I know, that headline is trouble. You're always treading dangerous ground when you insist on defining what makes a good this or the right kind of that, as if there is no room for change or improvement when it comes to classic properties. Of course there is — Jason Segel's 2011 Muppet film approached the concept from an entirely different direction. It didn't hit all of its marks, but it prevailed overall in its conceit: make a movie not about Muppets, but about Muppet fandom. But Muppets Most Wanted, in absence of a clear mission statement and fueled largely by the monetary glimmers of the sequel game (the film's opening number admits this outright), has fewer marks readily available to hit. Landing in the ambiguity between the classic Muppet adventure formula and Segel's post-modern Henson appreciation party, Most Wanted feels like a failure on both counts. It doesn't know which kind of movie it wants to, or should, be. So it doesn't really be anything.
On the one hand, there's the half-cocked "get-the-band-back-together" through line, mimicking but not quite accomplishing the spirit of the 2011 picture. None of the Muppets are particularly likable or charming in this turn, and even fewer of them actually given anything to do. Kermit loses his s**t in the first act after a spat with Piggy and a barrage of insubordination from his troupe (provoked by the nefarious Dominic Badguy, Ricky Gervais), storms off in a huff, and gets swept up in a case of mistaken identity when his criminal doppelganger Constantine pulls the old switcheroo, landing Kermit in a Russian gulag. You'd think this would be a good opportunity for the second tier of Muppet favorites — Piggy, Fozzy, Gonzo, Scooter, Rowlf, et al — to go on a search and rescue... but save for a very brief sequence at the tail end of this achingly long film, none of the other Muppets are giving anything to do. They just hem and haw and perform the occasional "Indoor Running of the Bulls" while Dominic and Constantine scheme, rob banks, and bicker.
Meanwhile, Kermit has some fun in prison — a far more endearing plot that sees him befriending the merry convicts, organizing a penitentiary revue, and even winning the heart of the vicious warden Nadia (Tina Fey). If only we could spend more time with real Kermit and less time with fake Kermit and his second banana Gervais, an effectively boring pair.
On the other hand, though, there's the Muppet shtick that fans of The Great Muppet Caper and Muppet Treasure Island — and yes, The Muppet Show itself — will deem the movie's best material: CIA Agent Sam Eagle and Interpol Agent Jean Pierre Napoleon (Ty Burrell) hot on the trail of Constantine and Dominic. Here, we get a different type of Muppet movie entirely from what Segel and the A-plot in Most Wanted are opting: the old fashioned vaudeville act, with Sam standing as an independent entity from his googly-eyed brethren, on a goofy, musical prowl with Burrell that fuels the film with its best and most consistent chuckles. Their "Interrogation Song" number is outstanding, exemplifying the many talents of Flight of the Conchords' Bret McKenzie, who wrote all the music for this and the previous film.
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Unfortunately, Muppets Most Wanted isn't sure that it wants to be The Great Muppet Caper, beheld so stubbornly to its Segelian roots. There's a palpable compulsion to stick with this agonizingly self-aware, nostalgia-crazy, brimming-beacons-of-the-past-in-a-callous-today theme that doesn't work a fraction as well as it did in the 2011 film. Without a legitimate celebration of any of our favorite characters, how could it? With so much going on in this movie, and such a lengthy runtime at just under two hours, it's a sure sign of failure that we walk away feeling like we spent barely any time with the Muppets.
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The picture above? That's it: that's the whole series. And darned if it doesn't look like the perfect Emma/Mr. Knightley dynamic – am I right, or am I right? The verbal sparring between Emma Woodhouse (Joanna Sotomura) and Alex Knightley (Brent Bailey) is reason enough to give this series a click.
Emma Approved is a new webseries currently airing on YouTube, created and produced by Pemberley Digital (helmed by Hank Green and Bernie Su – the team behind the Emmy-award winning The Lizzie Bennet Diaries). Like its predecessors, Emma Approved is endlessly innovative when it comes to modernizing Jane Austen's novel of (almost the same) name.
This present-day characterization of Emma is pitch-perfect – she somehow manages to straddle the line between insufferable and adorable with aplomb; just as she should. Her self-centeredness is tempered wonderfully with genuine regard for assistant Harriet Smith; her persistent over-confidence is forgiven when we realize just how much she cares. About everything.
Oh, and don't worry, it's not the second coming of Clueless (let's not mess with perfection!) – it brings something entirely different to the table. This version of Emma Woodhouse runs a matchmaking/lifestyle business with her level-headed sparring partner, Alex Knightley. Harriet is her naïve assistant/protégé, the farmer Mr. Martin is a lowly IT geek, Mr. Elton is a (slimy) politician-on-the-rise, and we haven't met other major players Frank Churchill or Jane Fairfax yet – but we're looking forward to it.
