Monday, May 7, 2012

Fraggle Rock episode recap: "Beginnings"

As part of an attempt to bring happiness to life, I've decided to do recaps of episodes of Jim Henson's beloved 1983-1987 series Fraggle Rock. After all, Jim Henson had created Fraggle Rock with the intent of being a show "that brings peace to the world". He might not have succeeded in that regard unfortunately but the show did bring joy to a lot of people. I've had the season-by-season DVD box sets of this show for a while and haven't watched them in quite a while. It's just easier to turn on The Hub at 7 in the morning than just get a DVD and put it in the player for some reason. I figure it's time to head back into the Rock as I start to (at least attempt) revisit all 96 episodes.

Episode 1 - "Beginnings"

 The show of course begins with our first time hearing that main Fraggle Rock theme. It does a fairly good job of setting up the tone of the show and introducing the main characters, even if all they do is shout out their names. It gives us a good feel for the show regardless and what to expect. Though I will say I don't understand why Gobo randomly decides to go up to the Gorgs' garden in the middle of song and manages to survive a long dive for a Fraggle, but it's a show, I'll just relax.

The first characters we're introduced to our Doc and Sprocket, our two introductory characters in every episode. Right in we get to the point, Doc is converting an old abandoned room/shed into a workshop. Allow me to just get a bit picky about this for just one second: we never see Doc's actual house in the series, when we see an exterior, it's supposedly the front of the workshop. Later on in the series, it's more or less implied Doc lives in the workshop. Is this just a place Doc works or is it his home? I don't get it.

But enough about that, here comes Matt Fraggle, a Fraggle explorer who is finishing his exploration of the caves in Fraggle Rock when he comes across an "odd little tunnel" that is blocked. We can already establish that Matt is not the brightest tool in the shed, a delight aspect of the character that Dave Goelz brought to life so well. Back in the workshop, Doc starts clearing out the junk in the room, including a box that reveals the tunnel leads to Doc's workshop! Think of all the shenanigans we can get ourselves into now! Matt now discovers he can see into the "final frontier of Fraggle-dom!"

We're then introduced to Gobo for the first time, as Matt excitedly tells Gobo of his news and how he will soon be traveling into Outer Space, the world of the Silly Creatures (basically code-word for our world). He gives Gobo books of all his past studies, which gives us a fairly good explanation of the Rock.

"The center of the universe is, of course, that marvelous land known as Fraggle Rock. It is thus called because it is a Rock and Fraggles live there..."
We get our first glimpse of the delightful, fun-loving creatures as they sing a song celebrating life in the Rock. We also get our first character moments of Red, Wembley and Boober already setting up their mindsets perfectly. Apparently this was filmed halfway through the first season instead of right upfront, to give the performers a good vibe of the series. It works quite effectively, it serves as a good introduction.

Now, we get our first real Fraggle song and probably the most famous outside the show's theme song, "Follow Me". The song has become an anthem of sorts for Jim Henson and to a lesser extent Jerry Juhl, the show's head writer. Maybe even the whole Henson company altogether. Regardless, it's a beautiful song. 

Matt leads Gobo to the hole and tells him of his plan, Gobo will have to get postcards from now Traveling Matt every few days with tales of Matt's travels. Gobo is apprehensive but Traveling Matt gets into outer space no problems. He seems impressed by Sprocket but Gobo tells him to run from the "fearsome beast". As he leaves, Gobo realizes he'll have to do that every few days?

Traveling Matt has his first encounters with a fire hydrant, almost getting run over, kids with baseball bats. All just the beginning of the many antics Matt will get himself into over the 96-episode run.

Back in Fraggle Rock, Gobo is having moody doubts about what he has to do. He wants help but he doesn't want to open up to anybody about it. Wembley entertains him by playing a Doozer construction with what's quite a soothing melody. It also serves to establish the Doozers as a species in the Rock, building the constructions that Fraggles love to eat so. Gobo's still not too swayed so he goes to see the all-knowing Trash Heap. On top of that, we get our first introduction to Junior Gorg, another one of our iconic non-Fraggle five characters. A Richard Hunt character if there ever was one. But we'll talk more about the Gorgs in the next episode, it's time to talk about the Trash Heap, the eternally wise pile of trash the Fraggles turn to for advice, as her song explains. After understanding the mess Gobo's gotten himself into and gives him the advice "Get some friends. Friends help." The Trash Heap has spoken. Not to jump out of reality for a second, but she's right, friends do help, Gobo and I are on the same page of conflict here.

