Puppets fall short of mastering satire

Preview: For some, `Greg the Bunny' will make laughs multiply like, well, rabbits.

March 27, 2002|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,SUN TELEVISION CRITIC

Before you start my review of Greg the Bunny, you should know that I am an absolute sucker for puppets and animals with attitude. The star of ALF was half-puppet, half-animal (formally known as a robo-dog in the NBC press materials), and I am still of the belief that ALF, not the The Cosby Show or Seinfeld, is the sitcom that saved NBC.

So, when Greg the Bunny hopped across my preview screen a few weeks back, it was love at first sight. Love for the character Greg the Bunny, that is. As for the show Greg the Bunny, well, it's a little thin and uneven.

Actually, it's worse than uneven. In fact, any adult not quite as nuts as I am about smart-aleck puppets is probably going to think it's kind of a silly show.

But good criticism starts with honesty, and I have to admit I smiled, I laughed, I got on the floor and sat so close to the TV that I could almost touch Greg the Bunny. If there had been a catchier theme song, I probably would have been singing along.

The series mixes live action (that means real actors like Eugene Levy and Seth Green) and puppets (like Greg the Bunny) in what is essentially a satire of a kids' TV show. The kids' show is called Sweetknuckle Junction, and it is a cheesy, knuckleheaded kids' show about a make-believe rural site populated by puppets and characters like Junction Jack (Bob Gunton) and Dottie Sunshine (Dina Walters). Think Hee-Haw or Petticoat Junction with puppets.

Greg the Bunny is a puppet who can't find work, we are told, because of the horrible way our culture discriminates against puppets. Greg lives with a Gen X slacker, Jimmy Bender (Green). Jimmy's father, Gil (Levy), is the executive producer of Sweetknuckle Junction, Greg's favorite television show. In tonight's pilot, Greg's dream comes true when he gets a chance to replace a puppet who has been fired because he's deemed too old.

"We have to find the next Elmo if we're going to reach a younger audience," Gil's boss tells him as she orders the firing.

"A younger audience? We already reach 4-year-olds. How young do you want to go - fetal?" Gil asks. But he fires the puppet, and in walks Greg to win the job with an audition that one network executive ranks with the best work of Robin Williams.

I wouldn't go that far. I'm thinking more maybe a young Billy Crystal in Soap. But, remember, I am a fool for puppets with attitude.

Tonight's TV

What: Greg the Bunny

When: Tonight at 9:30

Where: WBFF (Channel 45)

In brief: A goofy backstage look at kids' TV through a puppet's eyes.

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