I was ready to pack it up and walk away from the Muppets three years ago, but The Muppets wound up being a true surprise for me and I found myself not only enjoying that movie, but hopeful for the franchise's future again. Combine that with my having a daughter I've raised to enjoy the Muppets requesting to see it, I yet again braved the crowds to see this movie today.

Story
While The Muppets was steeped in nostalgia, I like that this one tried to move into the future rather than be a love letter to its past. That's not the say it doesn't borrow greatly from its spiritual successor The Great Muppet Caper, but this doesn't try to outright be a remake of that movie unlike The Muppets did with The Muppet Movie.

I'm going to pull out my favorite phrase right off the bat: This was one good rewrite away from being a really good movie. As it was...it was okay with glimmers of "good." While it's predecessor was a return to making the story about characters this one takes a step back to being very plot-driven. That's not to say there weren't some nice character bits, but they were buried by the plot trying to be clever.

In fact, the movie should have rested entirely on the character story lines. What happens when Kermit's shepherding presence leaves the Muppets and is replaced by an anarchist? Can Kermit land in an entirely new situation and build something from the ground up that is just as good as the Muppets? Those two questions are addressed, but in their hurry to be clever, the answers cease to be poignant.

Too much attention is given to the human characters in this one without a good thematic connection to the Muppets storyline. In The Muppet Movie, Kermit and Doc Hopper's life goals parallel each other and result in the emotionally charged final showdown. In The Muppets, Jason Segel and Walter's stories parallel each other's and give commentary and perspective on each side. In this one, the departure of the real Kermit should have given rise to another Muppet trying rally to keep the Muppets together. Walter makes an effort, but it isn't the true "number two" role that Ricky Gervais' character could have truly been a parallel for. That would have just been one way to handle it. Unfortunately, Ricky Gervais' character becomes rather one-dimensional and a complete misuse of Gervais' talents.

Surprisingly, the Sam the Eagle and Ty Burrell subplot was exceptional. I would love to have seen other characters get some similar treatment. There are a lot of cameos in this movie from Hollywood stars, but it felt like several popular Muppets had cameos at best. Gonzo does practically nothing in this movie. Rizzo even states he's taken a backseat in this one and the last one (and the following Muppet cameo was a nice tribute to the recently departed Jerry Nelson). This is the downfall of having an ensemble cast as huge as the Muppets. Every character is someone's favorite and not every movie can give each character the attention they deserve. It does seem the balance has been better in other movies though.

Overall, I'll give the story three walruses. That might be a half more than I should give it, but there's enough in this that it's still enjoyable. And it's still the Muppets.

Presentation
I still enjoy watching the first two movies and marveling at how they got puppets to ride bikes, drive cars and just interact with the world. This movie doesn't exude that feeling though. It feels like this is a mostly set-based movie. It also feels like there is a lot...I mean, A LOT of green screen. And not especially well done green screen either.

The acting didn't stand out as the best. As I mentioned before, Gervais seemed wasted. Burrell was a delight, but besides Jemaine Clement and his Gulag team, no one else really stood out to me. Tina Fey also seemed miscast. Especially considering she was the "Kermit the Frog" of 30 Rock. She could have been given a better role more suited to her talents.

The big thing worth mentioning here is the music. After watching The Muppets, I did track down the Flight of the Conchords DVDs and Bret McKenzie is the perfect guy to write these songs. Is there another "Man or Muppet" in this batch? I don't know, but "Something So Right" is a contender. I have never been a fan of any of Piggy's songs from previous Muppet productions, but in Muppets Most Wanted, her song is the big stand out song for me. The rest of them are fun, Muppety songs. It anything, it's disappointing that the main Muppet cast doesn't get enough to sing. Constantine gets two songs (one of which is very good) and Tina Fey and the prisoners gets one, too.

I'll give the presentation a matching three walruses. No rewatchable walrus, though I'm sure I'll see it again and again anyway.

