Kieran Moore – So, 2020 was a thing…
I’m not sure there’s much point in me sounding off about the current state of the world. After all, I think we can agree the last 12 months will likely have their own chapter in just about every history book published from now on. What is unlikely to get a mention however is the incredible work of The Muppets, Sesame Workshop and The Jim Henson Company during 2020 – and that’s where I can redress the balance.
It’s been a pretty good year for felt, fur and foam. Muppets Now debuted, becoming the first Weekly Muppet Show in 5 years – that’s one for the history books! Also, Earth to Ned debuted on Disney+. It’s a fun show that made me laugh out loud on many occasions and I’m pleased to see season 2 has just been released. Sesame Street continued at pace with new episodes, specials and Elmo’s brand new talk show – it seems everyone is keen to chat to puppets this year! Muppet Babies is still the best animated kids show on TV (full of fun Easter eggs for Muppet fans) and we even saw brand new mini episodes of Fraggle Rock. If the world needs a TV show right now it’s definitely full of Fraggles. Despite the sad news of no second season for The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, there is much to be thankful for right now as a Muppet fan.
So let’s stay positive and take a look at the top 10 songs of 2020 – right after we take a nap with song 10…
10 – It’s Night Time – Sesame Street
Before we get to this track I want to give a quick “Honorable Mention” to a song that very, very nearly made the cut. Namely, “Two of A Kind” from Muppet Babies. I really wanted to feature that song as it included the new Muppet Babies debut of Scooter and Skeeter, which for my money at least was pretty momentous. It was very close between the two songs, but my own love of Scooter was probably clouding my judgement… This song though is very deserving of a place on today’s list. It’s a beautifully chilled piece with a mellow swing/doo wap style. Maggie Rogers (who was previously unknown to me) sings this with just the right amount of bounce while keeping it quiet and calm. The video is a fun watch as Sesame Street gets ready for bed and the set looks good in faux twilight so there’s a lot to love.
9 – Twinkle Twinkle Little Star – The Not Too Late Show With Elmo
I can only be honest and say The Not Too Late Show hasn’t been shown anywhere in the UK yet so I can’t talk about the show itself from a place of knowledge. In general, Sesame content can be quite difficult to find over here despite the popularity of the characters. Anywho, I didn’t really have huge expectations for this song when I first put it on – after all it’s just another version of Twinkle Twinkle, but this is utterly captivating and I’ve fallen in love with it. This might be the perfect lullaby. You can instantly hear the influence of Somewhere Over The Rainbow by Israel Kamakawiwoʻole, but that’s no bad thing. The additional melody and lyrics help to round out the simple song and it becomes something much bigger than the sum of its parts. Sara Barielles sings it beautifully – who knew a duet between her and Big Bird was what the world needed in 2020?
8 – Wemblin’ Fool – Fraggle Rock: Rock On!
One of the best things to happen last year (it’s a short list to be fair) was the return of the Fraggles in Fraggle Rock: Rock On. The show consisted of 6 mini episodes that showcased just why the Fraggles are as relevant today as they always were. Their message of love, unity and co-operation hasn’t aged and as we get closer together and further apart at the same time it’s needed more than ever. The episodes were a little celebrity-heavy (it was jarring to see them interact so readily with “Silly Creatures” bearing in mind when the show ended they’d barely met one), but as a way to relaunch the brand (which it did) I think it’s fine. This song features Jason Mraz alongside Wembley and Gobo. Jason has appeared on one of my previous lists for his Sesame Street work and I think this might even beat that. One of Wembley’s great trademarks is his ability to scat and Jason does a fine job here with the same and, dare I say it, even manages to elevate it from the original.
7 – Ahlan Simsim Theme – Ahlan Simsim
Who doesn’t love an international Sesame Street production? From old favourites like Plaza Sesamo to new starters like Ahlan Simsim they all offer familiarity alongside something ever so slightly unusual – a bit like when you shop at a different branch of your usual supermarket. Ahlan Simsim is an Arabic co-production of the show which airs in countries such as Iraq, Syria and Jordan. It includes perennial favorites, Elmo, Cookie Monster and Grover alongside international characters Basma, Jad and Ma’zooza. This theme song is catchy and fun and has the kind of universal international flair that works well in The Eurovision Song Contest. I like this a lot.
