They’ve changed the voice of Kermit the Frog. I wouldn’t normally comment, though I’m sure I’ve mentioned that I loved their last movie, Muppets Most Wanted, even if that might be down to my love of Tina Fey and Flight of the Conchords. As for the new Kermit: I understand that people leave, retire, get fired. Kermit has probably changed a couple of times already. In a way, it doesn’t bother me. What makes this one different, however, is the sense that the guy doing the voice isn’t really doing the voice. From what I’ve heard, he’s hitting a few Kermit notes but it does sound like a guy being too much himself, less of an impression and more of a soundalike.
I suppose thing gives another reason to doubt Disney beyond the way they’ve treated the Stars Wars franchise as a franchise. The Muppets are going to be part of the Disney+ streaming service but it feels like another cash grab. [Insert note of surprise that a business wants to make money…] The new series is meant to be Muppets unscripted, which should give anybody a cold shiver. Unscripted is often another word for cheap; often another word for unfunny.
[UPDATE: I guessed wrong. It isn’t unscripted, so much of what I wrote is unrelated to the show. The Guardian have now given it a strong 4* review, though it doesn’t change my general feelings towards ad-libbed comedy. I will say, having watched a little bit of it, it’s good. It’s a really clever vehicle for The Muppets. I take back what I’ve written below but only so far as it addresses the Muppets. Properly unscripted/ad-libbed comedy does tend to be crap, though there can be a perverse pleasure in that — see Dan Harmon’s Harmontown.]
Though I love comedy, I’ve never been a huge fan of ad-libbed comedy. I should whisper this but… I never found Robin Williams that funny when going off on one of his stream-of-consciousness rambles. I mean, his hit ratio was higher than other ad-libbing comedians but it was still a ratio. His scripted stuff was far funnier than the stuff he made up on the spur of the moment. (Billy Connolly, on the other hand, very funny but I’ve never been sure where the script/ad-libbed line is drawn. A comedian who knows his material can make it sound ad-libbed.)
I spend large parts of my day ad-libbing comedy and I know the stuff I throw away vastly outweighs the little bits that I keep. Whose Line Was It Anyway was always about 25 minutes long but, of that, there might be a couple of minutes of decent material. Ad-lib usually only entertains because of the weird juxtapositions the players are forced to adapt.
Man walks into a… [Ask the audience]… “Morticians”… Okay. Man walks into a Morticians. Good morning my good man, I’m here to pick up a corpse. The name’s… [Audience?] “Johnson”. Mr. Johnson… Ah, Mr. Johnson. I’m afraid there’s a problem with the body. It has… [Turns to audience]… “Melted!”… Melted? Okay. Melted. Yes, it’s melted. We have it in these buckets but I’m afraid I can’t let you keep the buckets…
And you know how it goes. The guy drinks the body and then some other weird juxtaposition is shouted by the audience and we end up in a pirate adventure haunted by the ghost of Clement Atlee.
Yes, all that is crap but, like I say, ad-libbed comedy is fundamentally wrong because it misses out the important bit of all creative endeavours which is the huge effort that goes into making something structured.
This is a bit of a hobbyhorse for me, so I’ll not turn this into a rant, but culturally we’re in such a bad place when it comes to way we teach or even think about the arts. We give so much attention to inspiration, expression, and (worse of all) feeling, we treat with distain those things that actually make the former possible. Chuck a pile of clothes into the corner of an art galley and we have an installation. The Concept dominates everything. Burble a lot of words and break up the lines randomly and we have a poem. Criticise it and you’re imposing your values on somebody else’s feeling.
It’s wrong. It’s not just intellectually vacuous but fails to understand the reason we appreciate art, which lies in the challenge to produce something. Entropy is easy. Turning energy back into mass much more difficult. That’s the stuff of craft, technique, and the formal study of work that came before. Writing teachers will often say “just write” rather than actually teach the fundamentals of writing. One of the best ways is to simply copy the writing of good writers. Doing that allows you to learn the structures, the rhythms, the way they handle words. I suspect the same is true of other arts. I know it’s certainly true of cartoons and illustration.
The Muppets unscripted sounds like a disaster waiting to further undermine the Henson legacy. [UPDATE: It isn’t. It looks very good, bar the new guy’s voice which takes a little time to get used to it… But doesn’t it always when they change the voice?] It also sounds like it continues the modern tradition of undermining the role of the writer. [It doesn’t!] I just hope I’m wrong. I hope it’s secretly being written, like a lot of “ad-lib” comedy. [It clearly is. Very good writing too. ] Not sure I like the prospect of watching Kermit dying every night [He doesn’t], even if he no longer sounds like him. [True but I could get used to nearly anything if the writing is strong enough.]