Skin to fur
Imagine a world of people living side by side with puppets. Next, imagine an inter-species experiment in hybridization, with the resulting creature’s appearance further plasticized by cosmetic surgery. Finally, imagine this and artificial-looking individual working in the entertainment industry.
This is the premise of Greg the Bunny, which began as a cable access program in New York City titled
. From here, it moved to the Independent Film Channel as a series of short skits, intercut with feature movies. And now, Fox has picked up the series. Due to this circuitous past, Greg the Bunny comes equipped with a cult-like following, and it’s possible that it will pick up new supporters, among viewers of the network that also boasts The Simpsons.
Greg the Bunny takes us behind the scenes of Sweetknuckle Junction, a children’s television series featuring humans and puppets, created and directed by Gil Bender (Eugene Levy, of SCTV). His son Jimmy (Seth Green, of Buffy the Vampire Slayer) happens to be the friend and roommate of Greg the bunny (voiced by Dan Milano, who also voices fellow puppet cast member, Warren DeMontague). Jimmy asks his dad, the director, to interview his pal for a clerical position, but Gil hires him to host Sweetknuckle Junction. Following this success, Greg makes Jimmy his agent. And, though Jimmy initially shudders at the idea of working for his dad, he finds that wheeling and dealing with his dad on Greg’s behalf is rather rewarding.
In fact, Jimmy and Greg make a good team: a small, sarcastic human guiding the career of a small, sarcastic bunny. Skin to fur, their relationship offers potential conflict and comedy. Moreover, the structure—a show about a fictional show—allows storylines that satirize the entertainment industry. For instance, network executive Alison Kaiser (Sarah Silverman) fires a puppet due to his “thinning fur and drooping ears,” citing the need to appeal to a younger audience. But, as Gil points out, the show already reaches four-year-olds. Greg the Bunny‘s humor can be smart and occasionally fresh, referencing issues like racism (or maybe, species-ism, as when guest star David Spade suggests a need to “spray” in order to exterminate Greg and his fellow creatures) and pop psychology (Gil telling Jimmy that children of powerful and successful parents often slack off due to insecurity in their ability to match the success of their parents). At other times, its jokes can be crude. After a dog attacks Greg, a puppet friend offers his opinion regarding domesticated canines, “If I wanted someone to lick my face and poop on my lawn, I’d get back together with Farrah Fawcett.”
Personally, my tolerance for puppet entertainment is low. When I see a puppet, I instantly think of the puppeteer, hiding behind the doll, using it as a conduit through which to express his or her own thoughts and ideas. Creepy. Or maybe my memories of the promos for the ‘70s flick Magic, about a murdering puppet, have created a sort of subconscious apprehension regarding such objects-made-animate. Even more creepy.
Casting Green and Levy may help to alleviate some of these anxieties in potential viewers, as these talented performers come with their own fans. But actors can only do so much with a script. While Green is more or less believable as Greg’s friend, completely accepting his bunny-ness, a scene in which he had to take down a rogue rabbit who had taken Greg hostage, came off as silly and forced.
Another problem for me involved my lack of focus on the show itself. I occasionally found myself pondering the logistics of the puppeteer, as well as the level of skill needed to simultaneously move the puppet’s head or mouth. Do they take classes for this sort of thing? Do they have to be certified? In one scene, Jimmy hid Greg inside his trench coat. I got to wondering, had Green offered his own hand to play Greg, for this scene? Or was the puppet master working his magic from behind Jimmy? Luckily, I caught a glimpse of a third arm, obviously not Green’s, rising up from the actor’s side and under the coat. Okay, mystery solved. Preoccupation placated.
Greg the Bunny‘s success may depend on whether viewers can accept the premise of personified puppets co-existing with humans. While the premiere episode delivered some witty parody, the series may be too farfetched to appeal to large numbers of viewers. Concealing a puppet master may only be a matter of a well-placed desk or table, but a skeptical viewer can’t help but see behind the magic.