FOX SERIES (2001)
Built entirely from scratch, the new puppet cast underwent some radical changes from previous versions. Together with a cast of human actors, they each played roles in the context of a narrative sitcom, set against the making-of a children’s television series.
GREG THE BUNNY
Still performed by Dan Milano, our third (and very expensive) Greg puppet was built by puppet builder Paul McAvene and his workshop. Fox Greg was made to be less juvenile than his IFC counterpart, and was portrayed more a sassy, (and annoying) sitcom star. An out-of-work “sock” who lived with his human pal Jimmy Bender (Seth Green), Greg ends up inadvertently getting his dream job – as the star of a children’s show called “Sweetknuckle Junction.” Half-way through the production of our 13 episodes, Fox executives insisted that we remove Greg’s button eyes and replace them with realistic, blinking, glass ones. It was at this point that the creators of Junktape and IFC realized their reign of creative freedom had truly come to an end. Though the glass eyes added their own brand of personality, the change was confusing to most viewers (as the episodes aired out of sequence) and angered the few cult fans who’d been loyal to the old show. Greg actually spoke publicly about his “surgery” on LIVE WITH REGIS AND KELLY. We’re happy to report that years later, the buttons are back – and Greg is his old self in our 2004 IFC special.
WARREN “THE APE” DEMONTAGUE
Warren went though the least amount of changes in his leap from cable to network. Though he was slightly re-designed and made larger in size, his general appearance and attitude remained the same. Though still performed by Dan Milano, his voice changed to something less giddy (and he lost his Irish side). Playing up more of the stuffy “Winchester from M*A*S*H” persona, Warren was a trained thespian forced to take a job on a dim-witted children’s show. The once fierce rivalry between Greg and Warren was toned down, as were most of Warren’s extremes. Personal highlights on the Fox show included Warren performing Shakespeare for Gary Oldman, pissing in Sarah Silverman’s car (both in “Piddler on the Roof”) Giving a touching eulogy in “Rabbit Redux” and singing “Arthur’s Theme” in “Surprise!” Warren appears as his “old self” (having been completely re-designed and performed to be more like his IFC version) in the new 2004 special for IFC.
FREDERICK “COUNT” BLAH
Blah went through the most extreme changes in his translation from IFC to Fox. Physically, he was re-imagined entirely by director Mike Mitchell, co-creators Dan Milano and Spencer Chinoy and puppet builder Paul McAvene. Made more elderly and distinguished, Blah went from being an egotistical addict to an upstanding gentleman. Still bitter about his rivalry with the Sesame Street Count, Blah had his dark moments, but on the whole the most well-balanced of the puppet characters. But the biggest change of all was the fact that his character was no longer performed by Dan Milano, but puppeteer Drew Massey, who was hand-picked by Milano to take on the role. Highlights for Blah include sleeping with Warren’s ex-wife (Marilu Henner) in “Blah Bawls,” braving sunlight (and a nasty hang-over) in “Dottie Heat,” and trading in his catch-phrase “blah,” for “A’ight,” in “SK2.0” Blah returns to his IFC likeness (and is portrayed by both Milano and Massey together as head and arms respectively) in the 2005-6 content for IFC.
TARDY THE TURTLE
Tardy started out as a one-line character in “Sock Like Me,” but instantly became so popular that he was edited into the pilot episode. Originally conceived as a “slow turtle” with an unfortunate name, Tardy quickly became the “Ralph Wiggum” of the series, popping up to spout vacant non-sequitrs whenever a scene needed a joke to end on. Played with genuine sincerity by puppeteer Victor Yerrid, Tardy steals your heart just when you think you should be offended by him. In response to censors having a problem with his implied intelligence, Tardy was filmed accepting a Harvard diploma in the opening credits of the show. Highlights include his “Quiet Song” in “The Jewel Heist,” his bit as a tour guide in “Surprise!” and operating an actual forklift in “The Singing Mailman.” He is also the star of a short film by Drew Massey and Victor Yerrid, titled, “Tardy Delivery.” Shot entirely behind-the-scenes at the Fox show and featuring cameos from most of its cast, the film can be seen as an “extra feature” on Fox’s DVD release of the series. A favorite character of many, Tardy is unfortunately owned by Fox, and does not appear in the IFC 2004 special. But be on the lookout for a distant relative…
Performed by puppeteer James Murray, Rochester was the former host of “Sweetknuckle Junction,” replaced by Greg the Bunny in the pilot episode. Rochester also appears (and then dies) in “Rabbit Redux,” where he is given a celebrity roast that ends with him going up in flames. A gruff, womanizing geezer with matted fur and several (hopefully benign) tumors – Rochester is one of Warren’s best friends and a hilarious foil for Greg.
SUSAN THE MONSTER
Though various puppeteers took their turn in this monstrous suit, Susan was most often played (and always voiced) by puppeteer James Murray. A furry, purple, six-breasted lady with a deep voice, this gender-bending monster first appears in “Sock Like Me.” Highlights include her obsession with Jimmy Bender in “Rabbit Redux,” her pitch for born-again Christianity in “The Jewel Heist,” and her admission of eating cats in “Surprise!” A favorite of many, Susan stole every scene she was in. Truly a feat, considering her handicaps -- one dead arm, and a total lack of pupils.
