Ah, nostalgia! Be it that old cartoon, a favorite toy or a comic book from days gone by, isn’t it great, when out of the blue, the memories come flooding back, and you’ve no choice but to exclaim “Holy Crap! Remember…?”
The Fox network is like a double-edged sword. On one hand, they’ve cancelled a lot of shows I love much too soon. (Firefly, Undeclared, The Tick…) On the other, those shows might not have ever aired if Fox hadn’t given them a chance. Such is the case with Greg the Bunny. Expanded from a series of shorts that aired on IFC, it ran for 13 episodes in 2002. The series dealt with two things. First off, the interactions between humans and puppets, who in the show’s world are alive and act pretty much just like ordinary people. (Think Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, but with puppets instead of Toons.) Second, it features the behind the scenes antics of the cast and crew of the children’s show Sweetknuckle Junction.
In the first episode life-long best friends Greg (the titular bunny, brought to life by show co-creator Dan Milano) and Jimmy (Seth Green) are falling on hard financial times. A visit to Jimmy’s dad and Sweetknuckle creator/director Gil (Eugene Levy) on set sees new network executive Allison (Sarah Silverman) take a shine to Greg, and she hires him to replace the aging Rochester Rabbit, while Jimmy gets a job as a production assistant. The rest of the cast is made up of the other Sweetknuckle actors. The humans are “Junction” Jack (Bob Gunton), a Vietnam vet who plays Sweetknuckle’s conductor, and sweet, bubble-headed Dottie (Dina Spybey). Three puppets fill out the show within the show. Classically trained, egotistical Warren DeMontague (Milano again), sees playing Professor Ape beneath him. The genial Count Blah (Drew Massey) is a vampire with a verbal tic who hates being compared to that other Count. (“I’m from Romania! He’s from New Jersey.”) Finally there’s Tardy Turtle (Victor Yerrid), originally a supporting character whose popularity gained him more exposure in later episodes, who’s just a little… slow. (“Crayons taste like purple!”)
A single camera show, GtB would often take traditional sitcom tropes and give them a twist as applied to a world where humans and puppets coexist. Some plots: Jimmy hooks up with a girl, but her dog sees Greg as a chew toy. The widowed Blah has a fling with Warren’s ex-wife. Greg decides to return to his roots and converts to Puppish, complete with changing his name to Bizzlebosh. Alison gives Jimmy creative control of the show, which he tries to update to reflect modern pop culture fads. Alison forces everyone to take sensitivity training when someone writes the s-word (sock) on the bathroom wall. And so on.
What really made the show work for me, aside from some hilarious writing, was the believability of it’s characters. In a show where suspension of disbelief is so important, the puppeteers did a fantastic job in bringing their charges to life. Warren in particular stole a ton of scenes. (“I, sir, am an actor first, a puppet second, and an ape third! I am not a dog! But if I were, I would bite you thusly!”) I think it was also ahead of it’s time in regard to casting. Fox might be willing to give a show featuring Green, Levy and especially Silverman more of a chance now than they did then. After it’s cancellation, it returned to IFC with more shorts. It does live on, however. Recently MTV has been airing a spin-off, Warren the Ape. I haven’t had a chance to watch it yet, but you can believe I’m going to. Both the IFC shorts and the Fox run are available on DVD. The Fox episodes have some cool extras like commentary tracks involving actors, puppets, and puppeteers. If you want to relive the fun, or if you’ve never seen it before and want to laugh, I recommend picking them up. And in honor of the puppets, watch it without wearing pants.