A few quick notes on some random but interesting discoveries from a busy day full of distractions:
- Thanks to a plug on the most recent Pop Culture Happy Hour, I’ve begun listening to a full stream of the Book of Mormon cast album on NPR Music’s First Listen. I’ve been hearing about this one for a while (I mean, could anyone who cares even a drip about musical theater not have heard about this one through the grapevine?). Only recently, though, did I get the full down-low on what this musical really was. Quick perusals can lead to poor assumptions, and I’d assumed based on a whisper here or there that (since I’d heard that this musical about Mormonism was written by the creators of South Park and Avenue Q) this was going to be a full-length Broadway production, complete with obscene puppets a la Q, of the famous South Park Mormon episode. I even announced as much to a class of my peers in my “Genre Fiction” class this past October, during a discussion of the use of Mormons as villains in Zane Grey’s very old-fashioned Western, Riders of the Purple Sage. We were turning our wheels talking about the representation of Mormons in popular culture (some love for Big Love ensued), and so I gleefully interjected my scoop, in effect explaining that there was going to be some big South Park musical on Broadway, and the theme was going to be Mormons! Yeah… Both a silly and somewhat logical assumption to make, and not one that particularly grabbed me, seeing as how my knowledge of South Park is sketchy at best (one of the many things I have ahead of me to discover). When I found out later what the musical really was (a very much non-puppet musical with all the profanity and obscenity a Cartman brings to the table and nary a Cartman in sight), I had one of those moments where I reflected on how much I regret opening my big mouth about all the pop culture stuff I think I know, without truly giving myself the time to actually experience it and earn some sort of expert status. I was humbled. One of the reasons this blog is here now… And now, the album is here for all of us to revel in! It’s not just speculation anymore… I can experience it, and boy is it a pleasure so far. Before I got pulled away on a super fun friendship adventure, I got through only the first two songs, so I still have a lot to explore here, but I adore what I hear already! I mean, could this recording start anymore appropriately? A doorbell, and a chirpy “Hello… My name is Elder Price!” Quality satire in its highest form. And a catchy melody to boot!
- Today I heard, for the first time, a portion of Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion, though, full disclosure, I didn’t know what I was listening to until the segment had pretty much already ended. Specifically I heard the back half of a very sexually-charged News from Lake Wobegon. I’ve heard vaguely of Keillor and Lake Wobegon before, but I’d never chanced upon either on the radio before because, not owning a car means I don’t listen to the radio very often period. Today, while on the friendship adventure that pulled me away from the aforementioned cast album after only two songs, I heard, coming from the radio, a gravelly, whimsical sort of voice beginning to slowly and lyrically wind his way through a story about the coming of spring. To be honest, I thought I was listening to a radio pastor. The only reason I doubted my first impression was my absolute knowledge that I was listening to NPR, which is staple in said friend’s car. This long story about small town life had tie somehow into something NPR-like right? While some of Keillor’s turns of phrase made me chuckle, and while I eventually got on my own that I was definitely not listening to any pastor I could imagine, so subtextually raunchy was some of the symbolism, I can’t say I truly got it, let alone enjoyed it. My friends said that, to truly fall for Keillor’s charms, you really have to listen to A Prairie Home Companion from the beginning, and go along with it as the narrator winds his way through endless (and endlessly amusing) red herrings and tangents. With this in mind, I look forward to giving it another try, now that I know where to find it.
- Wisdom teeth removal, I’ve heard, can be painful. Since we were supporting, on our adventure, a recent wisdom teeth removee, we decided to revert back to childhood and revel in some of the old-fashioned comfort food that got us through our sick days as small children. We pulled up an episode of Sesame Street on the Netflix Instant Queue. That was such a trip (we learned for instance, a lot, and perhaps too much, about bathtime), we decided to follow the white rabbit down the rabbit hole even further into the world of Jim Henson and watch The Muppets Take Manhattan, a movie which none of us had ever seen before. Mixed bag. The Muppets themselves are, in my opinion, almost always delightful, and the film’s assumption that they have this really glamorous picture of big city life that gets dashed by the realities of the grown-up world was both amusing in its naiveté and sort of profound considering Kermit represents a little part of all of our childhood and his troubles in the big city trying to get his show on Broadway and support his Muppet friends sort of reflects the trial of being out on one’s own and growing up. When the film focused solely on the Muppet family pushing to get their extremely old-fashioned (with no shootings!) musical on Broadway, it was charming if not raucously funny. It’s the human actors, if they don’t maintain the perfect tone, that can really hold Kermit and friends back, and boy do they hold this film back. Some quick cameos are pretty inspired (a Ratso Rizzo/very young Brooke Shields conversation, a brief but important cameo by Liza Minnelli, a great double take by Elliot Gould, and a hilarious mediation session by a roller-skating Gregory Hines) while others (like a drawn-out appearance from comedienne Joan Rivers) really made me wish I was watching a skit where the Muppets don’t have to worry about awkward human interference (like this one!). But nothing compares to the humor vacuum coming from what ostensibly amounts to the lead role here. Juliana Donald plays aspiring fashion designer (who appears to own only one ratty old t-shirt, which may be why her career hasn’t exactly taken off) and unwavering Kermit ally Jenny. She plays this uncomplicated role as if she is starring in a movie that does not star a bunch of ironic, hucksterish animal puppets made of felt. Entire swaths of an otherwise funny and sometimes heart-felt film are dedicated to building a completely one-dimensional character (she must have over a hundred lines, but every single one essentially boils down to “I support you lovely Muppets completely with all my simple heart!”) who seems to have accidentally wandered over from a very special episode of The Facts of Life. In invading this Muppets film, she commits that great Muppet crime that the best guest stars the Muppets have met have always managed to avoid — she strips away all the fantasy and charm and really makes you realize she’s just talking to and interacting with a cheap piece of felt. This is sad because Henson imbues the felt and fur wuth so much humanity and humor (it was his great gift to the world), and it is also inexcusible, even if this is just a G rated movie for little ones, because all that magic and warmth is swallowed whenever human characters like Jenny show up on screen and undermine these magic, human-like puppets by acting, when around them, like it is humans who are the wooden dummies. When Jenny’s off-screen, as she is in the films brilliant Broadway finale, this film soars based on the kinetic energy of manic creations like the Swedish Chef. When she’s on-screen, well, you just feel like you’re watching another bad 80s film where the few jokes that land just happen to be coming from fuzzy hand puppets.
- When things got loopy, we gave an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 a try. I’m reserving judgement on this one because I don’t feel like I got the best feel for it. I’d never seen it before, but I’d heard plenty about it, and most of the things I thought I would feel came to fruition. I feel like part of the appeal of this show is that it is an endless barrage of jokes. Some will land hard, and others don’t even try to stick the landing, and you have to accept that. It’s a rhythm I need to get used to a bit more. Some of the commentary on the horrid film (the episode we saw was based around “Hercules and the Moon Men“) had me laughing out loud and a lot more went right over my head. I want to dedicate more of my time to this show which many people consider a classic, but it was, I will say, refreshing to dip my toe in the water and find that, sometimes, tearing bad movies apart with company, even company whose sense of humor you don’t always fully grasp, can transform horrible films into really good entertainment.