This Is What We Call… The Muppet Show

The Muppet Show is obviously not in a category like the other things I’ve been reviewing, as far as these blasts from the past go. The rest of the Transmissions series (mostly) looks at shows that were from a fixed period in time and didn’t live on more than a handful of years, whereas Kermit and company have clearly been something more of a constant. Even so, the Muppets have experienced a cultural resurgence in recent years (to the point of getting a new prime time show airing in just a few weeks), and it’s an excellent opportunity to look into the past at their first real heyday. The nature of the Muppets as characters has not changed much over time, but the context in which they exist has changed along with our own culture. Like us, they react to the world much differently now than they did in the 1970s and 80s. With that in mind, going 30+ years back in time to look at the original series has some merit—even if only so see how times have changed.

I’d been planning on looking at The Muppet Show ever since I first had the idea for this series of essays. But yet, when I actually got around to doing it, I found myself at a bit of a loss as to how to start. So I decided to pull out the “perspective” card and I asked my mom about her recollections of my feelings for the show: Continue reading

He-Man: Does He Really Have the Power?

Subject: He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. First aired in 1983 and left an indelible mark on those who watched it.

Plot in two sentences: Mild-mannered playboy Prince Adam of Eternia has been bestowed with “fabulous” powers to become He-Man and protect the secrets of Castle Greyskull with the help of his friends, the Masters of the Universe. His primary antagonist is a fellow called Skeletor, and—here’s the sticky part, folks—he wants Castle Greyskull for himself (if you can believe that.)


I wasn’t looking forward to this one. He-Man is another cartoon that I hadn’t seen since it first aired, and I have oh so many fond memories of watching it and obediently petitioning my family to buy me all the MOTU toys cranked out by Mattel. But something curious has happened to He-Man the show over the years—while it’s maintained what seems to be a significant following, there are a huge number of detractors out there. Many folks like myself have revisited the original episodes and littered the internet with rants along the lines of, “What the hell were we thinking?!? This is awful! Dude, look how ridiculous Prince Adam is! Pink shirt! Haircut! He-Man wears furry underwear! There’s furry underwear everywhere! Hahahahahahahaha! Lame.”

So the nostalgia factor for He-Man came with a premeditated bias on my part, and as I set out to watch some episodes on DVD I was filled with trepidation. Exactly how badly was my inner child going to be crushed? Even more so than when I pulled the head off my Moss-man figure and couldn’t get it back on? (True story.) Continue reading

Oh Crumbs! A Look at “Danger Mouse”

The subject: Danger Mouse. Originally ran in the U.K. from 1981-1992 and regularly appeared in the states in a slightly modified format during that time. It allegedly still airs from time to time, although now it is gradually being released on DVD.

Plot in two sentences: Danger Mouse, the “world’s greatest detective” (He’s Batman? Or did they just mispronounce “Die Fledermaus?”), fights the forces of evil with the aid of his sidekick, Ernest Penfold (who is a hamster, not a robin). The forces of evil are almost always the frog Baron Silas Greenback and his crow henchman, Stiletto, who are really good at developing elaborate schemes.

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Danger Mouse was one heck of an elusive curiosity to me in my younger years. The show was a British import, which meant that, at the time, the only way it was going to air over here is if it was on PBS or if some cable station picked it up. In this case, it was the latter: Nickelodeon picked it up and aired it in the early evenings. (This was before “Nick at Nite” really took off, and it was still common to see things for “older kids” in prime time.)

The awkward problem I had with watching Danger Mouse was that I only got to see cable programs when I was staying with my dad because the cable literally didn’t run out to my mother’s pseudo-rural home. I happened across DM at one point and was curious enough about it that I wanted to see more of it. It didn’t really have an entertainment sensibility that I related to at the time, but it was… foreign. I recognized that and deemed it neat. I lobbied to watch it whenever I was at Dad’s, which seemed to go over well enough because I think he actually enjoyed it himself. Continue reading

Rebroadcasting Some “Transmissions”

So this post is like an updated prologue to a series of essays that I started writing about ten years ago: Transmissions from My Childhood. For those of you just tuning in, it was a project that looked back on cartoons I watched as a child, but through my adult eyes. Reflections followed. Hilarity ensued. You get the idea.

