I certainly didn’t expect for the series to last as long as it did. But I kept getting more and more ideas for posts, and I wanted to share my reflections with the world. We sure did a lot of stuff in the 2010s, and I think shining a spotlight on all of it will help us chart a new path through the 2020s.
Of course, 2020 in particular has been… a very climactic year… and there will be a lot of pieces to pick up. With pop culture decimated, our political system ruined, and a global pandemic, things will absolutely change. And that’s why I think reflecting back on these pre-2020 times is more important than ever.
Even though my 2010s Retrospectives don’t bring in very many readers, I still want to write a few more big posts. I want to create a patchwork of memories that help paint a picture of the entire decade. Maybe that sounds a bit hokey and over-ambitious, but I want to try!
My new goal is to finish by December 31st. Maybe a few stragglers will pop up in 2021, but hopefully this will wrap up soon.
So, stick around a bit longer, and subscribe by e-mail, and I’ll make sure to keep writing. There’s bound to be a few more good blogs in here somewhere!
(Also, there’s only a week before election day in the United States. If you’re an American, please vote!!!!)
Okay, including the Monogatari series in my 2010s Retrospectives is kinda cheating, since the books started in 2006 and the anime started in 2009. But it was a phenomenal success that shaped the entire anime industry throughout the 2010s. And it’s worth mentioning when we look back at the decade. It was REALLY influential!
The premise of the entire series is simple: Characters’ mental illnesses manifest in supernatural form. And each story plays like a weird teen mystery novel.
Simple, but ripe for a billion entries in this extremely long series.
There are a lot of web content creators I used to follow. Back when I was younger and had more time to devote to passively keeping up with internet celebrities and pop culture websites and all of that. With declining free time and increasing standards, there are several places and people I followed quite regularly that I’ve completely abandoned over the last ten years.
Here’s a few of them, and you might notice a common theme…
It’s a great movie! The story is ridiculously silly and moves along at an exhausting pace as it attempts to cram twelve TV episodes’ worth of content into two hours. The world is gorgeous and textured, while the action sequences are top-notch. And Alita herself is one of my favorite action movie protagonists in a long time! It may be hard to keep up with sometimes, but Alita is absolutely worth your time.
The movie ended up losing money at the box office, but it performed at a best-case scenario for a February release for a non-franchise film. $400 million worldwide isn’t good enough for a film that cost $175 million to produce, but it’s a success story nonetheless.
Finally, finally, a success for Ranked Choice Vote in the United States. After decades of struggling against the disastrous first-past-the-post voting system, we finally get a real step towards voting that actually works.
(Seriously, first past the post is horrible, and stuff like the 1998 Minnesota Governor Election shows exactly why. Only five states—Washington, California, Louisiana, Georgia (<3), and Maine—avoid this massive problem that has plagued the country for ages.)
Finally, in 2016, Maine approved instant runoff voting for all its statewide elections—or, in other words, Ranked Choice Voting. And in 2018, we finally saw it in action for the first time.
Ranked Choice Vote
If you aren’t familiar with Ranked Choice Voting, here is the way-too-simple explanation. Instead of choosing one candidate to vote for, you take all candidates on the ballot and rank them from top to bottom. Then, when all ballots are counted, if nobody reaches 50% on the first round, the worst scoring candidate is eliminated, and anyone who had the worst candidate as their #1 will then transfer to their #2, and then so on and so on.
Read more about it and other electoral reform topics on FairVote.
It’s not a perfect system, but literally anything is better than first-past-the-post. And Maine is the first state to show it off… And to show that it really works!
Maine Paves the Way
Despite constant repeal attempts over the past few years, Ranked Choice Voice has survived and thrived in Maine, and in 2018 we got to see it in action. People voted, the system didn’t collapse in on itself, and the votes came in just as planned.
In fact, in the second district, we actually saw our first case of multi-ballot voting. In the first round, the Republican candidate led, but only with 46%. After the lower-ranking candidates were eliminated, the Democrat was declared the winner with 50.6% of the vote.
