Anthony Strand: In a recent episode of your wildly successful podcast Hubba Wha?!, you jokingly mentioned writing something about Brats of the Lost Nebula, a short-lived science fiction show produced by the Jim Henson Company in 1998. I decided to make that a reality, so I emailed you asking if you wanted to collaborate on a piece for Tough Pigs.
Well, Bex old pal, I’m truly sorry I did that to you.
Becca Petunia: Don’t be sorry! Trying new things is always worthwhile. And now I get to be one of the world’s leading experts on Brats of the Lost Nebula! And isn’t that worth something?
Anthony: You know, I suppose it is! For the purposes of this article, we both watched the first three episodes of Brats of the Lost Nebula, which are also the only three episodes that aired on the WB back in 1998.
Becca: If you recall, I mentioned on Hubba-Wha?! that these episodes were given a place on TV Guide’s Top Ten Children’s Shows of the Year. The show was canceled before that issue went to print.
Anthony: I have to imagine that TV Guide’s writers didn’t even bother to watch the show, they just slapped it on that list because it had Jim Henson’s name attached. Because this show is a complete mess, and not even a fun one.
Becca: It’s not good. It’s definitely not good. I’m a sucker for shows like this though, and I think maybe it has some good ideas buried beneath a lot of trash. Like a spaceship buried within a planetoid.
Anthony: I have good news for you, that good show currently exists, and it’s called Star Trek: Prodigy.
That’s a show about five misfit kids who steal an experimental starship and head out on the run from an evil space overlord. Brats of the Lost Nebula, we should tell our readers, is a show about five misfit kids who are separated from their parents and commandeer, as you say, a planetoid that’s actually a spaceship. Then they try to escape from an evil space overlord.
Becca: Anthony, please. Don’t tell our readers about something better they can watch. We want them to stick around and learn about Brats of the Lost Nebula, a show TV Guide loved! So, where should we start? You’ve mentioned the premise. Basically, an evil space army called the Shock is blowing up planets for no adequately-explained reason, and five kids and one weird animal find themselves on the frontlines of stopping the Shock. Using teamwork!
All of the characters are Henson company puppets. And…uh…Anthony, how would you say they look?
Anthony: Like dollar store Gelflings! The biggest problem with the main characters is that their faces are impossibly stiff. They have tiny little mouths, I guess to make them look more realistic, but it just makes it look like the puppeteers can’t move them. But even beyond that, they aren’t appealing designs. They look like wax figures of Digit from The Jim Henson Hour. Sometimes we get closeups of them, and it’s viscerally unpleasant.
Becca: I texted you pretty early on that these puppets made me wish for the “lovable” designs of The Ghost of Faffner Hall. They’re…not good. They don’t really work as puppets! The show feels like someone bought some generic Cool Space Guys action figures and waved them around for twenty minutes. Like you said, there are even times where the mouths don’t move. It literally looks like doll-wiggling.
I found that while watching, I kept asking myself “Why does this show have to be done with puppets?” which isn’t something I ever ask when watching, you know, Fraggle Rock or whatever.
Anthony: Right, our main fivesome could all be played by humans. One of them, Ryle, is blue and has a horn. He tells us this in the first episode by helpfully yelling “I HAVE A HORN!” But he could be played by someone in makeup, Sci-Fi TV shows do that all the time. Like you say, the bones are here for a good show, but using puppets makes it actively worse, and that’s depressing.
Becca: What’s also funny is that the villain, his sidekick, and the Shock troops have much better designs and, in the case of the first two, much better ranges of motion. This is because they’re not burdened by trying to look human. I actually enjoyed the villain when he appeared, although for the life of me I cannot remember his name. Which is saying something.
Anthony: You can’t remember his name because it’s “Hextavigon” (pronounced Hex-Taw-Vy-Gone), which isn’t a catchy or memorable name. It’s a generic science fiction name that probably looked fine on paper. But yes, I agree that those two are the best thing about the show, even though his little sidekick gets the worst line of dialogue I’ve ever heard:
“Childhoods aren’t all that great. Why, before I became your parasite, I spent most of my time frolicking around in big stinky mutant carcasses. Yeah, eating ear wax and swimming around in Flovian juices.”
When I said the show was unpleasant before, that’s the kind of stuff I meant. It’s unwieldy, it isn’t funny, and it’s extremely gross!
Becca: I dunno, that at least has a fully-formed flavor to it, even if that flavor is “very bad.” I couldn’t stand the brats’ dialogue, which consists mostly of what sound like rejected lines from a Ninja Turtles fan comic.
Anthony: Totally gnarly, dude!
Becca: They try so hard to make the characters cool that I’m not even confident what the main character’s personality is. They’re just representations of what adults thought “cool” was in 1998.
Anthony: Well, I mentioned Gelflings up top, and our so-called hero Zadam (yep, it’s just the common name Adam with a Z at the front) suffers from the same problem Jen does: he’s absolutely generic. His strongest character trait is telling people that he’s fourteen years old. His little sister, a person named Triply, is also fond of saying that she’s ten. That’s what passes for personality on this boring show.
Becca:Also Gelfling-esque: goth-elf Lavana surprises the other characters by revealing she has wings. It’s almost beat-for-beat the scene from The Dark Crystal except she’s kind of just wiggling in front of a blue screen while saying it. While we’re talking about Lavana, I also noticed that episode 3 kind of hints at a relationship between her and Zadam, which seems to exist solely because Zadam is the main character and Lavana is the girl he isn’t related to.
Anthony: Yep! It’s possible that they might have gone somewhere interesting with it in later episodes, but there’s nothing here to make anyone keep watching. It’s all just bog-standard dull science-fiction, even for people like us who are predisposed to like this kind of stuff.
Can I tell you how my kids reacted to this thing?
Becca: With joy, delight, and childlike wonder?
Anthony: Yes, except the opposite of that. My son Miles (4) and daughter Iris (8) came into the room while I was watching the second episode. Iris asked if it was Star Trek, and I said no. Miles asked if it was a kids’ show, and I said yes. So they both watched for a minute or so. Then Miles said “This is a bad show! Nobody should watch this show!” and Iris asked Alexa to play Sandra Boynton songs to drown it out.
So that’s what the youth think of it!
Becca: I tried so hard to like this show. I jumped right in, and then I realized I could be watching Bear in the Big Blue House instead, and then took a week to finish the remaining two episodes as a result. Even yesterday, when watching Episode 3, I found that I was falling asleep on my couch, even as we were introduced to a zany mad scientist and a door-to-door space salesman. And a computer who is definitely being voiced by Bill Barretta.
Anthony: I will say, all of those new characters made me moderately more interested in the show at that point. Especially the salesman, who – for reasons unfathomable to me – is clearly based on Mr. Haney, the door-to-door salesman from the 1960s sitcom Green Acres. Same Southern accent, same desperate anything-to-make-a-sale attitude, but in space and not actually funny. I’d love to know how that happened.
In fact, I’d love to know how any of this show happened. That would be so much more interesting than watching it.
Becca: I am going to try my best to reach out to as many people involved and learn the history of the Brats of the Lost Nebula. Bill Barretta, if for some reason you’re reading this, please let me know.
Anthony: Please, please write the Oral History of Brats of the Lost Nebula! Just don’t make me watch any more episodes.
Becca: Would you be interested in watching the Bratz movie inexplicably starring Jon Voight instead?
Anthony: Let’s fire it up! It almost has to be better than this!
Click here to cancel Bratz of the Lost Nebula after three episodes on the Tough Pigs forum!
by Anthony Strand and Becca Petunia