It’s Halloween season! And in honor of the spookiest time of year, we’re taking a look at a Henson Company series that we’ve never covered on ToughPigs before: Ghost of Faffner Hall. Rather than review the entire series, we’ve paired two sets of ToughPigs writers to compare episodes to see how the series holds up today.

Anthony Strand: The Ghost of Faffner Hall, a little-seen Jim Henson production from 1989, is now streaming on Roku Channel. Halloween seemed like as good a time as any to check it out. Is it a long-lost treat, or did we get tricked by deciding to watch it?

Evan G.: Anthony, this was…not a treat. This was possibly the worst Henson thing I’ve seen.

Anthony: As long as we’re going for the jugular, I’ll lead with this – I genuinely had a hard time paying attention. 

Evan: I used to like music, but this show taught me that maybe I didn’t.

Anthony: So which episode did you watch, and what boring nonsense happened in it?

Evan: I chose “If You Can Play It, It’s an Instrument,” because Muppet Wiki had a picture of two Frackles for it. In this episode, the evil Faffner wants to get rich by selling musical instruments as scrap metal and a Scottish orchestra plays five notes on loop. How about you? What good time awaited you in Faffner Hall?

Anthony: My one was called “Delighting in Sounds” and friend, I didn’t. The Festival of Sound is coming up, and our old pal The Wild Impresario (note: this is his only name) wanders around aimlessly listening to sounds and saying whether or not they’re good. This is a solid 75% of the episode, and it was followed by the sound of my snoring.

Evan: Hey, at least your episode stayed on topic. It took me most of the episode to understand why it was called “If You Can Play It, It’s an Instrument.” I expected the Faffner gang to teach me how to make, like, shoebox instruments. Instead they just played a harp while riding a blindfolded horse and Evil Faffner stole musical instruments to crunch them into scrap. The premise of “if you can play it” is only relevant for one moment, and then the big reveal of the kids playing the pile of scrap metal as an instrument.

Anthony: If this show is remembered for anything, it’s the musical guests, and mine was a good one. The only time I actually delighted in a sound was when it was Joni Mitchell. She sings “Night Ride Home,” which was the title track and lead single on her then-upcoming album. That’s a great song, and the sequence is basically a remake of the actual music video. Except instead of a human man, she’s on a date with The Wild Impresario:

I’m sorry, but that rules.

Evan: Dude, you got Joni Mitchell? As I said, I just got The Scottish Chamber Orchestra, which insisted on playing the same five-note jingle on dozens of instruments, one at a time. I literally had to pause in the middle to take a break.

Anthony: Oof, that sounds awful. But yeah, I specifically chose this one because Joni Mitchell is one of my favorite singers. In fact, she’s always been near the top of my “They should have been on The Muppet Show” wishlist. But every time I look at her Muppet Wiki page, it’s just Ghost of Faffner Hall. If I was going to watch one episode, it had to be that one. 

And technically she spends her scene riding around in a car with a Richard Hunt character, so that’s pretty good. I have to hope they talked about the resemblance between her and Janice.

Evan: Well, like I said, the guest stars I was excited to see in this were the Blue and Green Frackles, and they did show up. Also Mean Mama appeared with a surprisingly meaty speaking role! And it was good to see my old Muppet Show buddies. But that was part of the disappointment, because boy, nothing makes these already-horrible puppets look worse than appearing next to Boppity. Let’s talk about the puppets, shall we?

Anthony: If I’d seen this in high school, I probably would have loved these puppets, because I was super into that 80s Hideous Muppet aesthetic. You know me, Mr. Jim Henson Hour.

Evan: These are so much worse than those! These are Jim Henson’s Mother Goose Stories aesthetic. They honestly look like Lazytown characters, except…worse? Rubber faces, bulging eyes, awkward motion…it’s not doing anyone any favors.

Anthony: Yeah, they’re just the worst, and the eyes are the biggest culprit. The hard rubber heads might not be so bad if they had any life to them, but they’re all dead-eyed. They just stare straight ahead at all times. The Henson Company should certainly have known better! Why on Earth did they let this happen?

Evan: And again, they had the regular puppets right there! Compare this image of Mimi (who is played by Karen Prell doing a horrid Southern accent) to this image of Boppity. Which character would you rather look at for 27 minutes?

Anthony: Right, it isn’t even a contest! And yeah, I had Karen Prell’s accent in my notes too. I guess her only choices were “Sound like Red Fraggle” or “Do a Southern accent.” She chose poorly.

She’s not an anomaly though. That’s the real problem. Louise Gold plays the resident ghost, Fughetta Faffner, and Richard Hunt plays the Wild Impresario. Neither of them makes any impression at all, because they’re wrestling with ugly puppets and dull scripts. Even superheroes can’t win every battle.

Evan: The worst of all is definitely Farkas Faffner, who I’ve been calling Evil Faffner. He looks kind of like an antisemitic caricature

Anthony: My notes say “the villain’s design is a hate crime,” so yes, agreed. 

Evan: He talks like a Fiery from Labyrinth, and makes absolutely no sense. His whole thing is he “wants to destroy all music.” Like I said, in this episode, he wants to turn all the instruments in Faffner Hall into scrap metal so he can sell them to raise money to…destroy all music. I got really stuck on this premise, because surely musical instruments sell for more money than scrap metal?

Anthony: It definitely feels like the writers’ room was ready to call it a night, but had to come up with a motivation for Farkas. So, uh, he likes scrap metal profits more than he likes music. Sure, whatever. Let’s go check out that exciting Toronto club scene.

Evan: Honestly, I was struggling to understand who this show was even for. Anthony, you’re a dad. Would your kids like this? Are they just wild about impresarios?

Anthony: I think my kids would be bored by this, and here’s specifically why: They were bored by Julie’s Greenroom, another short-lived, performing-arts-themed Henson series with ugly puppets and glacial pacing. That show had Julie Andrews in it, and my Mary Poppins-fan daughter still didn’t care! I can’t imagine she’d make it through more than a few minutes of this one.

Evan: The Henson company can’t win ‘em all, even if the Fraggle Rock performers are there. So do you think our readers should check into Faffner Hall anytime soon?

Anthony: I think it’s certainly worth checking out as a curiosity. Just keep your expectations frighteningly low!

Evan: Yeah, it’s maybe worth watching one episode, just to know we’re not lying. Also, I guess, if you’re a big fan of Mean Mama. I’m just not likely to visit the Faffners again any time soon.

Click here to delight in sounds on the ToughPigs forum!

by Evan G. and Anthony Strand

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