So in a matter of fadeout, Gobo has hit it off with some friends. Wembley, Red, Mokey and Boober are now ready to be part of our main cast. He tells the other four what happened, asking for advice, Boober gives him one of the funniest lines in the Rock - "You should crawl under the covers and moan and whimper." You really could make a whole book of Boober-isms. But, nope, the other four agree to follow Gobo up to Outer Space and give moral support.

Up in the workshop, things are pretty good to go and Sprocket watches the hole after he rolls a ball in. As the Fraggles arrive, they come across the "hideous round thing". Gobo goes out to check for a postcard now that the scene is clear and Sprocket's out cold. But Doc comes in with the mail, promptly tossing the random postcard in the trash, Gobo gets it out but Sprocket is ready to be a real dog for once and goes for Gobo. Mokey throws the ball back into the workshop distracting Sprocket. The Fraggle Five sings a song of celebration and after talk about how exciting it is in Fraggle Rock... "that's what's wrong with the place" as our first episode comes to a close.

"Beginnings" is far from the best Fraggle Rock episode but serves as a great introduction to the series and it's characters. The show would pick up more steam as time went on but for an introductory episode, it's really good and would make me want to stick around. It was really smart to film this later in the season, as we really do get a good feel of the characters rather than seeing the puppeteers channel them for the very first time.

That's that, now dance your cares away and for now, worries are for another day.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Jim Henson's Musical World

When I first caught wind of a concert at Carnegie Hall titled "Jim Henson's Musical World," I didn't think too much of it. It sounded like a fairly basic concert of the New York Pops playing Henson music. I wrote it off as some nonsense that probably wasn't worth the trip into Manhattan, at least if it was just like that. Some time later, a huge guest list popped up online and I realized this was going to be something special. I snagged a ticket for the 12:30 show just before it was close to selling out.

I always love going to Jim Henson Legacy events. There is something terrific about seeing these people who you grew up watching and being able to personally thank them for the wonderful memories they've given me. But even better it offers to chance to meet other fans. In my life, I have received both warm and cold reception to my Muppet fandom, unfortunately mostly cold, but to really meet people who truly understand me, know better than to judge and just be willing to be friendly with anybody who has optimism and likes the Muppets. Especially with any Henson Legacy event, you are always bound to meet someone you haven't met before, and might have been at the same events as you and neither of you realized it!

Given my life circumstances around the time of this event, a respite from my home life like this was absolutely a must. I was out of the house for 12 hours that I never wanted to end. Even the annoyance of struggling to find permit-free, no time limit parking in Irvington, NY (where I catch the train to Grand Central) and then having to walk a mile from Grand Central to Carnegie Hall carrying a backpack full of books hoping to get them signed., it was all worth it and better than having to listen to the insanity I listen to at home. So I get there and mingle with fans for about 40 minutes-an hour before the show. Someone had come all the way from San Francisco for this, all the way from across the country. Let that be the power of the Muppets, people like this stuff enough to travel across the country to go see something they love. Then we went in, meeting up again after the show. Carnegie Hall looked great as some archival video of Jim Henson played then the lights went down the show began with some video from Rowlf the Dog's days on The Jimmy Dean Show of Rowlf and Dean playing Carnegie Hall. Fitting, then the video stops and a spotlight comes up then -- OH MY GOD! It's Rowlf! Rowlf's actually here! Honestly, all I remember is that he said something about it taking 47 years for them to invite Rowlf back. Sad I know, but the excitement of knowing Rowlf the Dog was here right in front of me, especially since Rowlf's current performer Bill Barretta wasn't on the initial guest list but here was Rowlf and Bill. He went away the lights went down again and the New York Pops began playing "The Muppet Show Theme" and the lights slowly went up again and -- OH MY GOD! The Electric Mayhem! Yes, here was the Electric Mayhem "performing" a medley of Henson theme songs right in front of me. Not even five minutes into this show, we already have had 6 Muppets in front of us. It seemed like there was nothing we couldn't expect today that is until we heard Jerry Nelson's voice! (okay, last time I gush over someone like that, I swear) over the loudspeakers introducing us to the show!

