Appellate Judge Dave Ryan says Pat the Bunny this is not. (And thank goodness for that.)
Our reviews of Greg The Bunny: The Complete Series (published January 26th, 2005) and The Passion Of Greg The Bunny: Best Of The Film Parodies, Volume 2 (published June 25th, 2008) are also available.
"Look at me, I'm a drunken cliché!"—Greg the Bunny
After their ill-fated Fox sitcom failed, the creators of Greg the Bunny took their fuzzy friend back to where he started (sort of): the Independent Film Channel. Once again, Greg, Count Blah, and Warren the Ape would be parodying famous (and infamous) films. Free of the eviscerating incompetence of the Fox showrunners, Greg the Bunny returned to its edgy, adult, biting form. Now, thanks to our good and beloved friends at Shout! Factory, we have 13 of the best parodies (including parodies from GtB's original, pre-Fox run on IFC), plus "Blah, " which introduced everyone's favorite puppet vampire. For those of us who still descend into uncontrollable spasms of crying and vomiting when we think of what Fox did to GtB, it's manna from heaven.
Facts of the Case
Greg the Bunny stars as Greg the Bunny, a bunny named Greg. He, his past-his-heyday ape actor friend Warren de Montague, and (occasionally) former Saturday morning horror film host Count Blah appear in parodies of films shown on IFC. Specifically, this collection includes:
• "Dead Puppet Storage" (Pulp Fiction)
Greg the Bunny has had such a limited and exclusive appeal in its history that it's highly unlikely anyone other than pre-existing fans of the show are reading this. Well, fans, I've got good news and bad news.
The bad news first: the rights to everyone's favorite retarded Harvard graduate turtle, Tardy, are still owned by Fox. Ergo, he doesn't appear on this disc as a character. Sorry, Greg fans. (Although a retarded turtle who sounds just like him does appear on one of the menu audio tracks…)
Now, the good news: THIS is what Greg the Bunny is all about. It's brutally edgy and terminally clever stuff. For fans who were disappointed by the Fox sitcom, it's a welcome return to form. If you already love Greg and his pals, you're going to love this disc.
Greg is difficult to describe. Its creators say that they wanted the sitcom to be "like It's Garry Shandling's Show, but with puppets"—i.e. a show that was heavily based on improvisation, and which plunked you smack dab into its own little universe, leaving you to figure out for yourself whether any of it is funny or not. Obviously, that's not what made it onto TV. These short films are much closer to that format. The show forces you to accept Greg, Warren, Blah, and the other puppets as entities who live and exist in our non-puppet world. Except they're not people, they're puppets—and pretty dysfunctional ones at that.
A lot of adjectives have been thrown around about Greg: retarded, autistic, child-like, idiot savant, fuzzy. In truth, Greg is whichever of those he needs to be at the time. Cute, oblivious, and stupid is definitely a way to go through life for Greg. He's really the equivalent of a good-looking blonde with a big rack—as stupid and naive as he may be, people are going to overlook his flaws because he's so darned cute.
Warren is a different story entirely. He is, for me, the best part of the whole GtB experience. Warren is a precise, detailed, and perfect caricature of a talentless, self-absorbed actor. The fact that he's an ape is hardly detrimental to his overinflated ego. Warren is the type of guy—or ape—who'd expect you to be ever so impressed with him because he did a Doublemint commercial in 1977 that aired during the Super Bowl. Unfortunately, you have to have had some experience with this genus of actor in order to realize how dead-on and biting the portrayal is. (Count yourself fortunate if you've never run into this sort of person.)
Count Blah is a more straightforward caricature: he's basically Bela Lugosi in puppet form. Chinoy and Milano give him more of a Count Floyd backstory, though—unlike Lugosi, Blah never had A-list success in Hollywood. He started at the Plan 9 From Outer Space level, and worked his way down the food chain from there. He also has a hysterical chip on his shoulder about Count von Count from Sesame Street. The mere mention of the Count tends to send him into an extended rant. (It's clear that Blah wanted the Henson job and didn't get it.)
Two new characters are introduced in this era of Greg: Warren's agent Pal Friendly, and The Wumpus. Pal is just a vehicle for occasional spoofs of the Hollywood agent culture. The Wumpus is more interesting. He's a monster of some sort, and appears to be extremely dumb. But the more you see him, the more you realize he's crazy like a fox. The Wumpus actually originated on Junktape, the New York cable public access show that Baker, Chinoy, and Milano created after graduating from NYU, and made occasional appearances on the first iteration of Greg on IFC. Back then, he was the genius of the bunch; the only one who knew anything about the movies that were being presented. (Greg and Warren originally hosted trivia segments before and after IFC's feature film presentations.) In one of the commentaries, the three say that Wumpus definitely has more backstory than they've been able to bring out so far. (They also say that some of it is pretty dark.)