Greg the Bunny’s human room-mate and best friend, played by Seth Green. Jimmy, also the slacker son to TV producer Gil Bender (Eugene Levy) joins Greg in going Hollywood when he is given a job as the show’s production assistant. A sweet and awkward ‘slacker’, network executives always had Jimmy in conflicts with his dad or looking to get laid. Yet despite these contrivances, he was portrayed with true warmth, humor and vulnerability by Green. Highlights include his agent skills in “Welcome to Sweetknuckle Junction,” his creative re-imagination of ‘Sweetknuckle Junction’ in “SK2.0,” his kiss with Susan in “Rabbit Redux,” and his motivational speech in “Greg Gets Puppish.” Seth Green also appears (as himself) in our 2004 IFC Special.
The duplicitous and overwhelmed producer of “Sweetknuckle Junction,” Gil is the poor soul who must appease and control the puppet and human egos of the show, while also keeping network executive Alison Kaiser (Sarah Silverman) happy. Also father to Jimmy Bender, (Seth Green) Gil is a father looking to connect with his slacker son. Played with genuine wit by comic legend Eugene Levy, Gil is man who is forever trying to keep his head above water, while at the same time reaching desperately for the drain plug. Highlights include his egg-tossing skills in “Father and Son Reunion,” playing paintball with Tardy Turtle in “The Jewel Heist,” and his minimizing of Greg’s Puppish pride in “Greg Gets Puppish.”
Played by Sarah Silverman, Alison is the tense network executive hired to oversee Gil Bender and his production of “Sweetknuckle Junction.” On the outside, Alison is an uptight executive who cools every room she enters, frustrated at being over-qualified for this glorified baby-sitting job. Deep down, she longs for acceptance from the cast and crew, envious of their camaraderie and creative freedom. Played with a dry and subtle wit by the beautiful and talented Silverman, this role went against every aspect of her on-stage persona. While some feel her extraordinary talent as a brave and cutting standup was squandered on this “straight” role, others seem to think the inverse casting made it one of her most unique performances. Highlights include her career crisis in “Piddler on the Roof,” her Jimmy fetish in “Jimmy Drives Gil Crazy” and her girl-on-girl kiss in “Surprise!” Sarah also appears (as herself) in our 2004 IFC special.
The beautiful human co-star of “Sweetknuckle Junction,” played by Dina Waters. With a sweet and bubbly persona, Dottie seems to be more comfortable around puppets than people. A kind soul who loves her puppet co-stars, Dottie is every bit the persona she plays on the show – sweet, kind, and damned sexy in a skirt. Originally conceived as more of a hell-cat but noted by the studio into, well, a dumb blonde, she was played with sweet sincerity and brilliant comic timing by Waters. Highlights include her turkey dance in “Rabbit Redux,” her hot date with Greg in “Dottie Heat,” learning the Puppish language in “Greg Gets Puppish,” and her pole dance in “SK2.0.”
JUNCTION JACK MARS
Played by Bob Gunton, Jack is the human star of “Sweetknuckle Junction.” On-screen, he is a sweet and loveable train conductor. Off-screen, he is a bi-polar war veteran with a distaste for puppets. Always coming from out of left field, Jack was the show’s loose cannon – a drinking buddy for Warren and Blah, but also a powder-keg who could go off at the drop of a hat. Highlights include his flash-back to seeing his mother in bed with a puppet in “Sock Like Me,” his cross-dressing in “Surprise!” and his kitchen-table neutering job on a dog’s testicles in “The Jewel Heist.” Bob also appears in our 2004 IFC Special, reprising his infamous role of the warden in “The Shawshank Redemption.”
DR. ABEN MITCHELL
Played by Drew Massey and James Murray (as head and arms respectively) Aben is the leader of the Pro-Puppet Movement and an advocate for Puppets’ Rights. He appears in “Sock Like Me,” to help the cast and crew of “Sweetknuckle Junction” overcome their puppet-human conflicts and learn to tolerate each others differences. He also has a Cosby sweater and the googliest eyes since Cookie Monster had a stroke.
Played by James Murray, Hurbada is the leader of a Militant Puppet Group who appears in “Greg Gets Puppish” to help Greg the Bunny get in touch with his Puppish roots. More interested in exploiting Greg’s celebrity than anything else, he causes conflict for Greg by telling him to lose contact with his human friend, Jimmy.
The often annoyed, always vulgar boom operator on “Sweetkunckle Junction.” Performed by Victor Yerrid, Cranky has a few harsh one-liners and a bad-ass leather jacket. If we’d only gotten more than one season, you can be sure you would have seen more of him. Highlights include his rim-shots in “Rabbit Redux” and his outbursts in “Piddler on the Roof.”
MUSHMA & RATAGABA
Two members of the militant puppet group led by Hurbada Hymena. They are played by James Murray and Drew Massey, appearing in “Greg Gets Puppish” to assist Greg in finding his puppet roots. Two of our favorite puppets, they surely would have made a return had we done more episodes.
THE CRIPPLED WRITER
Played by Victor Yerrid, this poor puppet writer had his leg braces stolen by Leo Kornelly (Michael McDonald) in the “Singing Mailman” episode.