The original essays disappeared from the internet because of reasons, but a couple of years ago I picked a few of my favorites and re-posted them here with a couple of extra notes. You can read the 2013 introduction here and find the previous entries using the Transmssions tag.

But now I’m living in a world that includes my very own Tiny Human, and it seems to me like a perfect time to revisit some more of those ::cough:: old shows. When I first worked on the Transmissions series, a lot of things hadn’t been reissued—so I literally couldn’t watch the source material. But time has brought us more reissues plus the magic of streaming services, and the window to the past is now much bigger than before. So it’s a great time to cover some new (old) ground—before I am forced to start watching things that my Tiny Human prefers. Although let’s be honest: I’m totally going to get this kid hooked on the classics as well. It’s just good parenting.

My Own Columbus Day

February 21, 2014 has arrived, and with it comes a significant footnote in my life’s story. By my reckoning, I’ve now lived more of my life here in Columbus than anywhere else. And since I’ve only ever lived in one city besides this one (my hometown of Canton), it amounts to  being half my life. When you can start measuring things with the expression “half my life,” it’s probably fair to say that it comes with a certain level of significance.

Like many, I arrived in Columbus in pursuit of higher education (undergrad studies at Capital in this case) and ended up finding many great reasons to stick around after graduation. Then again, I generally think it’s easy to fall in love with Cbus simply because it has so much to offer. Great restaurants, a blossoming community devoted to brewing and spirits, fantastic shopping options for the consumers in the crowd, enough sports teams to satisfy die-hard fans, and a creative community that produces incredible art not only in the professional sense, but in that special way that permeates into the fabric of a city. Even before a lot of this existed, you could detect the undercurrent of what was building.

Downtown Columbus
One of my shots from a shoot at North Bank Park, 2013

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Sing Like a Pirate Day

So today is widely known as “Talk Like a Pirate Day,” but I’m going to go a step further down the plank and celebrate it instead as “Sing Like a Pirate Day” instead. My urge to do that makes a lot more sense when you consider my affection for Gilbert and Sullivan’s light opera The Pirates of Penzance.

The Pirates of Penzance; or The Slave of Duty has long been my favorite work by G&S. I don’t think you’d get any argument that it’s probably the most well-known of their many collaborations, and is almost certainly in the top three in terms of both libretto writing and composition (with The Mikado and H.M.S. Pinafore, although granted that’s more my own personal opinion than anything).

Beyond being such a marvelous and clever show on its own merits, some of my fondest memories as a performer come from two separate productions of Pirates. It was the first show I ever did semi-professionally, way back in the barbaric dark ages of 1997. It was a production by the (now defunct) Columbus Light Opera, and would be the start of a six-season run of doing two shows with the company every summer. Pirates would also later end up being one of the last light opera productions in which I’d participate, because a job move would limit the time I could devote to performing.

Having to give up being in productions with both CLO as well as Opera Columbus was a very sad circumstance for me. It was during those six years that I became friends with some of the most wonderful people I’ve ever met–performers that were extremely talented, funny, clever, and dedicated, as well as directors and production staff that were insightful, creative, and also damn funny. There was so much to learn just by watching them work, which I did with diligence from my place in the chorus. But more than getting to work with such extraordinary performers, it was the relationships that I’ve really missed over time. Of all the things that I’ve ever done as part of a group, this might be the collection of people that feels the most special to me.

So marking today as an occasion gives me something more than the novelty of getting to make jokes about “booty” on Twitter. Talk Like a Pirate Day is my annual day to celebrate memories and my friends of days long since passed. Which for me is a very unique treasure indeed.

“Away to the cheating world go you, / Where pirates all are well-to-do; / But I’ll be true to the song I sing, / And live and die a Pirate King.”

The author (top, in blue) with some of his pirate crew mates before a performance in 2002.
The author (top, in blue) with some of his crew mates before a performance of The Pirates of Penzance in 2002.

This Post Has a Very Strong Theme

I was listening to my “Film Scores” station on Pandora when I happened to notice the start of their biography of Ennio Morricone:

“Ennio Morricone is probably the most famous film composer of the 20th century.”

My initial reaction to that was “John Williams has no idea what you’re talking about.”

Now I totally understand how a statement like the Morricone bio can come into being. It was written by someone who considers themselves highly educated, is a fan of the genre, and is totally convinced that the popular mainstream choice is clearly inferior to a niche pick. So yes—it was me in college.

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