Review: ‘The Muppets’ Premiere Offers Few Laughs

“The Muppets” have returned to television on ABC, centering its plot on the behind-the-scenes activities with a show, “Up Late with Miss Piggy.” As might be expected, Miss Piggy comes out in full force as a veritable drama queen, rejecting Kermit’s booking of Elizabeth Banks (“30 Rock”) for one evening. Kermit, the executive producer, feels exasperated for most of the episode as he corrects the crew in staff meetings. It ends up leaving one rather disappointed about a comeback that fails to hit the mark.

The Muppets

Photo credit: ABC

Styled in a mockumentary format, the jokes seem particularly forced with innuendo that does little to raise a laugh. Kermit’s frustrations also don’t rouse much sympathy but instead come off as tiresome. Much has been made in recent weeks concerning the breakup between Kermit and Piggy. Fans are perplexed about the frog’s new choice for a girlfriend, Denise from ABC Marketing. She might be a nice pig, but Kermit’s fascination with her and the flirting are flat out awkward to watch.

In spite of the dragging of the major thread here, two or three small scenes prove to be fun. First, there’s a screen test with Elizabeth Banks and Miss Piggy for “Hunger Games,” in which Piggy latches onto the “hungry” aspect rather than the popular novel series. Fozzie Bear is worried about impressing his girlfriend’s parents, who are quite rightly astonished at finding him to be a bear. He admits to getting his fish at Costco. Later on, Scooter and Elizabeth Banks have a fight on the studio lot.

Kermit turns out to be in the wrong and makes his apologies to Piggy. Both characters are still hurt by the breakup and working together on a show will continue to be a challenge. Overall, “The Muppets” on ABC is a far cry from the more uplifting and entertaining Muppets film of 2011. Tom Bergeron (“Dancing With the Stars”), Imagine Dragons, and Gonzo contribute lines, but all three are sorely underused in this episode. Throwing in cameos for the sake of a cameo is a waste of time for everyone. The program also needs to develop its own style, rather than simply being a tired amalgamation of “The Office” and “30 Rock.” Thus far it’s not a promising start, but don’t count “The Muppets” out yet on ABC.

“The Muppets” airs on Tuesday evenings at 8|7c.

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Exclusive: Johnny Alonso Set to Begin ‘Chronology’ with Danny Trejo and Billy Baldwin

In my exclusive interview, actor Johnny Alonso voiced his expectations about taking the role of Dobbs in Chronology. “I love my character and I love how he changes … halfway through the movie. It’s going to be great for my acting range,” he says. The new supernatural thriller is set to film in South Carolina and Poland in the fall of 2015. Johnny is excited to be working with directors Derik Wingo and Kipp Tribble again, several years after their collaboration on Coffin (2011). As announced earlier this month, Danny Trejo, Billy Baldwin, Laura James, Patrick Barnitt, and John James are also involved in the project.

Johnny has quite a few interesting anecdotes to share about his acting experiences, including the fact that he auditioned 28 times for Dawson’s Creek! He spends some time dissecting his memorable scene as a mortician in Day of the Gun. There’s something for everyone to appreciate with respect to his fond recollection of his days on the set of NASA 360, an Emmy award-winning program.

Johnny is back on Gotham as Kazz, the bass player in Penguin’s nightclub. As one might expect, much of the behind-the-scenes amusement comes from Robin Lord Taylor, whose popular character emerges as the self-proclaimed King of Gotham by the end of season one.

“We’ve all grown up with Batman,” Johnny states about the general appeal of the Fox show for both longtime Batman viewers and newcomers. “If you’re a fan: awesome! If you’re not a fan, you’ll become one… I think [the writers and crew] are doing a great job.”

Gotham returns to Fox on Monday, September 21, at 8:00 p.m. ET.

This article was first published on, as “Interview: Johnny Alonso – ‘Chronology’ and ‘Gotham’ Season Two.” I added the Chronology cast announcement.

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Interview: Joseph J. Ellis Discusses ‘The Quartet’ and Thomas Jefferson at the National Book Festival

The celebratory atmosphere of the 2015 National Book Festival was nicely encapsulated by the theme, “I cannot live without books.” These words come from Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence and third President of the United States. In addition to the fifteenth anniversary of the Festival, readers of all ages were enthusiastic about the 200th anniversary of a very significant book sale. Back in 1815, Jefferson sold his collection of books for $23,950 to the Library of Congress.

It would not have been a complete day without the presence of one of the foremost scholars on Thomas Jefferson. Of course, I am referring to Joseph J. Ellis, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Founding Brothers. Ellis, a longtime professor of American history, was also in Washington, DC, to promote his new book, The Quartet: Orchestrating the Second American Revolution, 1783-1789. His latest historical analysis addresses the interim period between the end of the Revolutionary War and the beginnings of American government under the presidency of George Washington.

Joseph Ellis and Pat Cuadros

    Revisiting the Founding Fathers, research tactics, and Thomas Jefferson with Joseph J. Ellis

In Quartet, Ellis details how the newly independent colonies make that pivotal transition towards uniting under a national government. “American history in the 1780s is centrifugal: energies are moving outward,” he states in my recent interview with him. “We’re becoming more like the European Union. We’re not becoming a nation.”

