The Furchester Hotel

Review by Emma Shane © 2015

Episode 1. Welcome To The Furchester

[First Broadcast Friday 25 September 2014, at 17:00]

For someone who once declared that four years was long enough to have been a puppeteer,  British actress Louise Gold has spent a surprising amount of the last thirty three years being a puppeteer. That said, for about a dozen years her puppetry seemed to have been largely confined to her cabaret act, one night theatrical charity performances, and various appearances in television documentaries (often about Spitting Image).However, the past two years have seen her back with a vengeance not only as a puppeteer, but very much a Henson/Muppet puppeteer at that, what with: Muppets Most Wanted, That Puppet Game Show, and now The Furchester Hotel.

It was with apprehension that I sat down to watch the new BBC and CTW Co-Production.  I knew of course that we would be in the hands of some experienced television puppeteers, including three experienced Sesame Street performers, and that includes one member of The TMS Eight!  That said I still couldn’t help but worry a little as to whether my favourite performer would be well used. But then again some twenty years ago when Louise Gold last worked with Sesame Street they always made very good use of her. So I could hope.

Well I needn’t have worried.  As the propiritetoress  (who is also Elmo’s Aunt) Louise is well utilised. And boy does she shine, but very much as one of the team.

From performing on a “second rate” variety show, to running a “half star hotel”, throughout her thirty seven years as an on-off puppeteer, Louise has always had a certain way with Muppet Monsters  So it’s really lovely to find her not only puppeteering again, and indeed Muppet Puppeteering again, but once again working with those Monsters; how well she knows their sort.

This episode opens with the Furchester-Fuzz family having a video documentary made to publicise their hotel. A highly interesting and rather appropriate piece for the start of a new TV programme. Because of course everyone working on the programme will be so familiar with documentaries and the difficulties of doing them.  Suddenly we are on familiar Muppet-humour territory, full of multi-layered humour, the jokes for the kids, the jokes for the grown ups, and quite possibly jokes for the production’s crew itself.  Sesame Street has long been accomplished at such triple-layer humour.

The Hotel is beset with problems: what with a revolving door that keeps throwing the guests out (which Fergus fixes with a sofa), then there is a guest,  Mak Wilson’s Harvey P Dull, who ordered tomato soup but received cookies (the head waiter, Cookie Monster, solves that by eating the cookies. Then there is a penguin who is too hot, and a lion who is too cold. The Lion is a nice little part for Louise’s fellow Transmission Impossible termite puppeteer, Warrick Brownlow-Pike. Fergus and Phoebe solve that by giving the penguin a fan and the lion a neck warmer, problem solved. It’s really good to see the Muppet Penguins getting a look in. Then another guest, Mak Wilson’s Harvey P Dull, complains about the noise of everyone talking, which young Elmo solves, by drumming. At one point a gong sounds and a bunch of monsters rush from their rooms to the dinning room because it’s “monster tea time”. The “director” of the video documentary eventually says that he has a problem, he can’t make a documentary about a well run hotel when it seems to be full of problems “you have a waiter who is a cookie monster and then there’s monster tea time whatever that is”.  But these monsters are Furchesters (well Funella, Phoebe and Elmo are, and Fergus is by marriage), and they launch into a rather wonderful song ‘A Furchester Never Gives Up’. Although all four singers perform it as very much an ensemble piece, one of course can’t help noticing Funella’s big strong voice, and the fact that the puppet moves very rhythmically to the music (oh how reminiscent those moves are, just typical of Louise Gold puppeteering a Muppet monster).  This song is a great one, a really catchy one for the kids, perfectly likeable even for the most musically discerning preschooler. And very enjoyable for the adults watching too.

The monsters put their furry heads together, and then Phoebe has a monster idea, and suggests that actually including the problems are fine, because that is what happens but he can show how they solve the problems.  

We are shown the monsters watching the final edit of video, it seems to have worked out well, and it’s a lovely way to reprise clips from earlier in the episode. The “director” is so impressed with the end result, he says he would like to stay at the hotel himself. At which point declaring “We welcome you with furry arms” he gets monster hugged by Funella. – A monster whose special friend has been monster-hugging for nearly thirty seven years.