Total: SIX WALRUSES

An okay addition to the Muppet franchise but it could have been better. For context, I rank the theatrical Muppet movies like this:
  • The Muppet Movie
  • The Muppets
  • The Great Muppet Caper
  • The Muppet Christmas Carol
  • Muppets Most Wanted
  • Muppets From Space
  • Muppets Take Manhattan
  • Muppet Treasure Island
Week 34 of "Snipes" by Bill Wiist...




Click this picture to watch the clip
A couple days ago, we dropped episode 124 of our podcast when we talked about late night talk shows with guest Christian Nielsen of The Atomic Geeks. On the show, I mentioned the time I had a letter read on Late Night with David Letterman. I've talked about my love for late night talk shows before, but surprisingly, in the years I've been doing this blog, I've never told this story here.

It was early Fall of 1992 and I was 15 and a junior in high school. I was taking driver's ed and one time a week during study hall, I could get some extra driving training in with the driver's ed instructor. His name isn't coming to me right now although I can picture his face. For some reason though, the teacher didn't want to go on these driving excursions with only one student. We needed a driving partner in order to get this extra time in. However, there were no other current driver's ed students who had a study hall or PE class at the same time I had study hall. So my chance to get these extra hours in during school time was in peril.

Being a huge fan of David Letterman and especially Viewer Mail, I had the idea to write to Dave to see if he could come down to central Illinois and be my driving partner. What a great solution, right?

Well, I sent the letter off to Dave and was told by a few (Jason, Bart and I'm sure others), "Dave will never read that on the show."

Of course he wouldn't. I figured he got thousands of letters and that was assuming what was read was even real in the first place. I never expected he would read my letter. But it was fun to send it anyway.

A couple months go by and the driving situation resolved itself. I logged all the hours I needed. My mid-November birthday approached and it was now November 6. I was in drama when I was in high school and our Fall play was Friday, November 6. We had done a version of the musical "Working" but stripped out all the music and done it as more of a spoken-form poetry. There were several parts each of us had to play and it was a bit on the exhausting side.

I got home that night after the play and sat down to watch some television looking forward to my usual routine of Viewer Mail on Friday night. But I was beat. I was so tired. I just wanted to go to bed. Still, I loved Viewer Mail, so I stuck a tape in the VCR and set it to tape that night's Letterman.

Next day, I wake up. My parents were still upstairs. My sister must have still been in her room. I head out to the living room and there's no one out there. Not much was on the Saturday morning cartoon schedule of interest to me, so I rewind the tape to watch the Letterman I taped.

I must reiterate to you at this point...I HAD NO IDEA WHAT WAS ABOUT TO HAPPEN!

Really, it's mostly a blur up until Dave got to "letter #2." Presumably, he comes out and does his monologue, heads over to his desk, makes some jokes with Paul and then starts Viewer Mail. The first letter resulted in him playing some footage of barn owls eating mice or something. Then he says, "Ah...letter number five, no letter number two...woooooo."

There's my life before that sentence was uttered and there's my life after that sentence was uttered. Immediately after that, Dave begins to say words that seemed very familiar to me. And the image on the screen was...my letter? MY LETTER?! IS THAT MY LETTER?! IS DAVID LETTERMAN READING MY LETTER?!?!?!

Then he ends it by saying, "This comes to us from Carlin Trammel, Philo, Illinois."

It was surreal.

He proceeds to then say, "You know Carlin, I get so many requests like this..." HE SAID MY NAME! HE SAID MY NAME TWICE!

Dave pulls out a cardboard cutout of himself, "Dave the scared passenger" that is his replacement since he is unable to go around the country and help teenagers learn how to drive. There were lots of laughs and then he proceeds on to the next letter.

I was, and 21+ years later I still am, dumbfounded. But it was shortly after the letter was read and my bit was over that I realized something even more amazing...

I HAVE THIS ON TAPE!!!!!!!!!