It all went very well. And it showed that Ranked Choice Vote is a viable voting system that will hopefully replace first-past-the-post in many more states.
On the ballot in November, voters in Alaska and Massachusetts will decide on Ranked Choice Vote. And starting next year, New York City will conduct its biggest local elections with the system. If all of that goes as well as Maine, we could see a really big revolution in voting in the 20s. All thanks to 2018!
Here is a brief history of Nintendo’s undying love for artificial shortages.
Nintendo got cocky from the Wii. It sold out really badly in its first Christmas season; nobody could get one, and everyone wanted one. It created a fire that fueled the console’s amazing success in the years to follow. Possibly thanks to its incredible scarcity, the Wii quickly took off to become the second-best-selling console of all-time.
So when the Wii U stalled out of the gate and did NOT sell out in Holiday 2012, Nintendo apparently took the lessons of the Wii’s success, assumed that scarcity was the only way it succeeded, and decided to redo the same exact same strategy with every stupid piece of hardware they ever released!
Xenoblade Chronicles (2012)
Nintendo decided to hang the game out to dry with not a single clue that it could ever succeed. This made no sense because Xenoblade was already a critically acclaimed smash in Japan and Europe, but Nintendo of America just had no confidence here. It suffered stock shortages in the UK because it was so popular… And yet they still did it!
It was a Gamestop exclusive, so its copies were already going to be sparse. A major example of artificial shortages if there ever was one. But when it inevitably earned its status as a modern classic, Gamestop decided to go even further into craven business practices by causing an artificial price boost to its own copies.
I didn’t plan on living in Florida, but somehow it happened. If you want to talk about really badly planned events that went extremely well, you want to talk about the time in 2018 when I moved to Florida for a couple months.
Waiting for JET
Because I had just gone and assumed I’d be accepted for the JET Program after applying in 2017, I decided not to renew my lease in Seattle. I would quit my job at the end of May 2018, then spend time with my Dad’s side of the family, then my Mom’s side of the family, before I moved to Japan for several years.
It was a very solid plan—June in Florida, July in Georgia, then August and beyond in wherever JET sent me, hopefully Aichi Prefecture. The only problem was that I didn’t get accepted. I got waitlisted.
I feverishly tracked the JET Program Reddit to find out the status of waitlisted candidates to see my chances go down, and down, and down.
In April when the real acceptances were picked, some obviously had to decline and then more alternates would be picked to fill those slots. That never came.
In May I waited for the college graduates who got a sweet offer at their Dad’s firm and decided a $70,000 base salary was better than their presumed year-long vacation to Japan. That never came.
In June I waited for those last emergency dropouts for people who got arrested or had health problems or simply got wet feet. That never came.
I mean, I know I bombed the interview really badly, but I felt so confident that I looked great on paper. I studied in Japan for a year and had Japanese as a minor, I had experience as a teaching assistant, I had a degree in Writing & Linguistics and knew a lot about the English language… It genuinely hurt me to find that I had been completely passed over.
It hurt me even more to know that I had already set the plans in motion to go and could not stop them under any circumstance. Already having subleased my room out, already having put in my notice at work, already having bought plane tickets to Florida, it was beyond too late to reconsider. And it really sucked, but I decided to make good use of it anyway!
This is actually a pretty happy story, I promise.
(Also, spoiler alert, but I DID get accepted to the JET Program months later in one of the most fateful freak accidents the world has ever given me. I’ve been grateful ever since.)
Did you know that I have a Patreon? Or, rather, the Quinlan Circle, of which I am a member, has a Patreon?
Maybe not, and if you didn’t, let me tell you the reasons you should donate some of your money to the cause (because there are a great many):
The Quinlan Circle provides hundreds of hours of free content every single year, in every medium and genre imaginable. Whether it’s teen romance or dry comedy or thriller, whether it’s web novels or webcomics or blogs or music albums, you can expect tons of Quinlan Circle stories. Every donation we receive helps us continue that mission of providing lots of free content for everyone to enjoy.
