Wednesday, July 23, 2014

B Is for Bobo

There were 27 years between The Muppets Take Manhattan and the quasi-reboot/nostalgia fest The Muppets in 2011. During that period of time, the Muppets moved on, and a lot of new characters were introduced... characters that became integral to the Muppets of the time (and allowed new performers to develop new characters of their own) but that I fear are being pushed aside now that the new series of movies is trying to more or less restore the original Muppet Show cast to primacy.

(That in itself leads to a criticism of the Muppets that I reject outright, which is that a lot of the Muppets "sound wrong" now; never mind that of the main Muppet Show performers who are still alive, only two--Dave Goelz and Steve Whitmire--still perform their Muppets. And Whitmire had to take over Kermit the Frog!)

One of my favorite Muppet characters introduced in what we can probably refer to as the interim period of the Muppets is Bobo the Bear. He--or rather, his puppet--first appeared in The Muppets Take Manhattan as a generic bear performed by Jerry Nelson. After some slight modifications, the puppet was introduced by performer Bill Barretta as Bobo on the short-lived, underrated TV series Muppets Tonight (aka proof that, no, actually, you probably wouldn't watch a Muppet Show revival, because you didn't when you had the chance to 20 years ago... sorry, I get bitter about wanting a steady stream of Muppet entertainment).

Bobo was the amiable but bumbling security guard at KMUP, the fictional studio where the show was put on. He had me laughing right away with his attitude. Often, the show would open with the guest trying to get past Bobo in order to make his appearance on the show.

This clip is my favorite opening, with the Artist Formerly Known as Prince trying to sign in with security. ("Okay, Dr. Rorschach, I'll play along...") There were also great bits where Bobo would try to scam Rizzo the Rat out of food, or the episode where he fell in love with Cindy Crawford and attempted to woo her.

After the premature cancellation of Muppets Tonight, Bobo appeared in a substantial supporting bit as Rentro, the office assistant to Jeffrey Tambor's villain in Muppets from Space. This tiny little bit is one of my favorite things from that movie.

I don't know why that's so funny, but it gets me every time. Incidentally, Bill Barretta has told a story about this moment. His line "The Goat?" was ad libbed, and after Tambor corrected him "THE REMOTE!" they had to cut because Tambor was cracking up too hard to go on. Quite a coup for Barretta, since apparently Jeffrey Tambor never breaks up because of other actors ad libbing. Nice job.

Bobo made a number of other appearances as Bill Barretta's characters started to gain prominence in the Muppet ensemble. He's just too damn good a performer to ignore. (Big Mean Carl and another of my all time favorites, Pepe the King Prawn, are Barretta originals.) One of my favorite Bobo appearances is this Star Wars audition tape, done for an episode of the Statler and Waldorf: From the Balcony webseries.

Bobo's major film appearances, though, were as a security guard (assisting a security guard played by Nathan Lane) in A Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa and one of the assistants to Tex Richman (played by Chris Cooper) who was the villain in The Muppets. It's a pretty good gig; Bobo is at his best when he's playing a low-level functionary who's jovial but not really very helpful. And the sight of him in a suit is somehow automatically hilarious.

Still, I feel like Bobo is falling by the wayside a little, again because The Muppets really sought to re-establish the original Muppet Show cast as the main ensemble. With Bill Barretta performing Dr. Teeth, Rowlf the Dog and the Swedish Chef, there doesn't seem to be as much time for Bobo. Most recently, he was seen in a cameo in Muppets Most Wanted. There was also a lovely little moment on Lady Gaga & the Muppets' Holiday Spectacular where my beloved Kristen Bell tried to teach him to dance.

Kristen Bell with the Muppets? I feel like I can ultimately die happy now.

All I ask is a little bit of Bobo every so often. Don't get me wrong, I'm thrilled to have Dr. Teeth and Rowlf back--some of you may remember that Rowlf the Dog is my favorite Muppet--but a little bit of Bobo is a grand thing.

ABC Wednesday


Reader Wil said...

The Muppets are priceless! We always watched them.!
Wil, ABCW team

Roger Owen Green said...

I always liked this character, possibly because I had THREE teddy bears when I was growing up, one nearly the size as me. And my sister - who's birthday is today - gave me a bear that I still treasure. Mr. Applause.

Joy said...

I was thinking I didn't remember Bobo until you said security guard, then it all the backstage antics came flooding back. Muppets rule.

Carver said...

Great post. Bobo is a brilliant idea for a B day feature. Carver, ABCW-Team