Who was going to believe this happened? How was I ever to see it again? Those are questions I never had to ask. If I had seen it live, I presume I would have contacted the local affiliate immediately and tried to get a copy somehow, but I didn't have to. I had no warning this was going to happen. No heads up from anyone at Late Night or NBC. It was a series of events that just worked out perfectly. And it's been a memory that I've been able to treasure ever since.

People ask ALWAYS ask me, "Did they send you the cardboard cutout?!" The answer is no. Dave gave it to Tony Randall on the show. I don't know what happened to it after that. I assume Tony Randall is buried with it. To which those same people usually reply, "Ah man, they should have sent it to you!"

I disagree. Of course I would gladly have accepted that cardboard cut out of "Dave the Scared Passenger," but I don't need it. Having the letter read was more than enough. To be a part of Late Night with David Letterman, no matter how small, to have heard Dave say my name on national television, and to have been a punk 15-year-old kid that had a chance to set Dave up for a joke...asking for anything more would just be selfish.

This VHS tape belongs in a museum!




Photo by Scott Holstein

"The Atomic Weeks" continues with guest Atomic Geeks podcaster Christian Nielsen! After the wackiest opening we've ever done for the show, we get into a discussion about our favorite late night talk shows. We cover all the greats including Johnny Carson, David Letterman and Conan O'Brien. We also cover some of the not-so greats like Pat Sajak, Chevy Chase and Jay Leno. And, find out which one of us had a letter read on Late Night with David Letterman and which two of us attended tapings of Late Night with Conan O'Brien!

Special thanks to Rob Graham for his invaluable help on this episode!

Thinking about rank and chain-of-command issues on “Star Trek”is a quick way to make your head explode, but it’s what we do here at Nerd Lunch.  Today, we're talking about why every good starship should have a full-time Second Officer.

Yeah, that’s kind of a head-scratcher in the reboot movie when Kirk goes straight from Cadet to Captain.  But in an organization where women can’t be starship captains through the 23rd century, rebel pirate Chakotay is the new First Officer, O’Brien’s commission seems to come and go, and any plucky well-connected youngster can take the Conn at age 15 . . . sure, why not. In the TNG episode “Conundrum,” when the crew gets amnesia and is trying to decide who is in charge, Worf suggests that maybe he’s the captain because he is wearing the most shiny objects. No one really disagrees, because subconsciously they still remember:  this is Starfleet and our command structure is wicked illogical.

Even full-time First Officers are not a given. Having a designated full-time First Officer on TNG was a change from TOS, where Spock doubled up as Science Officer. That’s a lot of work for one guy, but first, it’s Spock and he has that Vulcan work ethic, and second, I’m guessing that all of those yeomen they had on the original Enterprise were doing 99% of the administrative end of things. Come to think of it, maybe Lt. Uhura (who otherwise didn’t seem to have that much to do) and a small network of yeomen were secretly running the whole ship on a day-to-day basis while Kirk decided who to shoot and Spock decided who to science.  Years later, poor Decker got demoted to First Officer / Science Officer, and as I recall, got fed up with the giant workload and joined the ministry.  

Realistically, First Officer is a full-time job, and a necessary one. They can stand a watch, they can handle the basic managerial stuff, and they can lead Away Teams. On TNG, I guess that the originally idea was to have the older authority figure Captain stay on the bridge, while the young swashbuckling First Officer did all the typically Kirk-like stuff with the hitting and the thrusting and such. Picard, it turns out, was still pretty good at the hitting and thrusting and such, so Riker never really became Alpha Male on the Enterprise-D. This is a good thing.  Watch those early episodes and you can imagine him in full Commander Slab Groinpunch mode, rolling his eyes at the technobabble, fighting the Gorn and loving the Orion women, and blowing Dixieland jazz (which maybe by the 24th century is back to being cool).  I prefer the Riker we ended up with — a Gorn-fighter and Orion-lover, yes, but he also supervises / intimidates junior officers, works on crew evaluations, and worries about his career.  In short, he's actually someone you could buy as Picard's right-hand man.