The Quinlan Vault! Anyone who backs at the lowest tier (currently $1), can read dozens of exclusive stories found only on Patreon, or posted on Patreon first. That includes comics, short stories, bonus content, and other odd stuff that will bring you much enjoyment.
And when I’m saying bonus content, I mean ATL itself has some really neat stuff already on the Quinlan Vault, including an exclusive short story “Morgan & Karina’s Bad Movie Night!” and the never-before-seen, extremely rare first draft of The Social Media Killer, which was extremely different and even has a completely different final action sequence.
Websites don’t make themselves… I’d totally love to afford to redesign all of the Quinlan Circle story sites to have more dynamic and visually appealing and easy-to-navigate layouts, but that’s a long way off for now. With enough support, though, we could make that happen.
Since you’re clearly already convinced, I don’t think I need to list any more reasons. Every dollar you give is another dollar (minus processing fees 🙁 ) in our weird multi-person pocket to spend on new stories that push the limits of web fiction, and that’s what I really hope you’ll do.
I finished The Jim Henson Hour the other day, and came across one of the final episodes, a mini-documentary titled Secrets of the Muppets.
It’s not likely you’ve seen this show. It’s not even that likely you’ve even heard of it. It aired in 1989, billed as a true successor show to The Muppet Show a decade later, and lasted just one season. Twelve episodes were produced, but only nine actually made it to air in the United States as scheduled. And due to rights issues stemming from the sale of the Muppets to Disney, much of this series will probably never be officially released.
But the show is great. The Jim Henson Company was always amazing at its craft, and still is, and The Jim Henson Hour exemplifies a company always making strides at utilizing technology and ingenuity to bring fantasy worlds and creatures to life. That level of ambition probably doomed the project, but I have no doubt that this show alone helped pave the way for future television and movies in incredible ways.
But the way it ended has left me honestly pretty heartbroken. It’s a feeling that left me tearing up in ways that maybe only other creators can really connect with, but I want to express it anyway.
For a while now I’ve been doing various reflections of the past ten years with my 2010s Retrospectives series, but now it’s time to take a trip a bit further back, all the way to the beginning of the nineties.
The Jim Henson Hour
(You can probably watch the DefunctTV episode on The Jim Henson Hour if you want a more detailed look; I haven’t seen it because I wanted to finish the series first, but I can attest that the entire channel is always excellent.)
This show had the first-ever real-time animated CGI character in a live-action TV show (the first CGI characters at all were a year earlier but still). It had extensive computer effects that looked good enough that they genuinely kept you in the illusion, at least ten years before any other show could claim the same thing (more like twenty, honestly). The muppet characters were more complex than ever, and were featured in segments and musical numbers that are technically impressive even today.
Typically, each hour-long episode is divided into two parts with wraparounds hosted by Jim Henson himself, as well as a white lion puppet named Lion. Henson gives off a cheerful fatherly vibe while introducing the stories or themes of each episode’s content. It’s the first time he was in front of the camera for one of these shows, and while he doesn’t do Walt Disney or James Cameron levels of presenting himself with charisma, he’s got a real special charm to him.
The first part of most episodes is MuppeTelevision, a very Muppets-esque variety show where Kermit and his friends are in charge of a TV station and decide which programs to put on for the best ratings. Everything constantly goes wrong, naturally. Each episode has a theme, but the themes tend to be very loose and mostly a setup for running gags and brick jokes. It’s usually hilarious and reminds me a lot of Mr. Show with its very odd vaguely-themed pacing. The actual TV program sketches we see are hit-or-miss, sometimes gut-busting and other times too bizarre to handle (The Barbie parody ones are just unsettling), but the parts with Kermit and the gang are great.