Basically, the show's "story" was about John Tartaglia, the host of the day, struggling to put together a concert of Henson music he thought was the next week. He scrambles to get to the theater in his Rubber Duckie pajamas getting us to sing along with "Sing". Then Fozzie Bear shows up, correctly thinking the concert was this week. He then agrees to go track down the other Muppets. John then performed "Steppin' Out With a Star" with the lovely Stephanie D'Abruzzo. No one really had much reception to this one unfortunately, probably due to what came next was so exciting it overshadowed that because we had Fraggles!

Now, actually, a few years ago, back when a Fraggle Rock movie seemed like more of a possibility, the Henson Company recruited Karen Prell to perform a newly-built Red Fraggle Muppet but more recently, they built a new Traveling Matt Muppet and now, Oh my god! Wembley's here! They rebuilt Wembley!!! Yay! I'm sorry to gush like that, but seeing Wembley rebuilt was one of the highlights of the day, as it also revealed that Steve Whitmire, who wasn't on the guest list either, was in fact here, meaning there would be frogs later on. John Tartaglia later told me after the show that the Hensons had been rebuilding Wembley for reasons he did not disclose, and as soon as he found out: he was insistent Wembley be in the show. For our gain, too, the Fraggle portion of the concert was wonderful, the audience really loved it and it certainly reminded us what wonderful music Fraggle Rock really had. Then Miss Piggy came out, easily getting the biggest applause of the day. She was shooed after her cameo for Tartaglia and Rachel Dratch to sing "Sing After Me". Then we got a Sesame Street medley with Elmo, Ernie, Bert and Cookie Monster. I was disappointed by the lack of Grover but this Sesame group was perfect, especially with members of the human cast there to help them out. People love these characters and it's fairly obvious to see why, but seeing the Sesame and Fraggle families within minutes of each other and periodic check-ins with the Muppet Show team made me realize this really was a special event.

Then they brought up Paul Williams to do a few songs from Emmet Otter's Jug Band Christmas. This was my first experience seeing Paul in person and I love his music, so it was incredible to see him live, especially doing music from Emmet Otter, as the songs in that are clearly the best part of that special.

After that Fozzie came back out with muffins instead of the Muppets. Fozzie gives up all hope but then John comforts him in song with "Just One Person" and then Kermit shows up to sing... and Gonzo... and Scooter and next thing you know all the main Muppets are there singing! It's safe to say the Muppets are here and ready to go! We get a Muppet medley of the show's theme song, "Mahna Mahna," "Movin' Right Along," "Happy Feet" and ending fittingly with "Together Again" referring to the big Muppet revival that's been going on over the last few months. Kermit then stuck around to sing "Bein' Green" and it all ended with flair with "The Rainbow Connection". We all gave the show a huge standing ovation. It was a truly wonderful spectacular show, a rare thing that put a huge smile and tears of joy after such darkness for months on end.

After the show, I got chat with lots of Muppet fans, including someone from Iowa who just happened to be in New York that weekend and absolutely had to go, Ryan and Joe of Tough Pigs fame and their posse of longtime forum members... and Joe's girlfriend, various Henson alumni who came solely to see the show and weren't performing. It was a fun time all around with them. I got to go the FAO Muppet Whatnot Workshop between shows, got a free ticket to the second show at 3:30 by being in the right place at the right time - and had an even better seat, got to chill with all my newfound friends at the stage door for a good hour and a half after the show as well as meet some random Henson performers who were in the show, who were all awesome people. Even worth chasing Bob McGrath across the street to get his autograph.