We are coming to the end of the episode. Now back in the days when the BBC started children’s programming, it seemed to be considered very important, particularly on programmes aimed at pre-schoolers, to do a proper ending, with a goodbye song, Well here on The Furchester Hotel we have a delightful Muppet-style twist to that As Louise Gold and Andrew Spooner  duet (with some input from the others) a song asking “Don’t check out”. It’s a good song too.  One of the greatest things about this show, is to see right away that Louise Gold’s glorious singing talents are being used. Back in the days of The Muppet Show Jim Henson once understatedly said “Louise has this great singing voice, and really does a lot of our best musical numbers”.  Yet, her last two jobs as a puppeteer, have found Louise’s singing voice sadly underused. On Muppets Most Wanted she did not sing at all, which given that it was a musical film, I felt was a great loss, not least because she is the last of the three great TMS singing talents left (and that film was dedicated to Jerry Nelson of all people!). While on That Puppet Game Show she did sing a very very little bit, as Miss Taptackle would warble a few notes while her round was on, but that was all. Now at last we have Louise Gold on form as a singing-puppeteer.  But then again, some twenty years ago when she last worked for Sesame Street, they were very very good at utilising her singing talents.

All in all a lovely new show. I hope it is a success, It deserves to be, it’s well written and well performed, very much up to the standards one might expect from both The BBC and the Children’s Television Workshop.  It will be interesting to see more of it.

I can’t write this first bit of my review, without highlighting Funella Furchester.  Funella, is the largest of the Monster family, a mainly yellow monster with reddish orange hair. Could that hair be a little side reference to a certain titan-haired Muppeteer? I wonder, sometimes Funella tosses her head and consequently her hair in very familiar manner- we’ve seen that little movement before on both TMS and Sesame Street, that familiar move is a deft flick of Louise Gold’s clever lefthand.  Vocally her accent is one which does not seem to sound like any other significant character that Louise Gold has done as a puppeteer. However, it is a voice that has been sitting, perhaps largely underused in Louise Gold’s repertoire, I am sure that at one time it was in her voice-over showreel.

Louise is one of the last of the original type of Muppet-Puppeteer, the ones who: Never intended to be puppeteers in the first place, didn’t want to be known as puppeteers (often learned their craft as puppeteers performing the Muppets),  were far too gifted not to be puppeteers, and eventually came to accept it was a part of them. These days Muppet, Sesame Street, and Henson productions tend to be dominated by Muppeteers who set out with the intention of being puppeteers, often inspired by the amazing work of those gifted original type performers.  

 

Episode 2: Don’t Eat The Guests

[first broadcast Cbeebies Saturday 27 September 2014, 17:00]

The episode opens with the charismatic Funella telling us the episode’s title “Don’t Eat The Guests”, She then  dominates the first scene, on the telephone taking a booking. after which she informs Elmo and Phoebe that a Mr Crumb is checking in today, and asks them to mind the desk because “I have to go and practice my welcome” For a moment I found myself briefly reminded of that classic Spitting Image sketch “Trooping The Colour” in particular the line “I’ve got handshaking rehearsal in the morning” (well that doyenne of British television puppetry, who is Funella’s “special Friend” performed that too). Funella departs, and then Cookie Monster rushes in to say there is a big problem, the hotel dinning room has run out of cookies. Phoebe reassures Cookie Monster that the delivery truck will be bringing more cookies later that day. But Cookie Monster is hungry and wants cookies now. Elmo and Phoebe quickly realise there is going to be a problem, and go to tell Funella, who is now back at the desk, but just then Mr Crumb arrives, and Funella is too busy welcoming him. But once Fergus goes to show Mr Crumb to his room, Elmo and Phoebe can explain the problem, Mr Crumb is a cookie, the hotel is out of cookies and they have a hungry cookie monster, who will try to eat that guest. Funella, with her powerful pipes calls Fergus back, and they explain, it’s a catastrophe, this is the cue into The Catastrophe Song. Another great song, and so lovely to have “the English Muppet” once again lending her “great singing voice” to a Muppet production.

They hope that Mr Crumb might stay safely in his room, but no such luck. he wants to go and get a dunking in some milk. Funella and Phoebe send Cookie Monster into the office, to look for cookies there.