It's on hiatus until February (alas), but if you haven't seen it yet, it's well-worth a watch!
Here’s the thing about Michael Scott: we know a lot about him. We’ve basically known him for six years now. There have been 128 episodes (or at least, 117 episodes, but with the double episodes it's like 128 regular episodes, thanks Wikipedia!) and with those lasting roughly 20 minutes, that’s over 42 hours worth of getting to know Michael Scott. Sure, he’s not the focus of every single hour of those 42, but he is the main character in this ensemble comedy and most of the stories revolve around him somewhat.
So basically, we’re pretty familiar with the guy. Sure, it’s difficult to really know someone after only 42 hours of knowing them, but we’ve seen him at his best (landing sales), his worst (too many to count), his highs (hooking up with Jan et al.), his lows (every moment involving Jan post hookup), and everything in between. We skipped over all the boring stuff that you have to go over while getting to know someone and have the super concentrated version of Michael Scott.
We know Michael is needy, emotionally underdeveloped, delusional, and has the most unhealthy need to be liked. But does he know this? In traditional narratives, the protagonist undergoes a fundamental shift in his state of being. Usually it takes some awareness of the protagonist’s part to make the change and up until this point, Michael hasn’t shown much awareness. But since this is Steve Carell’s last season, could this mean a change in Michael Scott? Could he eventually grow up on his way out? And considering Toby, the uber-ultimate-arch-nemesis to Michael, managed to get Michael to finally let up and confess to some of his faults, it could be a possibility. We shall see.
So what happened in this episode?
The cold opening had Dwight pitching his new day care center in his new office building to Jim and Pam. While a little too out there for me, there were definitely some great moments from this bit. I always love it when Jim and Pam suddenly understand each other and get on the same page quickly; it’s little moments like that that really make their relationship work for me. Then we also got Mose painting in the dark (brilliant) and “FUN” printed out on plain white paper in Times New Roman. So lovely. And of course, Jim locks Dwight and Mose in the daycare center. But, the biggest laugh came from Dwight when he delivers a perfect evil laugh after announcing his normal plans for the daycare center because “there’s no good laugh for a regular idea.” So perfect. So Dwight.
And as mentioned above, Michael undergoes counseling with Toby because he committed “corporate” punishment against his nephew. Michael was very stubborn against this and attempted to sit through the entire six hours in silence. Toby don’t play none of that shi- whoa, sorry, got a little hood there for a second. Toby doesn’t put up with any of that and uses some basic reverse psychology on Michael to get him to open up and of course Michael plays right into his hands. Considering Michael has seen Good Will Hunting (or more likely Harriet the Spy), you would think he would have seen this coming, but whatever. Michael opened up to us like he never has before.
Pam is having more difficulties with the transition into sales than she thought she would. She can’t land a sale and when a stray door-to-door salesman appears looking for the “office administrator” she jumps on to claim the position that doesn’t exist. Since the “office administrator” gets paid on salary and not on commission she undertakes the rather difficult challenge of hurdling the red tape to create the position for herself retroactively. Pam shows some serious smarts in handling all the department heads at Dunder Mifflin (which appears to be everyone) and getting their signatures, but Gabe is the final boss. Now, I would rather face a giant spider with nothing but a sling shot then try to wiggle around a smarmy corporate ass kisser, but Pam handles it well. She takes charge and creates the position despite Gabe knowing exactly what she is up to.
The final story line was a weird one, even by The Office standards. Dwight was slighted at the Steamtown Mall (which is real! Though it’s called Mall at Steamtown) and his course of dealing with it is to remove them as clients. Even if they weren’t his clients to begin with. They decide the best way to deal with it is to go all Julia Roberts and Pretty Woman their ass. This idea comes from Kelly who is showing a lot more gusto after her executive training even if she doesn’t remember what she said (“I talk a lot so I’ve learned to just tune myself out,” FTW). Personally, I was for Creed’s idea of starting their own mall.
This leads to everyone giving Dwight a make over and they take advantage of the opportunity to “teach” him manners. Really just an excuse for them to shout out everything they don’t like about him, but he soaks up the information in order to get the best revenge possible. Andy and Jim take him to the store in the mall where he was slighted and instead of appearance-ist employees they find normal workers. To Dwight, normal can be extremely unusual though. The employee tells Jim and Andy the reason they didn’t help Dwight was because he came in with blood on his hands. Dwight corrects him that it was beet juice after a hard days work in the field. Wakka wakka, that’s all folks.
A decent episode, to say the least. Perhaps a sign of the things to come with Michael or perhaps just an excuse to get Dwight to comb his hair. Either way, a fun episode.