  The show premiered this week, and it looks like a winner.  The series pits aspiring comics in an “impression off” to wow an audience of judges and a celebrity guest for a prize of $10,000.  It’s not a competition show, like Last Comic Standing; it’s a game show with new contestants every week.  In fact, it feels a bit like a mashup of Lip Sync Battle and Whose Line is it, Anyway?, with a bit of Hollywood Game Night thrown in.

Three contestants offer up their best celebrity impressions in a variety of bits and sketches, while Carvey and a visiting comedian (Steve Carell in the pilot) cheer them on, offer commentary, and occasionally join in the fun.  Prinze keeps the fun moving as host and emcee.

dana-carvey-steve-carell-first-impressions

We’ve been a bit weary of the competition show format, so it’s always nice to see a fresh, upbeat take, without all the season-long drama, eliminations, and infighting.  First Impressions moves swiftly, giving each contestant plenty of time to showcase their talents.  Contestants on the pilot spoofed both perennial favorites like Al Pacino and Christopher Walken, as well as surprising choices like the hilarious Jennifer Coolidge (Legally Blonde, A Mighty Wind) and Drew Barrymore.  Everyone loves standup comedy, and the impersonators were fun to watch.  But the real draw for the show is Carvey and friends.  Carvey’s energy and enthusiasm are infectious, and the overall tone of the show is welcoming and collaborative, not combative.  At one point, when two contestants had each done impressions of Sharon Osborne, Carvey leaped from his chair and said, “I want to see the Sharons together,” initiating a joint bit where the comics played off each other.  It was a great moment that took this show to another level–not just game show, but comedy workshop.

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Dana Carvey and Freddie Prinz Jr

Of all the stars of Saturday Night Live to spend Saturday nights in our living rooms, few were as beloved as Dana Carvey.  Carvey’s Church Lady and Garth from Wayne’s World became icons of TV comedy.  He had mega-hit films with the two Wayne’s World movies, but you should also check out the comedy classic Opportunity Knocks co-starring Robert Loggia if you missed it.  But the last time we saw Carvey as a TV weekly regular was on the short-lived The Dana Carvey Show back in 1996.

Carvey will be the star of a new competition show beginning next month on USA Network.  More accurately he is the “expert comedy mentor in residence” to amateur impersonators competing with their celebrity impresions in front of Carvey and other comedy guests.  The show will be hosted by actor Freddie Prinze, Jr. son of the late comedian Freddie Prinze.  Comedy guests include Steve Carell, Jay Leno, Kevin Nealon, Yvette Nicole Brown, Tom Arnold, and Jon Lovitz.  Eighteen contestants are slated for the initial run of the show.

Lovitz Carvey

Check out these previews from USA Network for First Impressions:

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Kylo Ren SNL

It’s not very often an actor can promote a character he has portrayed in a way that increases fans’ likeability as Adam Driver may have done on Saturday Night Live this weekend.  It’s also rare a studio will allow an actor to take a major character into a skit on SNL whose future is so key to the franchise.  But those characters aren’t Kylo Ren, the whiny, angry, scrappy, spoiled brat, oh, and evil, villain of the new Star Wars trilogy.

In fact a skit on SNL confirmed that the rumors are true, not that Kylo (we go first name basis here at borg.com) is Rey’s cousin or sister, or that Rey is really A-Rey El, the lost ocean planet Disney princess, but that Kylo is apparently the long-lost brother of Napoleon Dynamite.

Okay, that’s not really what the skit was about (but the comparison can’t be ignored).  It’s about Kylo going incognito on an episode of Undercover Boss, sporting a blonde wig and glasses, to see what his Starkiller Base minions think of him.  It’s hard not to like Kylo, and Adam Driver, much more after watching this skit.  If you hated him in the film, you may just like him, sort of, now.

blonde Kylo Ren

So wait no further if you missed it on SNL, Kylo Ren in Undercover Boss:

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Spade and Farley

Nothing is more infuriating than the untimely deaths of people who make you laugh.  John Belushi.  John Candy.  Phil Hartman.  Robin Williams.  A new documentary by Spike takes a look at another one of these comedic gems, the life and death of the explosive personality that was Chris Farley, one of the funniest comedians to ever hail from that elite squad of comics who made their fame via their work on Saturday Night Live. 

Clips of the comedian’s best work from SNL and movies like Tommy Boy and Coneheads are interspersed with interviews of Farley’s friends and family in I Am Chris Farley, giving us some insight into what made this guy tick, including those who knew him the best: David Spade, Dan Aykroyd, Lorne Michaels, Adam Sandler, Jay Mohr, Bob Odenkirk, Molly Shannon, Tom Arnold, and his brother Kevin.

Farley followed in the footsteps of two of his own idols, Belushi and Candy, dying too early at the age of 33 back in 1997 from a drug overdose.  What can we learn from Farley’s death?  What pressure was Farley under, and how did such a quick rise in fame cause Farley to fall just as fast?  Could anyone have helped him along the way?  Here’s the trailer for the new documentary I Am Chris Farley:

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Tonight Show Family Feud Fallon Steve Harvey

Review by C.J. Bunce

One hundred and twenty episodes in of his first year at the helm of The Tonight Show and somehow we managed to fail to mention Jimmy Fallon’s incredible big year here in our ongoing quest for the best in entertainment.  We’ve watched Fallon since his days on Saturday Night Live and figured we’d give him a try as he took over for Jay Leno.  We gave the same college try to Conan O’Brien when he started out on his TBS gig, but that show quickly fizzled out.  Fallon hit the ground running, taking comedic bits from his Late Night hosting stint and expanding them into the weightier format of the classic king spot of nightly live comedy.  And we haven’t laughed out loud this much in a year in a long time.

Go back and watch David Letterman, Leno or Johnny Carson late show episodes on YouTube and you’ll quickly ask yourself why we thought those guys were so funny.  We’re saying this after years of enjoying the best of The Tonight Show for decades.  Fallon’s sincere, boy-next-door-makes-good, and unapologetic fanboy image was a perfect choice for this show, and his use of social media incorporated into his weekly line-up makes the show potentially appealing to every demographic.

Credit goes to Fallon, of course, but also his great writing staff that comes up with all this fun, as well as The Roots, the complicit house band (probably the coolest band ever to appear on a regular TV gig), and Fallon’s own Ed McMahon, the quick-witted banter partner, Des Moines native Steve Higgins.

Rivers last Tonight Show

Recurring bits include Fallon’s obsession with Canadian politician Rob Ford, New Jersey governor Chris Christie and Vice President Joe Biden, the Eww girl, and a would-be one-time stint dancing bear that became the out-of-breath show mascot Hashtag the Panda.  Fallon’s “Pros and Cons,” “Thank You Notes,” and “Hashtags” are now locked into the national weekly calendar.  Fallon also gets the best A-list celebrities around on his show on a regular basis, and even entices many to play crazy party games and lip sync battles or act in skits like you’d see on the best days of Saturday Night Live.

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Sesame Street at NerdHQ

Nerd HQ offered up a great variety of panels from the best of TV Saturday.  Here are some great panels to check out.  After four years of 45 minute panels offered just yards from San Diego Comic-Con, many of these have become a source for stand-up comedy from the actors.  See for yourself.

First up what may be the best panel idea ever, the voices and muppets themselves, from Sesame Street, Grover, Cookie Monster, Bert, and Murray.  And Grover reveals the true identity of Super Grover.  This one can’t be missed.

A Conversation with Sesame Street

Intruders TV Series Panel with John Simm, Mira Sorvino & Glen Morgan

Orphan Black Panel with Tatiana Maslany and Other Cast Members

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