It times like this that make me happy to have an outlet like the Muppets to help me get through rough times. Even if it was just for one day away from the chaos and misery that is my home and school life, the Muppets and Muppet fans show me that maybe there is some hope in humanity, maybe I can be treated like an adult by somebody and not a 5-year old kid even in a place you can get away with it. And all these great Henson people together again shows me that they aren't going anywhere for a long, long time.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

BobThePizzaBoy's revival is here.


Is anyone there?

Well, it's been 2 years, 4 months, 10 days since I last posted a blog post. A lot has happened since then, I finished high school, two whole school years have gone by, my life has changed for better and for worse in spots. I thought about this blog every now and then over the years, thinking I could revive it even if I had no one reading, but never really thought about it. Due to events over the last few months, I've come to the realization that maybe blogging might be a good way to relieve some of the excessive stress in my life. I should probably explain how we got back here in the first place.
The North Dorms, my living grounds from August 2010 to May 2011. I miss this place...
In August 2010, I finally began my college experience, ready to finally take the steps to make my dreams come true. For my first year of college, I attended La Salle University. You might have heard of it, you might have not, but it's a Catholic college in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It's not the best school out there but it's pretty damn good. It took me a long time to really transition to the college lifestyle but by the end of my spring semester I had grown to enjoy Philadelphia and La Salle despite their faults. But like all things in life, it was too good to last. Things got bad once I came back to New York (A/N: As it turns out this article was written almost a year to the day I left La Salle). I struggled to find employment outside working at a wonderful organization called Select Human Services. Anybody who at least even considered hiring me was either certifiably insane or out to scam me. I couldn't wait to get back to La Salle, but things took a turn for the worse. My requests to contact La Salle's financial aid department no matter what we attempted to do fell on dead ears, meaning there was no way I could have gone back for the 2011-2012 academic year. In a huge rush, I had no other option but to apply at the only local college that would allow applications so late - a community college I'm not going to name. Since there were no dorms, I had no option but to stay at home, so it was like a never-ending college break.

I don't want to talk about my home life in too much detail as I know there is the chance relatives might be reading this blog but I'll just say, living at home as a college student is one of the worst things you can go through and has added to the miserable experience my life has been over the last year. Privacy is non-existent, I'm questioned every time I leave the house, I struggle to have the same freedom I had in Philadelphia. The college I am currently finishing attending is certainly not a good school either. The students and professors who care about school really do care, but all too many of them really don't. All this makes my life more depressing than it is rewarding. An incident that I won't go into detail on that occurred in November 2011 on Veteran's Day began the gears turning from my life in its current state being "inconvenience" to "pure hatred". It was then I began my on-and-off thoughts about simply giving up. Things only seemed to get worse as every week went by, with only a few things giving me happiness. It's been almost six months since that straw that broke the camel's back and I'm satisfied I made it to the end of the tunnel to get away from this toxic atmosphere but recently there was another incident that turned everything around back into a more frequent, miserable state. It's something that really shouldn't be seen as a huge deal or the end of the world, just wiping an option off the table. But nobody else seems to see it that way, which has led to negativity around me making me as miserable as I've ever been. There have been nights where I wanted to pack up all my things and go stay at a hotel for a few days or post a Facebook status asking anyone if they have a spare bedroom in their house they'd be willing to let me crash for a few days. I just hate the circumstances I'm in so much.
I posted on the Muppet Central forums about the possibility that I would not be posting as often as I used to for a while, I'm guessing so I would have to give myself more time to sit in the dark and cry. A forum member named D.W. McKim, who also runs a blog around here decided to step in and offer his two cents. I mentioned that the Muppets were one of the only things in life right now that brought me happiness. Turned out he could relate very much to what i was going through, even if he was 2x my age. I really hope he doesn't mind if I just post his response to me on here:

A year ago, i was not expected to be here today. I set a date/goal to have everything done by and was fully intent on preparing for that time. But my areas of fandom "got in the way" - one of my fave shows for over 20 years was ending a month afterward and i not only wanted to see how it ended (especially since it was already at a high point and not going down quietly) but also because i had been heavily involved with a large movement to keep it going in some form which looked like it may end up being successful and i wanted to see the fruits of that labor.