And that’s interesting, because this show is like the Street Fighter III of Muppet shows; it’s got an almost entirely new cast, with Kermit and Gonzo the only returnees from the original series. This is mostly due to many of the original performers being too busy to participate, especially Frank Oz, but all of the original characters do make cameos here and there. The new characters are very memorable and interesting, especially Digit and Vicki, who provide some of the best jokes. The show is always under threat of cancellation thanks to very low ratings, and I really hope that that was gallows humor by the production staff, because that really did happen…
To think that most of this show was shot on bluescreen or used other neat filming tricks, stuff impossible just ten years earlier, is crazy to me.
The Other Stuff
The second half of each episode is typically a half-hour TV movie. The main option tends to be the British series The Storyteller, where John Hurt in heavy makeup tells old European folktales with crazy Jim Henson Company stylings. They are all super, super good.
Some of the movies were American productions, such as the all-greenscreen, amazing art direction Song of the Cloud Forest, or the absolute laugh riot Dog City, a noir detective parody starring gangster dog puppets.
And sometimes, the full episodes were full-hour TV movies. Two of those were British productions Monster Maker or Living with Dinosaurs, which combined great technical feats and sappy family drama. But the third was, well, the title of this blog post.
Secrets of the Muppets
The tenth episode (of twelve) is a mini-documentary piece where Jim Henson spends the entire hour of his television program talking about the use of puppeteering and special effects to bring his television shows and movies to life. It showcases behind-the-scenes footage from pretty much every Jim Henson Company production ever made, leaving out only Sesame Street (which isn’t technically a Jim Henson production). Everything from The Muppet Show to The Storyteller, Dark Crystal to Muppet Babies, Fraggle Rock to Labyrinth is featured in some form or fashion.
Jim Henson, as well as an adorable dog character named Jo Jo, visit the sets of ongoing productions, the workshops in both New York and Britain, and talk about the techniques used to make the characters and worlds come alive.
You can watch the full episode here; it’s cute and funny and very worth a watch:
(Though I recommend watching the entire The Jim Henson Hour series, too, because this episode has great making-of segments for a lot of the show.)
MuppeTelevision is featured here, too, with Kermit and the gang having a collective existential crisis as the dreaded “P-Word” comes up and they try to grapple with the fact that they are being controlled via performers and camera tricks. It’s hilarious!
In typical Jim Henson style, the production itself is filled with fourth wall-breaking gags, such as the dog changing between real and puppet several times, and using TV editing to travel great distances instantly. And it’s extremely educational, too, talking about the bluescreen process, computer effects (circa 1989), radio-controlled puppetry, two-camera edits, and even the infamous bike scene from The Great Muppet Caper. It’s a great watch for anyone interested in the process of creating movies and TV.
But what hit me like a brick was the ending, where Jim Henson talks about the most important part of the entire production—the performers. You get one of the most surreal, yet fitting sendoffs you could ever get, when the bluescreen turns off and the camera zooms out to show the performers. The Muppet characters are absolutely freaking out about this to the point of hysterics, and you get to see the actors performing them while they do it.
The actors get to talk to their own puppets while staying in-character, and it’s a strange scene in the best way. The fourth wall may have been shattered long before, but this is the floor that has been shattered. The Muppets have to create a shared hallucination that it was all just a bad dream so that they can continue existing, which is my favorite kind of joke.
It’s a lot more tragic when you think about all the context behind this episode.
The Sad Part
The main sad part: Jim Henson died just one year after this episode was produced. After years and years of overworking himself and neglecting his personal health, he passed away right at an important time for his company’s growth.
The episode then serves as an emotional sendoff to Jim Henson, giving a coda to his countless performances and creations by pulling back the curtain in a silly way that only the Muppets series could manage.
It wasn’t the last Muppet thing he ever recorded—his final performance as Kermit was in the Muppet*Vision 3D show/ride at Disney World (one that is constantly under threat of being torn down and replaced by something trendier)—but it’s much more poignant than it was probably intended to be. After all, I hardly think that Jim Henson had accepted his show would be canceled after one season, let alone knew that his health was failing him. I think this mini-documentary was supposed to just be a fun look at his company’s creations.
