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Thursday, July 14, 2016

Muppet Character Development by Nicholas Napoli

Muppet Character Development
Written by Nicholas Napoli

Scooter is a gofer, his uncle owned The Muppet Show theatre, he likes playing the guitar, he would always let the guest stars know it was “fifteen seconds til curtain” and in the animated series Muppet Babies he had a twin sister named Skeeter. Lips is the sixth mysterious member of The Electric Mayhem, he plays the trumpet and never speaks. Yolanda is sassy, worked at Pete’s Diner and Rizzo has a crush on her. Uncle Deadly is the phantom of The Muppet Show theatre, therefor he loves the theatre and is very scary. The Muppet Newsman reports the news and at the end something always lands on top of him. Lew Zealand throws his fish away and they come back to him, Big Mean Carl eats anything in his way and to non­diehard Muppet Fans Bobo Bear is simply considered the villain’s evil sidekick.

The Muppets (2015) helped a lot of these characters by giving them enough time to develop their personalities outside their normal roles. The Muppets true personality will always come firstly from the performer but without the right amount of screen time or situation (on screen) the character is sometimes lost to its audience. The Muppets were not fighting to share ninety minutes of screen time amongst a full length plot, they were not constantly putting on a show, they were not acting, they were living their lives and that came with its benefits when achieving to expand the personalities of various secondary characters. There are so many Muppets that even after all these many years some (more than others) have yet to be developed properly as their own character. 

I think the best way to get to know a character, in this case a Muppet is to see what they do when they aren’t doing what we’re expecting them to do, in this case, when they aren’t putting on a show, preparing for one or making a movie. There aren’t many Muppet productions which focus on the Muppets day to day lives, they are usually very busy, which for our entertainment is a good thing. This is one of the reasons I really enjoy A Muppets Family Christmas, besides the crossover, it’s the Muppets just chilling together in one big house, not worrying about putting on a show, booking a guest star or helping Michael Caine find his Christmas spirit. This is also one of the main reasons I enjoy The Muppets television specials as it usually finds them camping, attending parties, delivering letters to Santa or even visiting Disney World.

The Muppet Movie was the first attempt at this after The Muppet Show and I think it helped develop Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzie, Gonzo, Camilla, Rowlf, Scooter, The Electric Mayhem, Bunsen, Beaker and Sweetums further as characters because for the first time fans knew what these characters did before they started putting on a show on a weekly basis. Muppets From Space also took a swing at this yet in my opinion they didn’t take full advantage of the situation, Kermit painting the house, The Muppets playing cards, watching TV, I wish they had taken longer to get ready in the morning, that was my favourite scene. The Muppets (2011) also did this and very well I might add, we got to see how various Muppets were living their lives before Kermit and Walter convince them to return to The Muppet Show. Although The Muppets (2015) introduced us to different layers of Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzie, Gonzo, Animal, The Swedish Chef and other main character’s personalities, this is nothing new. It’s great to see the main Muppets continue to further develop as characters but it’s the secondary Muppets who finally had their own chance at character development that truly excited me about this show. 

Before I continue I must stop to write about Gonzo, he has been one of the characters who in my opinion has most transformed since his early days on The Muppet Show. In one of the first few episodes Gonzo mentions to Kermit that he is worried that his mother has gone missing. This didn’t make sense to me, it would have with any other character but not Gonzo and because of this I was not expecting much from Gonzo this season. I was wrong as the episode “Going, Going, Gonzo” not only brought back the return of The Great Gonzo but it also addressed Gonzo’s normality throughout the years. Gonzo didn’t just decide to wear his classic daredevil outfit and perform a stunt, they actually address the fact that for the last few years Gonzo has not been the crazed lunatic he once was. At the last moment of his very last stunt, Gonzo had matured to the point where something actually worried him, fear or rather common sense kicked in and Gonzo did not go through with his stunt. For Gonzo this must be the equivalent to what we consider a midlife crises, I’m sure the fact that Camilla had run out on him didn’t help either, this in my opinion was Gonzo’s proper reintroduction to the new generation of fans.

Sam the Eagle also showed us a side of his which I hope we see more of at some point, a side which I first witnessed during the Jungle Boogie video. When Sam the Eagle is either drunk or around Janice he lets himself go, he embraces the fact that he is a Muppet, he allows himself to be a fire goddess in front of others. I always thought I knew enough about Scooter to understand him as a character but thanks to The Muppets (2015) Scooter is now a much more funny, interesting and relatable character. Scooter has mommy issues (don’t we all), insecurities (don’t we all), low self­esteem (don’t we all) and gets nervous when kissing Chelsea Handler (don’t we all). My point is as a Muppet Fan I’ve seen everything The Muppets have made, therefor I’ve seen everything Scooter has appeared in yet until The Muppets (2015) I never appreciated him as I do now. 