The four Furchester monsters put their furry heads together, and decide that perhaps they could disguise Mr Crumb, with a fake moustache. This actually works, as Cookie Monster on seeing Mr Crumb thought for a moment he was a cookie but who ever saw a cookie with a moustache. Unfortunately Mr Crumb wants to do some bowling and finds the fake moustache too itchy and so sneezes it off. Cookie Monster is about to eat him, but then Monster Tea Time is called and in the ensuing rush Mr Crumb goes off to the dinning room. Phoebe then has another idea, how about distracting Cookie Monster. So they get Cookie Monster to hop up and down while rubbing his nose and counting. This works, at least for a bit. But then Mr Crumb returns to announce he is leaving, but only briefly, because he is having such a good time, he wants to bring the rest of his family to stay here too.  The Furchester Monsters are horrified, how are they going to stop Cookie Monster from eating the guests? Fortunately just at that moment a delivery woman turns up, with a delivery of cookies for the Furchester Hotel. Cookie Monster goes and opens the box at once and begins to eat. By which time it’s the end of the episode, and so time for Funella and Fergus to lead the company with this show’s er goodbye song, ‘Don’t check out’, which it has to be said Louise, with her lovely big strong voice does rather dominate, Andrew James Spooner sings well enough, very well in fact, but he can’t really compete with the mighty Louise. But then again even among musical theatre performers there are few who can compete with Louise vocally when doing duets with her. It’s at times like this one misses the late Jerry Nelson.  Whenever he and Louise sang duets, for The Muppet Show, or Sesame Street, he could always compete with her brilliantly. But still a fine song.  And I really enjoyed this episode, more than I expected to. I think Funella’s charismatic performance had a lot to do with that. It’s lovely to see Louise, as a Muppet/Henson’s puppeteer given the chance to create a character such as this.

 

Episode 3: Very Important Porcupine

[First broadcast Friday 3 October 2014, at 5pm on cbeebies]

The episode starts with Andrew Spooner, as Fergus on a voice-over giving us the episode’s title. Then it’s into the lobby, where we have the charismatic Funella welcoming new guests, As each one comes through the revolving doors and up to the desk, she says to them “We welcome you with furry arms” and then gives them a hug.  I noticed that Funella was to the left of the screen, so that her right arm, the one controlled by her puppeteer is the more visible of her arms, and the one controlled by an assistant is in the background. We see this greeting happen twice, with monster guests, and then the porcupine enters. Funella starts her welcome then stops suddenly and says that she is afraid she can’t welcome him with open arms. Something in her facial expressions and manner convey Funella’s surprise  and disappointment at a guest she can’t welcome in her usual manner.  Louise is really skilled at putting her performance into her hand and conveying so much about a character.

To cover the embarrassment of welcoming the porcupine less than usual, Funella decides they will put Mr Pearce the porcupine in the best room, so Fergus departs to get it ready, saying that this may take sometime.  The other guests are quite disturbed about having a porcupine staying, something which the hotel staff have to cope with.  Mak Wilson’s Harvey P Dull is sitting reading, but on seeing the Porcupine he gets up, yells Porcupine and hurries away. Mr Pearce  then sits on the vacant armchair, but gets his quills stuck in it. Funella, suggests that Mr Pearce might like to go to the dinning room, ad have a meal on the house, while waiting for his room to be ready. So he does. But his presence makes the other guests nervous, and when Head Waiter Cookie Monster enters the other guests attempt to tell him there is a porcupine in the room, but they do not make themselves clear, and so Cookie Monster gets a shock and drops the plate of vegetables, right over Mr Pearce, some of the vegetable pieces get stuck on his quills. Mr Pearce, I wonder who puppeteered him, comes across aa very apologetic and keeps saying “It’s no trouble” and “I don’t mind a bit”, about almost everything.  However, when Elmo and Phoebe kindly probe further, with Elmo saying that behaviour like that of the other guests would make him sad, they find that this is really a positive bluff, and that actually he does mind and is lonely, because no one wants to be friends with a prickly porcupine.  Kind-hearted Elmo and Phoebe offer to be friends with the porcupine and find a way of playing with him. But how to do this without getting hurt. Elmo suggests he and Phoebe put their furry heads together and after that Elmo suggests they play catch, with a beach ball. (given that this show is aimed at 3 to 6 year olds, it might be that seeing Elmo and Phoebe play catch might actually teach some children how to play “catch” –well some small children think playing catch simply meant throwing a ball and yelling “catch” , without realising that the person you are throwing it to is actually meant to catch the ball. In this particular example, things end badly when the beach ball catches on one of the porcupine’s quills, gets pierced and deflates.  Should they give up, As Elmo reminds us, A Furchester Never Gives Up, which is of course the cue into that song. It’s great to hear and see that song again. All four principle Furchester puppeteers sing well, but one can’t help but notice Funella especially (well with that voice and also one of the most experienced pairs on hands on the job no wonder). Phoebe then has one of her ideas, and then fetch some pogo sticks, this being 2014, we find Elmo, Phoebe and Mr Pearce all wearing helmets when bouncing on the pogo sticks. Phoebe’s is a pink one and her ponytail comes up through the slits in her helmet. As they bounce away, Mr Pearce suddenly bounces way too high, and hits the ceiling and his quills get stuck in the ceiling, He wriggles them free, and crash-lands on the floor, thank goodness he was wearing that helmet.

