[9 November 2010]
BOOM! Kids’ ongoing Muppet miniseries, Muppet Sherlock Holmes, is a strange beast for sure. As with many children who grew up with Sesame Street and The Muppet Show there is a sense of nostalgia for the creations of Jim Henson. The master of puppets that thrilled millions with his colorful cast of characters certainly has a place in my heart. Some of my earliest memories involve Big Bird, Bert and Ernie and Kermit the Frog. In a way, much of Henson’s work has informed my development from child to adult. The lessons learned through Sesame Street and later, watching his Muppets in syndication as I grew older, have stayed with me until today.
The Muppets have been far too absent from my life and when it came time to write a review this work from BOOM Kids! stood out. This four part miniseries is comprised of standalone issues which features a retelling of a classic Sherlock Holmes mystery. However, instead of the brilliant Holmes and redoubtable Watson, Gonzo and Fozzie Bear are substituted. Kermit the Frog plays his classic role as the straight man in Inspector Lestrade’s shoes.
This particular issue features a Muppet twist to “The Adventure of the Red-Headed League”. As one of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s more farcical yarns, it would seem to lend itself well to parody. The cast certainly puns it up as writer Patrick Storck has a bit of fun with the Muppets donning red hair disguises and infiltrating the nefarious league of red heads by getting jobs there. However, this quickly devolves into shtick. There are a few chuckle worthy moments here and there but for the most part that magic that the Muppets had was lost in the book’s earlier segments.
The Muppet Show is one of those programs that you can come to fully appreciate as you grow older. It wove a delicate balance of kid friendly humor but with adult themes and a sardonic sense of humor that not only entertained but enlightened. The brilliance of The Muppet Show is that it pioneered the trend in entertainment to appeal not just to adults or children, removing the distinction that made the two genres mutually exclusive, but to have full on family entertainment. The show was one kids could ‘get’ without parents rolling their eyes or watching impatiently.
Muppet Sherlock Holmes lacked that satirical eye throughout its early portions. However, the retelling of “The Adventure of the Red-Headed League” comes to an abrupt halt midway through. A bit of that smiling, sneering wit filtered in when Gonzo, undercover at the titular establishment, increasingly questions his personal fulfillment from his faux-desk job. Trying to stir up enthusiasm at a company meeting, and by extension address the lingering doubts within, he asks: “Are you happy collecting checks and not even having a job title? I know I am!”
With this attempt to lift his spirits ultimately hollow, the quirky blue whatchamacallit plunges into depression. Stumped on solving the mystery and growing increasingly perturbed over his workaday lifestyle, Sherlock Gonzo confronts his boss and questions the necessity of performing an unfulfilling function in life:
“But why not do something you like and get paid for that?”
“No, no, that’s what hobbies are for! You pay to do what you like and get paid to spend time away from what you like!”
“So I should be happy to be here being unhappy, because you pay me to be here, knowing my reward is having time off to go have a little happy time?”
“Exactly! That’s how the real world works.”
This harsh critique, although expressed in simple terms, encapsulates some of the original spirit Henson brought to television. While perhaps a little too direct and heavy handed, it nonetheless features the sincere, heartfelt populist messages the puppet master imbued in his foam and latex creations. After this confrontation Gonzo enters a state of shock, not emerging until he inadvertently discovers the crime his ne’er do well employer was up to. Bringing justice to wrongdoers is enough to snap him back to his senses.
This parody of 9 to 5 working attitudes is indicative that the Muppets can still entertain and inform future generations. While a Muppets television show is sadly absent from today’s programming schedules, the wit and charm of Jim Henson’s creations live on in the realm of comics. While their particular merits may fall short of the high bar set by The Muppet Show these comics carry the torch for future generations.