6 – Shine On, Shine On Me – Fraggle Rock: Rock On
And just like that we’re “down at Fraggle Rock” again! I really want to take this opportunity to heap some praise on the performers here. Original cast members Karen Prell and Dave Goelz are back as Red and Boober and they sound like they never went away. Karen Prell has such a distinctive voice and brings a level of joy to her performances as Red that might be unrivalled in the Muppets/Henson universe. I’d say Peter Linz as Walter is close… And what can I say about Dave Goelz that hasn’t been said already? He’s an international figure skater. It’s not true, but it hasn’t been said already… John Tartaglia is Gobo with emphasis on the IS. Jerry Nelson is a hard act to follow, but I 100% believe in John as Gobo now. Seeing him talk in interviews about his love for Fraggle Rock, Jerry and Gobo makes me certain this is a casting that was meant to be. Donna Kimball sounds fantastic as Mokey – when Gobo compliments Mokey on her singing I’m fairly certain that’s really John complimenting Donna. That this is the same actor who voiced Aughra in Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance shows how versatile she is. And last but not least we have Frankie Cordero as Wembley. He feels like the new boy on the block – perhaps fittingly for a character like Wembley, but his Sesame credits go back a long way. Steve Whitmire has such a recognisable voice, stepping into his shoes can’t have been easy, but Frankie is doing brilliantly. I can’t wait to see more from all 5 of them.
5 – Monster at The End Song – The Monster at The End of This Story
The idea of “The Monster at the End…” is the gift that keeps on giving! I’m just waiting for the movie version now. Genuinely, I would watch the heck out of that! Whoever greenlights movies needs to make it happen (along with a Pigs in Space film). I have very fond memories of reading the original book as a kid and I think it should be required reading for all preschoolers. This song is what the phrase “Broadway style” was coined for. It has jumped straight off a non-existent stage and onto our TV screens. Eric Jacobson continues to slay as Grover and he sounds as good here as he ever has. I’d love to have seen this as a puppet performance rather than animation but that’s really just me being picky at this point.
4 – I Wonder, What If, Let’s Try – Sesame Street
We haven’t moved far from Grover’s front door to hear our next song – this peppy number from Hailee Steinfeld and the cast of Sesame Street. Alongside the great music and performances what really attracts me to this piece is the message it conveys. I love the theme of being curious and using that curiosity to solve problems. Action will always beat inaction. Whether you’re trying to build a tower or cure the world we always need people who think outside the box and that can be you, me or a furry red monster.
3 – Let Me Be Your Song – Fraggle Rock: Rock On
For a show with only 6 short episodes Fraggle Rock: Rock On really has made an impression on today’s chart. But then this is a new version of Let Me Be Your Song – that’s never going to not make one of my lists. I mentioned earlier that I felt the new show was a bit overdone on celebrities, and I could do without him being called “Common Fraggle”, but I do think Common adds something new and interesting to this song with his rap verse. The added lyrics work well with the theme and if anything strengthen it by including the listener more. It also adds a hip hop-lite feel that works better than I would have expected. Fraggles have always been known for their harmonies and this song carries on that tradition in the most wonderful way. There are absolutely years in the past where I could have made this number one. Let’s hope the new Fraggle Rock show gets them the top spot this time next year!
