Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

Kermit: "Life would just pass in a blur if it weren't for times like this."

Sometimes a TV series will make an episode when it crosses over with a different series.

It usually works best when the two series are already known to be coming from the same place, and may even already share a connection. Think of Buffy and Angel, or Cheers and Frasier, or even The X Files and The Lone Gunmen. Not to mention all those well-intentioned, but paradoxically half-hearted, hybrid telethon sketches.

In very exceptional instances three different series may all crossover within the same programme, but this is very rare indeed. Off the top of my head I can only think of Doctor Who: The Stolen Earth / Journey's End, which also packed in the skeleton casts of spin-off series The Sarah Jane Adventures and Torchwood.

And then, back in 1987, there was A Muppet Family Christmas, which pulled off the unthinkable - a four-way crossover extravaganza.

Yes, four.


Namely The Muppet Show, Sesame Street, Fraggle Rock and, wait for it, wait for it… Muppet Babies! And all this despite the tiny matter of that last one being a cartoon!

Ironically here they get re-realised as puppets, despite their segment being watched by the other characters on a projector screen. In the circumstances you gotta wonder if they were originally intended to be drawn as usual.

Anyway, where do I begin with gushing about this hour of meticulously scripted Christmassy perfection? Perhaps I'd better not - I'd only be quoting every line of the entire script, including the overdose of songs at the end, which go on forever but can never outstay their welcome.

The whole thing is joy in an undiluted form.

Faced with shots of what just might be the hugest assembly of muppets ever, it's probably best not to dwell upon how disappointingly the old gang later became split up among different companies. (so here I go…) The recent movie The Muppets was a hugely enjoyable adventure, but even with a climax that required a whole theatre of seats to be filled, the owners of the Sesame Street characters wouldn't even permit Elmo to cameo. Boo, they don't sound Muppetational at all.

However that wasn't a problem in 1987, largely I'm sure due to the then alive-ness of muppet creator Jim Henson, who went on record at the time about how much he liked it when they all got together like this. His unseen presence throughout this warm celebration of fuzziness is yet another of the programme's beauties. Since Henson's death, puppeteer Steve Whitmire has done an unfaultable job of taking over playing Kermit, but in this show it's still Henson, with all the depth and little mannerisms of his classic self, not to mention so many other characters. These are the muppets exactly as they were when I was growing up, right down to the last little twitch.

Well, almost. For just like every Christmas family gathering that this programme deliberately sets out to champion, there is one relative who I confess I found myself rather wishing hadn't come.

It's not Doc's fault of course. He was the human owner of Sprocket in the original US version of Fraggle Rock, although around the world all his scenes got reshot with local actors. Here in the UK Fraggle Rock got through three British actors over the course of the series' run, none of whom appear in this American special for ABC.

Well of course they don't. I mean the very idea of flying over John Gordon Sinclair from the UK, Michel Robin from France and Hans Helmut Dickow from Germany, and to shoot alternate takes of these scenes for each of their own territories sounds… well actually y'know it sounds kind of doable.

Anyway, however much I may understand who Doc represents, his presence in this wonderful special inescapably implies that 'my' Fraggle Rock didn't really happen. Even Sprocket here can be witnessed siding against me and betraying his 'real' British masters, which gives me a really bad feeling in my stomach. Oh well.

Mind you, given advances in vision mixing and how the muppets themselves haven't aged since then, it's still not too late to put that right. Maybe a special edition featuring new replacement footage of a 47-year-old Simon O'Brien as BJ with Sprocket. And while they're about it, they can reshoot all those segments of his that have since been wiped. And what the heck, maybe in 3D.

Oh, come on Doc, I know it's not your fault really. Come sit over here with us and play Monopoly, we'll have fun…

(Available here) (It probably won't matter that much if you pick the wrong one.)

Labels: ,

0 comment(s):

Post a Comment

<< Back to Steve's home page

** Click here for preceding post(s) **

** Click here for following post(s) **