In the rest of the interview, Ellis discusses some interesting facts about Robert Morris, who is often reviled by other experts as “a robber baron.” He touches upon the ever changing research process for historians and how one may properly assess figures like Thomas Jefferson.

This article was first published at under the same title. I incorporated a different screen shot.

If you’re interested in my take on Thomas Jefferson as a longtime resident of Charlottesville, be sure to read my in-depth piece on HoosNetwork.

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Tom Brokaw Discusses his Memoir, ‘A Lucky Life Interrupted,’ at the National Book Festival

Tom Brokaw

Photo by Pat Cuadros

Labor Day weekend kicked off with a strong start at the National Book Festival in Washington, DC. Now in its 15th year, the festival featured a discussion with Tom Brokaw. The veteran journalist, a longtime host of the NBC Nightly News, was also there to sign copies of his latest book, A Lucky Life Interrupted: A Memoir of Hope. He spoke at length in a packed convention hall about his difficulties from multiple myeloma or blood cancer, a condition he was diagnosed with back in 2013.

The “excruciating” ordeal left him flat on his back at the worst periods, phases that he endured with the loving support and patience of his wife, Meredith. It was also a time filled with some humor in the form of his grandchildren, in trying to get them to understand to keep the “decibels” or noise down on their visits. “They call me ‘Tom’ because they’ve seen me on television,” Brokaw remarked fondly, eliciting a wave of laughter from the audience.

At the age of seventy-five, Brokaw is optimistic about his treatment regiment. He credits his upbringing as being instrumental in his will to persevere through these trials. His parents and others were part of a generational cohort with the mindset that you “took what came to you and dealt with it.” He’s already made similar observations about that group in his 1997 bestseller The Greatest Generation.

When asked why he left NBC Nightly News, Brokaw admitted that the job came with “a short leash,” emphasizing it’s probable at times that he was “home no more than two days in a row in 1989.” He says that he took his reporting seriously, bringing to light any mistakes he uncovered at the soonest broadcast possible. He’s immensely proud that he “got it mostly right” in his tenure.

However, he felt ready to move onto a new chapter of his life in the spheres of family, outdoor hobbies, and career. He dedicated his time to writing books, pursuing documentary projects, and advocating tirelessly for both veterans and individuals in active service. One can expect Brokaw to push forward in the same vein of work and to continue promoting his new memoir in the weeks ahead, as he looks forward to a busy fall season.

This post was originally published on as “Book News: Tom Brokaw Discusses Memoir at the National Book Festival.”

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Wizard World Recap: Ben McKenzie and Sean Pertwee Tease ‘Gotham’ Season 2

Ben McKenzie and Sean Pertwee

Photo by Pat Cuadros

It may be “a new day” in Gotham following the end of season one, but that air of optimism will slip away for Jim Gordon and Penguin. The premiere episode of hit show’s second season was screened at Wizard World Comic Con on Saturday. Actors Ben McKenzie and Sean Pertwee were also in Chicago for an in-depth Q&A on Sunday afternoon.

“How did we do?” McKenzie asked about the screening, receiving a roar of cheers from the crowd. He and Pertwee fielded over 20 questions about the creative processes of the first season, their favorite Batman films, and season two hints. Delivering on a promise from his own panel, Milo Ventimiglia (the Ogre) crashed the Q&A. The entertainment continued through the hour with a Penguin/Bullock skit (“Don’t do it, Jim!”) and jokes from fans about product placement for Batman shampoo and “conditioner Gordon.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Patrick Stewart’s ‘Blunt Talk’ – Week Two

Patrick Stewart as Walter Blunt

Patrick Stewart continues in top form in the second installment of Blunt Talk, picking up from the end of the premiere. Walter Blunt, a privileged news personality, collapsed on live television during a last-ditch attempt to save his career. Viewers are constantly drawn into his state of mind whether through trapeze scenes from classic films or in this instance, a dance sequence with Walter himself. The circular formation of the showgirls and the music are reminiscent of the opening of Family Guy, executive producer Seth MacFarlane’s program.

Walter’s dream ends as he gazes into a mirror at his younger self, his mother, and his valet Harry Chandler (Adrian Scarborough). I read the mirror as a symbol of Walter’s vanity and self-centered tendencies, which are further embodied in the image of himself as a child. Indeed, Walter is still very much a child at heart, tying in well with bedtime story segments later. Read the rest of this entry »

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Film News: Tom Holland Discusses the 30th Anniversary of ‘Fright Night’

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the theatrical release of Fright Night (1985). The iconic horror film tells the story of high school student Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale), who is convinced his neighbor (Chris Sarandon) is a vampire. It was screened on Saturday evening during the second annual Bruce Campbell Horror Film Festival. Held at the Muvico Theater in Rosemont, Illinois, the festival runs in conjunction with Wizard World Comic Con. Read the rest of this entry »

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