I did go through a very major breakdown that lasted for several months later where i think my body/brain got so accostomed to the fact that "i shoudn't be here anymore" that i just spent every moment i could get away with in bed. Aside from the unavoidables like going to work, everything else just stopped. It took about three months (and it's still not "over" as i still have relapses) but i pulled myself out - again to do stuff centered around my fandoms.

It's very tough when one realizes that there's very little left that brings them any amount of joy/reason to keep going and harder when the only things that do are things "outside of yourself" - enjoying the creative works of others as opposed to things that are a part of your direct life.

I'm too much of a realist to say "things will get better" because that's in all honesty an empty promise. No one can make that kind of guarantee and i know for a fact in my own life that in the ten years between the times i was very serious about ending everything that things did indeed very definitively not only did NOT get better in those ten years but got worse to the point where my life's become so messed up that i don't see any realistic ways for there to be any happiness/dreams come true.

HOWEVER, keep in mind that that's coming from someone twice your age and i've had enough time to fully grasp the directions adulthood has taken me where you're at an age where there's a myriad of possibilities still ahead that's worth giving a chance. The years between 20 and 30 are the most transformitive ones where things can dramatically change and even though i may be one of those rare types who is an advocate of one's rights to self-deliverence, i also don't feel it should be done without lots of forethought and reflexion and the full conclusion that there's no better option - and that's something i wouldn't reccomend to someone who's not at least approaching their 30's. Heck, *i'm* still here and kicking when in all good reason i really shouldn't be - but there's still some small flicker in the back of mind that i still have something left to accomplish before my time is up and you have to hold onto things like that.

- And in the meantime, hang on to those areas of fandom to keep you going - if you need to unwind with Muppet mayhem at the end of a long week to bring some smiles through the tears, take them! Take joy where you can find it. That's how "one more day" becomes "one more week" becomes "one more month" and so on.

Also, keep in mind there are people who would still like to see you here and i'm one of them.
As someone who anxiously hoped D.W. wouldn't end up going way too soon and accidentally cried wolf when he did disappear from the forums for a short period, reading this made my realize what I had to do.

"As long as there are Muppets, there's still hope." - Walter, The Muppets (2011)
My fandoms are the only things in life that truly bring me happiness right now. The work of Jim Henson, the cartoon My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic (a show I actually started watching back in January, the only good thing to come out of this period*), going to see a really great movie, watching some great animation from Pixar (except Cars 2 of course) or Warner Brothers, even something that's technically negative like the Nostalgia Critic makes me smile for a couple seconds. D.W. it seems has been able to get a good amount of delight out of reviving his Muppet Freak blog, so I figured maybe it'd be a good idea for, at least while I'm still stuck in the state of life that I am, bring this long-dead blog back from the dead and just focus on the observations of my fandom. Even if no one reads this, it gives me something to do rather than sit alone in my room and sulk. There's no guarantees my life will get better than it is now, even if I have been taking the steps to get my life and freedom back, but it feels right to come back. So after 2 1/2 years of a lack of adventure, the Continuing Adventures of BobThePizzaBoy are back.

Come on, everypony, smile smile smile!

 * - make that two things if you want to count the theatrical release of Disney's wonderful film The Muppets which I saw three times in theaters and already plenty of times on DVD as well as the Jim Henson's Musical World event at Carnegie Hall several weeks ago, but since I was already a Henson fan who would have been all over these things regardless of where I was in life, I wouldn't really count them as anything new in this period.

Friday, December 25, 2009

#1 - It's a Wonderful Life

December 22, 2000. I'm in my third grade class the last day before Christmas break. My teacher brought in a TV earlier in the day and had left it there while we did some work. After we were done he asks us "Have you ever wished you were never born?". Some of us say yes and begins to say "Well, I know a great Christmas movie about a man who wishes he was never born and we're gonna watch it right now." He puts on the TV and we begin to watch It's a Wonderful Life.

