Review: The Latest in Puppet-Themed Web Series

By 10/30/2008
Review: The Latest in Puppet-Themed Web Series

The only puppet show I ever watched regularly on TV was Crank Yankers, which was quite possibly one of Comedy Central’s most juvenile original series. The show featured puppets making prank phone calls to various stores, featuring the voices of celebrities such as Sarah Silverman, Wanda Sykes, Adam Carolla, Jimmy Kimmel, Dane Cook, and David Alan Grier.Ask Palpatine

Considering that I could only remember one puppet show that isn’t aimed at young children, I was surprised to see the number of these racier puppet shows online. Even more surprising was that they all had the exact same problem- they’re not very funny. If I had to guess, I would say the average age of a person who finds them entertaining is probably 14, which is unfortunate considering how much work has gone into some of these series.

Apollo’s Pad

Apollo’s Pad, from Galleon Holdings PLC, is the truly disgusting tale of two guys, Apollo and Mickey, and all the weird stuff that goes on in their life. It’s difficult to be more specific than that without going into the vulgar details. Here’s the description for one episode: “Apollo indulges Mickey in some serious pampering. Don’t watch this episode whilst eating breakfast. Hmm. Y’know, I’ve been working too hard. Maybe I deserve a spa day too…I don’t want any motherf***ing seaweed wraps though! Tank me up on battery acid, vanilla ice cream and shot of raspberry rat poison, then smother me in Vaseline and put me in a cage with Margaret Thatcher … paradise baby. Paradise.”

This show truly exemplifies the internet tradition of “WTF.” You’ll spend the entire time wondering who the twisted people are behind this show (that honor goes to Len Dunne and Stephen Green), and you may lose your lunch. My recommendation? Skip it; Apollo’s Pad makes Crank Yankers look like Meet the Press, and not in a good way.

Ask Palpatine

If you didn’t like the Star Wars movies, I would advise you to skip over Ask Palpatine. For everyone else, this show is surprisingly funny; it features Emperor Palpatine in puppet form answering “viewer questions” about either the Star Wars movies, or the previous episodes of the show itself. Questions answered include, “Why did you build a flaw into the Death Star?”, “Are there any Jedi tricks to sway the ladies?”,  and “If you can read our minds, why do we have to send you emails?”

When I say that I find the show “surprisingly funny,” I mean that I had extremely low expectations. The entire series is a one camera interview with Palpatine, who isn’t an interesting looking character, and the voice acting is amateurish, but as I watched more and more episodes, the show started to grow on me a little bit. Make no mistake- if I had stumbled across an episode in my spare time, I probably wouldn’t have taken a second glance. Having been forced to watch all the episodes, I can see why some people find it funny. It’s cheap, but it looks like the creators have fun making it, and it has a small but loyal following (about 3,000-5,000 people), plus the occasional breakout episode garnering over 30,000 views. On such a small budget, that’s all a YouTube show can really ask for. It’s a show that only works on the internet; if you like Star Wars, or middle-school humor, this series is worth checking out.

P-Dash News

Created by Keith Patterson, P-Dash News is a comedy show featuring parodies and spoofs of current events. In one episode, host “Rahiem Drinkwater” interviewed the actual David Blaine during his recent stunt of hanging upside down for 60 hours, and asked him if he was aware that the “bat union” was mad at him for “stealing their thunder.” In another episode, we get a peek at a trailer for a movie that claims that Iron Man ripped them off; in the alternate version, “Iron Man” is a dry cleaner who runs around the city with two irons in his hands.

P-Dash News is aimed specifically at the African-American audience, a demographic that is certainly underrepresented in terms of web content. However, the show has yet to get any sort of consistent following (at least on YouTube)- except for one hit video that got 212,000 views, the rest of the videos range from a few hundred to a few thousand hits. The show has potential, but needs to find its target audience, a difficult task for any series. My recommendation: it’s a love it or hate it kind of show, but it has the potential to be popular.

The Rag (show)

The Rag (show), created by Tim Lagasse, Jim Napolitano, and James Godwin, sets itself up to be different from the other puppet shows we’ve featured; it has its own style, it feels well produced, and it uses an entirely different type of puppet from the other shows. Despite these differences, it relies on the same juvenile humor and character spoofs. One episode from 2006 features Arnold Schwarzenegger lamenting not being able to run for president, until he announces that he has a “friend” who is going to run (it ends up being him in blackface, with the offensive alter ego “Colonel Arnie Schwarzenegro”). My recommendation: it’s set up to be funny, but falls far short of its full potential.

I can’t help but wonder why none of these puppet shows seemed to be able to knock their comedy out of the park for more than one episode. Part of it seems to be the medium itself; in the up close viewing style of the internet, it seems pointless to watch a video of a puppet. Crank Yankers relied much more on audio, and celebrity guests, both of which helped it become successful. However, when a puppet show has to create its own story, it seldom works out. I had the same problem with Matt Stone and Trey Parker’s Team America, another outrageously disgusting and juvenile puppet project. These shows could probably take a leaf out of Family Guy‘s book, and use juvenile humor to make a larger, more intellectual joke. Until then, they are going to remain on the fringe of web video.