So accepting that a First Officer is good guy to have around . . . why do we need a designated Second Officer? First and foremost, because somebody needs to be on the bridge while the other guys are asleep or having zany holodeck adventures or whatever. This is where we get into a big gap between the narrative requirements of a TV show and basic verisimilitude.  Like modern day naval ships, Starfleet vessels are active around the clock . . . three shifts a day, or four if you’re Jellico.  But on a TV show, we have a core cast, and so the same 0.1% of the crew see 90% of the action.   On TNG, everything always happens during Alpha Shift, when our primary cast is on duty . . . or maybe we should assume that if something important happens during Gamma Shift, standard operating procedure is just to stall for ten minutes until the senior staff can take over, and TNG episodes just skip that part.

[Hey, there’s a good sequel to “Lower Decks” — first half of the episode shows the tension mounting on the bridge as the junior officers of Gamma Shift try to stall a Romulan battlecruiser, and we periodically cut away to Picard hurriedly getting into uniform, brushing his teeth, eating a breakfast burrito on the turbolift, and then arriving on the bridge at the same time as Data and Riker and LaForge. Second half shows all of the Gamma Shift junior officers drinking coffee in Ten-Forward and talking about unrelated matters. Last two minutes, Worf walks in. Ensign: “Hey, did things work out with those Romulans?” Worf: “Yes.” Roll credits.]

Now according to my copy of the Star Trek: the Next Generation Technical Manual, standard operating procedure is that the Captain has the bridge on Alpha Shift; the First Officer takes the bridge on Beta Shift; and the Second Officer or other departmental head takes Gamma Shift.  That's not exactly how it comes off on the show . . . like I said, First Officer seems like a full-time gig, but under this arrangement, it’s effectively TWO full-time gigs, because we almost always see Picard and Riker on duty at the same time.  Is Riker routinely pulling 16 hour days? Well, he did seem to age a great deal over the run of the show.

This “other departmental head” thing is kind of weird, too. Worf and Geordi both started in command division red, so sure, let them take a night shift.  But Crusher and Troi?  Look, if you're not going to let Riker fill in as ship's surgeon, then you don't let the doctor run the ship.  In modern naval terms, there are "line officers" who have general command authority and "staff officers" who are specialists --- engineers, doctors, lawyers, chaplains, etc. --- and sadly, they don't let the staff officers command the submarines, even on the night shift.  So remember "Disaster"?  If there's an Ensign with a red shirt (command) and a Lieutenant Commander with a blue shirt (science/medical) on the bridge, that Ensign should be in charge because DEANNA TROI HAS NOT BEEN TRAINED FOR THIS.  Ro and O'Brien and Troi all understand this, but maybe there was a gas leak on the bridge or something, because at the worst possible time, they make the therapist Acting Captain.

So assuming we are not relying on some combination of an exhausted Riker pulling double shifts and Nurse Ogawa, who is really keeping that bridge going 24/7?  We see the real answer in other episodes: it’s all Second Officer Data. He eventually accumulated enough hobbies (including dreaming) that we can assume he started taking more time off, but early on, Data’s schedule was to sit at Ops for eight hours, then sit in the command chair for sixteen hours, then repeat. Geordi finally realized that Data hadn’t left the bridge in six weeks, and said, you wanna go to the holodeck or something? And a friendship was born.

Data was no more the typical Second Officer than Spock was the typical First Officer. From a verisimilitude standpoint, assuming that a ship don’t have anyone superhuman on the senior staff, you pretty much need a designated full-time Second Officer just to make sure that there is usually someone experienced and competent and in-the-loop on the bridge, even after hours.  Put him on Beta Shift, and then keep Gamma Shift around for your up-and-coming junior officers, bored departmental heads, First Officers with insomnia, etc.

From a TV show perspective, you could probably get away with making Number Two a recurring character rather than a regular — especially if you assumed that under this setup, the Second Officer handles a lot of less-cool stuff that would not need much screen time (the duty rosters and the crew reviews and the paperwork).  As a recurring character, this Second Officer could serve a number of roles from a narrative standpoint, too —  rival/frenemy to the First Officer, love interest to some other regular, comedy relief, whatever you need.