Except for "Blah"—which actually dates back to the pre-Fox days—all of these shorts are parodies of films that were shown on IFC at some point. Some of them are complete parodies, like "Daddyhood." Greg raises a mango baby in a bleak black-and-white world, occasionally distracted by the Lady in the Vacuum Cleaner. While funny, it's also every bit as disturbing as Eraserhead itself—and that's tough to do. Other parodies mix the "reality" aspects of Greg with the movie parody—e.g. "Martian Serum Seven From Mars." It's ultimately a parody of Ed Wood, with Blah as Lugosi. But it's done as more of a documentary, not a straight parody of Tim Burton's film. Ergo, there are aspects of it that don't dovetail with Ed Wood, although the basic flow of the film is preserved. Finally, there's the Coen Brothers parody, which manages to get something from almost all their films into one mind-bending parody. (It's fun to just try and catch all the references…)
I should note that all these parodies do bring a lot of Greg and Warren's personalities into them. That's one of the beauties of the show. These puppets have character and varying levels of talent; the puppet is playing himself playing the role, if you follow me. No matter what it's doing, the show always stays true to that conceit; that Greg, Warren, Blah, and the others are actual living entities with their own sophisticated lives, thoughts, feelings, emotions, and attitudes. This also means that you don't necessarily have to have seen the movie being parodied to appreciate these shorts. The characters themselves bring a lot of humor to the table; it's not just funny because it's making fun of a film.
There's a lot of intelligence behind this show, and not just in the cleverness of the parodies. Yes, there's more than a bit of bathroom and sophomoric humor…but it's intelligent bathroom sophomoric humor. Greg the Bunny is, in some ways, South Park filtered through a strong New York filter. New York and Los Angeles have distinct and different predominant comedic styles; like a Woody Allen film, Greg the Bunny is intelligent, insular, provincial, and distinctively East Coast. That, ultimately, is its strength and its weakness. More on this in the rebuttal section.
Shout! Factory has a proud tradition of excellent DVD releases, and this set is no exception. Everything—down to the menu screens—is put together with thought and craft. Picture and sound are very good, but that's just the beginning. Each menu—the main menu, the options, the individual episode menus—has a unique audio track with one or more of the characters, or, in one case, the real people behind the puppets. (And there's also the special guest mentioned above. Hi Greg tha Bun-ny! I am on a dee vee dee!) Each and every episode has a commentary track, featuring (at the very least) some mix of Baker, Chinoy, and/or Milano, plus assorted other guests. The three principals really try and make the commentaries entertaining—I won't divulge some of the surprises, but I definitely was impressed by their moxie. The two featurettes consist of footage that was not used in the parodies, but which the creators liked enough to cut into small mini-films. "Affurmative Action" has Pal Friendly discussing the puppet affirmative action laws that allowed him to place The Wumpus with the GtB crew; "Ezekiel 25:17" is footage of all the puppets doing the eponymous Samuel L. Jackson speech from Pulp Fiction. A bunch of deleted scenes—really scenes that were edited down for time purposes (the shorts generally had very strict run time limits)—and a gag reel of puppet improv round out the moving-picture collection. A series of still photographs complete the extras; they give a glimpse into the difficulty of the puppeteering and the cleverness (and cheapness) of some of the sets used. It's all highly entertaining, and adds quite a bit to the value of the package.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Earlier, I mentioned that Greg the Bunny's New Yorker-East Coast feel was a weakness. It's weakness because Greg the Bunny is so insular, provincial, and "insider" that I wonder whether more than 1% of the population will get any of it. If you don't open yourself to the milieu in which the comedy exists, it's just a bunch of puppets who are either stupid (Greg) or assholes (Warren). Most of us deal with stupid assholes on a regular basis; there's no need to watch them on TV.
I hate to come right out and say this, but it's probably the truth: Greg the Bunny is a show that will only appeal to intelligent people. Not only that, but it probably will only appeal to intelligent people who have had some sort of contact with the entertainment industry. For that narrow segment of the audience, Greg the Bunny is comedy gold. But everyone else would probably be better served by Dan Milano's other show, Adult Swim's Robot Chicken, which is way more accessible and less "insider."
I have no idea whether Greg the Bunny is for everyone. I know I love it, and I've explained what I think limits the show's potential appeal for most people. But I really hope people at least give it a shot and decide for themselves. Greg is still airing on IFC from time to time; I'd suggest checking out one of these 10-minute shorts there to see if you enjoy it. If so, this disc is a great purchase and a great way to get a quick and deep exposure to Greg's world. Once again, kudos to Shout! Factory for taking a chance on a niche product and giving it tons o' love and care.
100% fuzzy. And not guilty.
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