There were two more episodes of the show after Secrets of the Muppets, but if you recall something else from the beginning of the article, you may already know the other very sad part…
This episode never made it to air at the time of its creation. Only nine aired on NBC, and the other three aired variously over the years in various countries. Secrets of the Muppets was actually never aired in the United States until it ran on Nickelodeon in 1992. That’s two years after his death.
This final swan song, a farewell to one of the most influential creators in film and television history, didn’t even make it to air until after he passed.
Something about seeing him puppeting Kermit while staying in-character, surrounded by other talented performers doing the same, set upon me some pretty strong emotions.
Creators on Creating
This man lived for his craft. He worked for nearly forty years in the industry, revolutionized puppetry and made it OK for adults to enjoy. Henson created two of the most important pop culture franchises of the twentieth century—Sesame Street and the Muppets—and his company constantly innovated to help Hollywood reach new heights in effects and production design. Thirty years later and you can still plainly see the direct effects of his efforts throughout pop culture to this day.
I think I know why I feel so attached to a man who died before I was even born. Besides the fact that he just made really good stuff, I think it’s his creative spirit. The constant energy he brought to creating great work and innovating to pave the way for everyone else. Being a workaholic because that’s just what he enjoyed the most.
The Secrets of the Muppets episode was not intended as a melancholic farewell; it was a fun middle aged man showing off all the hard work he and his company had done over the years, in the hopes that it might inspire others and get them interested in the puppeteering and effects industries.
I like learning about the behind the scenes of stories I enjoy, and I just love passionate creators in love with their own work. But, knowing the context behind the episode and the fate of The Jim Henson Hour, it needles my heart in a way little other creative stories ever have.
Goodbye, Jim Henson (Thirty Years Later)
A creator going long before his time is infinitely sad, but at least he left us this final little farewell, even if it was unintentional. At least he gave us some of the best, most imaginative work of the past fifty years. At least his company lives on, always innovating and creating great new work both for children and adults (except for Happytime Murders). At least he got to inspire me.
One day, I want to be like Jim Henson. I mean, I don’t want to be a celebrity or anything, but I want to create work that influences industries and inspires a generation of creators. Maybe that goal is far, far too lofty to feasibly reach, but it’s exactly what I want to aim for.
If Secrets of the Muppets taught me anything, it’s that sometimes the most important things you need are just to work hard (but not TOO hard), and just to love the work you’re doing. Even if Jim Henson has been gone for thirty years, his legacy still reigns. And thirty more years from now, I suspect it will still be going strong. What a guy.
If you’ve noticed that all the episode screenshots for this article are super low-res and ugly, that’s because it’s taken from a video upload of a tape recording of an original broadcast of this episode. Yuck.
The Jim Henson Hour has never been released in full on DVD or Blu-Ray. Certain episodes, such as the full Dog City, have been released separately, but never the full series. This is likely because Disney owns the rights to the Muppets franchise, but the Jim Henson Company owns the rights to everything else, so the splits in the show are now legally separated. I assume original broadcaster NBC has some rights, too.
If anything is right and pure in this world, let us hope these companies can come together and reach an agreement to jointly release the entire series in HD picture and sound quality. It’s a tragedy that the world can’t experience these shows in their full glory for how good they are. I’d even accept a simple Disney+ upload, or anything like that, just so long as people can finally see one of Jim Henson’s most underlooked works.
More than anything I have made thus far in my life as a storyteller, Barty’s Brew-Ha-Ha 4: Tale of the Legend of the Crystal Chubacabra [sic] is the thing I am most proud of. My masterpiece, one that debuted five years ago today.
(first off, if you want to read further, you should probably watch the original Barty Anderson movies by the Brothers Hussie, Byron and Andrew. I’ll embed the entire series playlist below.)