If you wanted to do a little more with your Second Officer, give him a second job. Not a full-time gig like Operations Manager or Chief Science Officer — either a specialty that can be called upon as needed, or a “battle station.” Depending on what sort of missions they encounter, he could be Diplomatic Officer, or First Contact Officer, or even Strategic Operations Officer.   He might end up being, effectively, another departmental head, keeping an eye on all of the lower-ranking Command division types (flight control officers, relief bridge officers like Season 1 Worf, etc.).  I am oddly fond of that Mission Operations station at the back of the bridge, and that would be a very good spot for the Second Officer because it includes monitoring and supporting Away Teams. When the First Officer gets ready to beam down, Number Two reports to the Bridge.  He’s the dedicated point of contact between the ship and the Away Team, plus you have a second guy in Command red on the bridge while the First Officer is away.

Of course, Picard had the perfect candidate to do this job: Lieutenant Commander Shelby, who was gunning for Riker’s job in “Best of Both Worlds.” The timing makes all sorts of sense — Picard needed some time to recover after his experiences with the Borg, and another command officer could’ve picked up some slack. Undoubtedly, Shelby would’ve disrupted things quite a bit. How Data would handle being relieved of his status as Second Officer? As we’ve noted before at Nerd Lunch, for an emotionless being, he was pretty damn sensitive about being treated with the respect due to an officer of his rank and position. Well, lateral transfer time — put him in a blue uniform, and call him Operations Manager / Chief Science Officer. How would Riker handle a subordinate who wanted his job? How does the senior staff — which at that point had really started to gel — handle a new member? What happens when she starts giving orders to department heads like Worf and Geordi? And does Riker end up with a little better incentive to take that promotion to Captain, once Shelby makes him feel the Enterprise is in good hands?


Week 2 of Nerd Lunch's Atomic Weeks celebration.  This week we are joined by Mike Downs to discuss movie toys.  More specifically we are creating our own movie toy lines for some of our favorite movies that never got toys.  Expect to see things like The Rocketeer, The Cosby Show franchise and From Dusk Till Dawn.

Week 33 of the Snipes web comic by Bill Wiist…





What better way to pass time during an evening in Atlanta, Georgia than watching a Dukes of Hazzard Double Feature? CT and Jeeg did just that on their recent trip to Georgia and present to you this podcast/warning. First up, discussion about the 2005 Dukes of Hazzard movie starring Johnny Knoxville, Sean William Scott, Jessica Simpson, Burt Reynolds, and Willie Nelson. Then, a discussion about the direct-to-DVD pseudo-prequel starring a bunch of nobodies and Willie Nelson.

Buy it (if you dare) from Amazon! The Dukes of Hazzard/The Dukes of Hazzard: The Beginning


It's another set of theme shows for Nerd Lunch as we begin "The Atomic Weeks!" We celebrate along with The Atomic Geeks as they surpass their five-year mark by having each of them as a guest on our show. First up, former Geek, Andrew Bloom (now of Classic Film Jerks) joins us to discuss the Nerd Lunch take on Lent. We are each tasked to come up with something we'd give up from the "nerd" and "lunch" arenas. Besides tomatoes, what could we possibly live without for 40 days?! Nerd To-Dos feature books, Burn Notice and talk of a Nerd Lunch trip.

Week 32 of the Snipes web comic by Bill Wiist...





In this week's Nerd Lunch, we return to one of our favorite franchise topics... FAN FIC REVIEWS! Thrice before we've done this topic (18, 62, 95) and each time we've had a blast. For our fourth foray into fanfic (suddenly this has turned into narration from the Batman TV show…sheesh), we do something a bit special so be sure to listen to find out our approach this time. Our guests were the returning Claymation Werewolf and Miss M from the Diary of a Dorkette blog. Nerd To-Dos included Mad Max, being a nerd, buying She-Ra action figures and Burn Notice.

If you'd like to read the stories we reviewed, here are links: