Kelly Masters -Yeah, yeah, I know: Waldo’s right there at Disney World, in some three-dimensional movie. So is Bean. But aside from Waldo C. Graphic, Bean Bunny, and Clifford, do you know anyone from The Jim Henson Hour? And I don’t mean taking the puppet and reusing it as a stage-manager in Statler and Waldorf: From the Balcony. I mean the character. A character with a name and a voice—someone recognizable.
I’ll be honest, I was a kid when this show aired and only remembered bits and pieces of it, namely the “Secrets of the Muppets” episode, which was really neat as it was the only time my father, the technological go-to guy in my family, showed an interest, if only to comment on appreciating the skill of creating the Gorgs from Fraggle Rock.
If it hadn’t been for a friend of mine on Muppet Central Forums, I may never have bothered to wonder about it again. I had seen Muppet*Vision 3D in Orlando and I remembered Waldo (barely) and remembered bits and pieces of Muppets Tonight, where we see Clifford in a more prominent (if just as thankless as Kermit’s) role.
Later, after spending some quality time on YouTube, I gained a new found appreciation of this largely forgotten show. According to Muppet Wiki’s article on the show, it suffered from a bad time slot, bad ratings, and eventually the station (and Jim Henson) pulled it off the air. It was canceled quickly, and watching the episodes back, I can kind of see why. This show began the bridge from Classic Henson to Modern Henson. People were expecting The Muppet Show, but you can tell, particularly in some of the show-within-a-show spots and the “Ratings” episode in particular, that we were heading to the kind of humor one might see on Dinosaurs—a much more successful Disney/Henson outing in the 90s. I think the latter show’s DTV segments are basically the Henson Hour segments, but with dinosaurs instead of monsters and bears and chickens and things.
The Jim Henson Hour’s primary problem, if it has one, is that it struggles to rise above being the experiment that it is. I think a lot of where Jim Henson went “wrong” (if he did) in the latter years was this obsession with experimentation—fancy, new, modern doo-dads taking the place of character and humor (*cough*Lucas*cough*). Characterization in the Jim Henson Hour is almost one-note, particularly with the new characters which hadn’t been on The Muppet Show previously. You can tell Jim Henson liked fussing with props and equipment and it shows.
Still, we can have a good moan about what went wrong and why (could even invest in some hot cocoa and laxatives and go have a chat about it with Statler and Waldorf for a few hours) but ultimately, this show just wasn’t fair to the Henson Hour characters themselves. Yes, Waldo, Bean, and Clifford all got second (and third) chances, but there were many more that deserved another glorious few moments in the spotlight, too.
Take Digit and his fellow members of the Solid Foam band, for example. I best remember their song “The Music Just Keeps On Rolling Along” where Dr. Teeth can be seen in the background, in the recording booth. Does he manage them? What’s the story there? No surprise, we never get one. Unfortunately instead of having meaning, it comes across as someone in marketing sending round a memo to remind them to give the popular Electric Mayhem members cameos because they’d be easily recognized, and keep the viewers. However, it was easy for the viewers (that’s us, guys) to see through this Emperor’s Suit of Multi-Colored Satin and it felt as though Solid Foam were never allowed to be their own thing. And for this reason, we never got anywhere. Heck, the female drummer doesn’t even become important enough to be named. (Thank you, Muppet chauvinism.)
What about Leon? He was a chameleon (apparently) but so stylized by this point that he just doesn’t scream “chameleon”. (Not like Kermit’s googly-eyes, it’s obvious he’s a frog! Or Fozzie’s hat… He’s obviously a bear!) No color changes (that I recall), no nothing. Just a derivative name. He was a major scam artist, so he should at least be able to join the modern team up of Rizzo the Rat and Pepe the King Prawn in that regard.
I realize that the whole “being canceled” thing means you don’t get a lot of time to bring out characters. However, had they been more than one-note jokes in the first place, maybe it wouldn’t have been canceled and then we would have had time to bring out the characters that weren’t brought out because there wasn’t time to bring them out because it was canceled because the characters were never brought out (Phew…That was quite a sentence, but you get the idea…) Perhaps if the show had not seemed like a showcase of “Hey, look what we can do now!”… it would still be on the air. Muppets Tonight may not have even been necessary. (Sorry Pepe!)
It is a pity. There was so much scope for the imagination, and it just never reached its full potential.
However…That is where we come in, both as fans and also fan-fiction writers. It’s our job (and sworn duty) to point out some overlooked opportunities—and to make some effort to correct them. Want to know why Dr. Teeth was there in the background of the Solid Foam? We can create our own reasons. Want to know why Leon couldn’t change his colors? There must have been a reason! Go back to his childhood, oh ye fans, and get it sorted out! Discuss! Create! Produce! Go forth and multiply! (The…er…Multiply the amount of suggestions…and character breakdowns…that is…) What is more, popular demand and making the names of these characters popular buzz words on blogs, websites, forums, and Twitters can also have a direct effect on the popularity of those characters, and united fan demand could bring them back to life in future projects.
The truth is, The Jim Henson Hour did have an unfortunate finish, and truthfully, we may never see Waldo on our cinema screens again…but remember (and this is important) life’s like a movie, we can write our own ending!