I first met Bobo Bear on Muppets Tonight, he was a fun loveable bear and continued to be so throughout the years though for some reason he always played the role of the villain’s sidekick. Viewers who never had the chance to watch Muppets Tonight but did watch the movies and television specials might be led to believe that Bobo Bear was a bad Muppet as was also the case with Uncle Deadly in The Muppets (2011). Finally after so many years Bobo Bear stopped playing the role of bad guy number two and once again became part of the Muppet gang. Bobo Bear has been reintroduced to this generation as just another bear amongst the Muppets and not the bad bear who always assists the bad guy. We also discovered that Bobo Bear has a daughter, this makes a lot of sense for his character, this I can support, Gonzo having a mother, I can’t.

The Muppet Newsman finally stepped out from behind his news desk and tried selling the Muppets cookies to help his daughter and score points against his ex­wife. Firstly I loved the relationship between Bobo Bear and The Muppet Newsman, something which I was looking forward to seeing more of as the series progressed. The Muppet Newsman has an ex­wife and a daughter, now The Muppet Newsman in my mind has a life, he doesn’t just stand around waiting to report the news as I had always imagined. MUPPET NEWSFLASH: The Muppet Newsman finally got his backstory. Uncle Deadly in my opinion was the one who benefited most from this show, not only was he newly reintroduced back in 2011 but by 2015 he had become a favourite amongst viewers.

Uncle Deadly finally had a personality, one which he always had but until recently was not allowed the time to develop his character on screen. Uncle Deadly grew so much as a character that he not only became Miss Piggy’s best friend but proved he could also carry his own show, I’d watch a full length rendition of Clueless performed by Uncle Deadly any day. 

Another Muppet monster who also got his chance to shine was Big Mean Carl, who I first met eating various animals on the recurring sketch Swift Wits when I was eleven years old. Big Mean Carl has always been around in the background eating anything that gets in his way but finally after so many years the Muppets had enough time to allow Big Mean Carl to mingle with them in a storyline. Big Mean Carl joined Pepe, Rizzo, Yolanda and Sweetums as they held Pache hostage during Kermit’s absence. Big Mean Carl also informed us of his difficult relationship with his father and we also learned he has a sister, Big Mean Carla, who we actually meet in The Muppets (2015). Sweetums simply became more lovable with each episode, he has always favourite of mine, I’m glad he was used in almost every episode of the show.

Yolanda finally became more than a simple Rat waitress who was once kissed by Tattooey Rat (or perhaps some other random Rat) on the steps of the Hispaniola. Yolanda continued being feisty, ambitious, studying to become an ultrasound technician, fashionable and enjoys a good karaoke night out. I think Yolanda benefited from this new show as much as Uncle Deadly did, not only was she reintroduced after thirty years but she also enjoyed a season long romance and a lot of screen time. Rizzo and Pepe also returned strong, once again they were considered main Muppets. Rizzo had been absent longer than Pepe but as the last two movies premiered I worried Pepe would be meeting a similar fate. I’m glad Pepe and Rizzo were reintroduced to the new generation, maybe not in the new movies but at least in the new series as was Robin.

For years fans had been waiting for The Electric Mayhem to sing a new song, slowly this has begun to happen and continued throughout The Muppets (2015). The fact that The Electric Mayhem had enough time to perform a few songs during season one is a big step from where they’ve been in the last few productions but they also had an entire episode devoted to their road trip, they were long overdue some much earned screen time. Each member of The Electric Mayhem were properly reintroduced, Dr Teeth, Floyd, Zoot and Animal showed some character development and Lips found his voice. Janice stood out, I think she is the member of the band who most benefited from this new show. Janice proved she can be her own character who doesn’t necessarily have to be simply attached to the band.

Statler and Waldorf continued to heckle but this time they were doing it live in the studio and not in a nursing home, they were back, these two are old but they’ll never get older. This was my first introduction to Chip even though he’s been around since as far back as 1989. I really enjoyed this character and hope that in the next Muppet production he will be standing there alongside Walter, why introduce new Muppets only to forget about them later? Dr Bunsen and Beaker were not given enough screen time to further develop as character other than hinting at a possible romance. I’m sad Rowlf didn’t appear more on the show, due to his limited screen time he did not have the privilege to further develop his character as opposed to others who received more time in front of the camera. Poor Rowlf found himself working alone at a bar as opposed to inside the studio with the rest of The Muppets. I did like the fact that towards the middle of the season Rowlf became the go to Muppet for advice, this is the perfect use for his character. Also who does The Muppets (2015) think they are? Palisades Toys? Diamond Select? At least Rowlf appeared naked by episode three and not wearing a tuxedo. 

Unfortunately we only got one season meaning other characters such as Lew Zealand, Beauregard, Crazy Harry, Howard Tubman, Bubba Rat etc... will not get the same opportunity as those Muppets mentioned above have. These Muppets will not get enough screen time to properly develop their personalities in the eyes of their fans on a weekly basis. This is why we still need a season two, more Muppets, more character developments, more pairings, more adventures, more mayhem, more jokes, more pigs, more chickens, more everything.

Special thanks to YouTube users 
Pauleta40, Ivailokrustev and once again Kylie Dee

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