2 – With A Little Help From My Friends – The Late Late Show
Every so often the UK sends the US a celebrity we’re not very keen on and the current one is James Corden. You’re welcome to keep him, but can we have John Oliver back instead? That said, James is always infinitely better when accompanied by Muppets. With A Little Help From My Friends is fast becoming one of The Electric Mayhem’s signature songs and that’s no bad thing. Bill Barretta always does an incredible job with it. Every time I see Dr. Teeth lead a song my heart jumps for joy. 2020 hasn’t been a great year but this really feels like it should be it’s unofficial anthem. We will get by with a little help from our friends. We might not be able to be in the same room as them, but this song shows us that’s no boundary to love, friendship and simply being there for one another. I must admit I got a little misty eyed when I first watched this video when it was released. The eagle-eyed amongst you will have noticed this chart is filled with very kid-friendly material, that’s not a problem, but here’s hoping for more music from the core Muppets in 2021. If the viral video of Movin’ Right Along is anything to go by we might just get our wish…
1 – You’ll Get There Soon – Muppet Babies
Coming in from nowhere and taking the top spot is this wonderful song from the Muppet babies. All the best Muppet shows feature incredibly sophisticated music that never once plays down to its audience – and this is no exception. Instead it simply matches the mood with the genre and lets that do the talking. I’ll admit this song is in some way my equivalent of giving Randy Newman an Oscar for Monsters Inc. instead of Toy Story 2 (for which he was robbed). You see, I’m wholeheartedly in love with I’ve Been There Buddy and it still haunts me that it wasn’t number one in 2018. Make no mistake this number does deserve the top spot, but it’s doing it for both songs to a certain extent… Just like I’ve Been There Buddy (which you must find if you haven’t heard already) this works as well for us grown ups as it does for kids. Whether you’re a young bear who’s struggling to keep up with your friends or a fully grown human who’s struggling to keep up with the world, it’s important to remember we are always growing, always evolving and as always we’ll get there soon.
As is customary at this time of year I’m going to make some predictions for the next 12 months and see if any of the cosmic foreshadowings I had last time came true. I have had some limited success in the past so let’s see shall we… First the predictions!
- Muppets Now will get another season, but they’ll lean heavily into having to film while social distancing and more of the show will be presented as if it’s happening live online. This will give the show a more frenetic energy and allow Kermit and Scooter to make us believe they really are barely holding the show together.
- Also using this new way of working will be a Disney+ original movie version of The Cheapest Muppet Movie Ever Made. With a few script adjustments we see Gonzo burn the budget in the opening number and then laugh along as the Muppets use their homes and household objects as sets and props. A handful of Muppet friendly guest stars will appear but one by one they’ll drop out as they find they aren’t being paid…
- A new Muppets Hallowe’en special is going to be announced for 2022. It’ll feature Robin and Walter as they find themselves trapped in the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland (SYNERGY!). Uncle Deadly will narrate (in prose).
- Rizzo, Clifford and Andy & Randy Pig will all have speaking roles by the end of the year.
- The Muppets will get their own section on Disney+ which will feature all 5 seasons of The Muppet Show, Bear in The Big Blue House and a bunch of old specials including Muppets at Walt Disney World. We’ll complain that Muppets Tonight isn’t included and say Disney hates the Muppets.
- A new human will join the cast of Sesame Street – he’ll be an older gentleman and related to a current cast member.
- Following on from Elmo’s talk show, Oscar will get his own show on HBO Max where he basically takes a topic and rags on it for 15 minutes. The show will feature songs and skits and become a huge hit with viewers aged 18-34.
- The new Fraggle Rock reboot will bring back the classic characters of Marjory, Philo, Gunge and Convincing John. The Gorgs will not be seen, but will be mentioned. It will also win 6 Emmys.
- The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance will continue as an animated show and in a weird turn of events debut on Netflix despite rumors that Disney+ would pick it up.
- Earth to Ned will not be renewed. Instead the popularity of Dinosaurs on Disney+ will see that come back with 10 new episodes.
I’ve just gone through last year’s predictions. I hope you enjoyed the newly commissioned Labyrinth show and Elmo’s Hallowe’en special. I know I did! In other news, I predicted the Cheapest Muppet Movie Last Year too – at least I’m consistent!
So it just remains for me to thank everyone who worked on any of the shows mentioned here or anything else Muppet/Henson connected in 2020. You’ve made a tough time slightly more bearable. Thank You. And Thank You to all the fans who believed in the dream this year. The more you share that dream the better it becomes and the more we become a family…