At the time, I recognized the ending clip of George Bailey running through Bedford Falls wishing everyone a "Merry Christmas!" from seeing it play on TV's in movies like Gremlins but the movie did strike a cord with most of us. For the rest of the year, we would occassionally use the "Hee-haw" greeting and "the George Bailey movie" stuck in my memory for years without actually watching It's a Wonderful Life.

Last year, I began to come into a severe depression which temporarily blocked me from the outside world. In hopes of a movie to light my spirits, I turned to It's a Wonderful Life. Watching the movie on Google Video, I nearly broke down sitting at my computer watching every scene, it's just that powerful a movie to get you back up on your feet. George Bailey is a man with a heart of gold and gives so much sacrifice but rarely gets thanks for it. In the end, he discovers how much the town really does love him for what he has done for them. Being one of the very few movies that can get me to cry, It's a Wonderful Life is a masterpiece and is not only the greatest Christmas movie of all-time, but one of the greatest movies of all-time.

Remember for the rest of the holiday season and all year round, as Clarence told George Bailey... "remember no man is a failure who has friends." Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.

(and a very special thanks to my third grade teacher, Mr. Richard Friedman, for helping me discover this wonderful movie earlier than I would have otherwise. It's rare you find a man with as good a soul as George Bailey himself as you will in Mr. Friedman. Wherever you are, god bless you and thank you for being one of the very best teachers I ever had.)

#2 - The Muppet Christmas Carol

As children, we all have one of those Disney movies we adore and have down memorized. For my era, it was usally The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin or The Lion King. Another one for me was The Muppet Christmas Carol.

Being born in 1991, The Muppet Christmas Carol was one of the first forays the Muppets did to mainstream media after the death of their creator Jim Henson. I was obviously too young to see the movie in theaters but once it came out on home video, it became a big staple of the holidays in the BobThePizzaBoy household. Of all the adaptations of Dickens' A Christmas Carol out there, this is one of the very best. Not only do we get the original Dickens prowse, given to us by Gonzo, but we get direct text right from the novella making this one of the most very accurate versions of the book.

I finally read A Christmas Carol in 5th grade when my teacher had it in his classroom amoung other classic novels. I didn't actually get to finish it but I was left in awe of how accurate all the lines were, the movie was practically playing out in my head.

It's also one of the Muppets' finest hours and probably the very best thing they've done since Jim Henson's death. It's strange... it seems the farther they've gotten from 1990 the quality has greatly lowered in Muppet productions. With last year's Letters to Santa things seem to be getting better. But for me, The Muppet Christmas Carol is a dark, funny and all around entertaining masterpiece that should and will be embraced for years to come.

#3 - Christmas Eve on Sesame Street

I'll just flat-out say it. I LOVE Christmas Eve on Sesame Street. This was one of my favorite Christmas specials when I was a kid, the one you would watch constantly even when it wasn't Christmas. To me, it was just Big Bird trying to figure out how Santa Claus gets down the chimney. But as I've gotten older I began to see the true heart of it.

It is often said by those who worked on the show during Jon Stone's tenure that "if you want to see the heart of Jon Stone, you watch Christmas Eve on Sesame Street". This seems to be very much the truth. From the opening skating party sequence (which facinated me as a child) to the final post-credits scene of Cookie Monster eating Gordon and Susan's tree, this special only had one goal: to entertain everyone in the family as much as possible. It succeeds. Even in this pre-Elmo era, it's still a wonderful special. It's a crying shame PBS doesn't run it anymore, but with the advent of DVD, this underrated holiday classic still holds up as it did in 1978.

#4 - How the Grinch Stole Christmas

Let me just say right now, I made this top 12 list before I was in Seussical.

That said, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, even based on a book is another Christmas special with a good message and is hilarious as well. As one of Chuck Jones' most iconic animated films, it manages to combine the typical Looney Tunes humor we always associated with Jones with Dr. Seuss' classic tale. Even quoting the book word-for-word, he manages to hit the nail on the head.

While only a half-hour long, it manages to pack a lot of punch. Again, it's another iconic holiday classic that is maybe too-close-for-comfort to some of us during the holidays.