And then Phoebe says something truly amazing. She says “Perhaps we are looking at this problem the wrong way. Instead of trying to avoid getting close to Mr Peacre, we need to find a way in which we can get close without getting hurt”.  As someone who has studied Operational Research, I am really very impressed to find such an excellent example of questioning whether you are trying to solve the right problem, in a pre-school television programme.

The next scene, finds, Phoebe and Elmo now wearing various armour-like protective clothing, including their cycle helmets, plus cushions and in Elmo’s case this includes some sink plug strainers and a sieve, playing ring-a-ring-a-roses with Mr Pearce. When they all fall down they realise “It worked” All three are thrilled, now they can play together, and so is Funella, as she comes on, also decked out in protective clothing (including a cycle helmet – that must have made an already heavy puppet even heavier-  but I guess not for nothing is Louise Gold a veteran of Spitting Image and their very heavy puppets). We find that Fergus is also similarly attired. “And now I can welcome you properly” says Funella and then added “We welcome you with furry arms” and promptly hugs the porcupine. Just then a Cactus comes through the revolving door, and seeing the hotel staff  in their protective gear, says “This looks like a cactus friendly hotel” . Thus, Warrick Brownlow-Pike (well who else would be puppeteering a cactus for the BBC) has the last line, apart from the goodbye song, Don’t Check Out.

Don’t Check Out is a very catchy song, some people find it creepy. But I don’t. Firstly it is a subtle Muppety twist on the traditional goodbye songs that British children’s television at least had to have in the 1950s, 60’s and 70’s, secondly it is clearly in the same vain of humour as the American coffee advertisements of the 1960s, that using puppets (and indeed muppets) proclaimed “Buy our coffee, or else”), and thirdly, it taps into and identifies the way some preschoolers do not like leaving somewhere when it is time to go home, so you have the monsters, in particular the loud cuddly and slightly glamours Funella (a perfect charater for Louise Gold to perform) saying (or rather singing) “You really can’t be going, please say it isn’t true” as the intro to this song. And a great song to end the programme it is too.

My only real criticism of this programme, so far, is that particularly during the musical numbers, including the opening titles, some of the puppeteers have poor diction. The two main culprits here are Andrew James Spooner and Louise Gold. most noticeably during the middle verse of the title song. I know that Louise’s diction is often bad when she is tired, which leads me to wonder, when in the shooting schedule were those musical numbers recorded? Could they have been laid down too late on in the schedule? or two late in the day, I wonder.

 

Episode 4: Yodel-ay-hee-hoo

[first Broadcast on Saturday 4 October at 17:00 on cbeebies]

I think it was Andrew Spooner who gave us the episode title again this time. The episode opens with his character Fergus manning the front desk, where a lot of characters are all trying to get his attention at once. A taxi driver has arrived to pick up a customer, the delivery girl wants him to sign for an item she is delivering, and Harvey P Dull wants to order a cup of tea with two biscuits. Fergus picks up the phone (a fixed line one) to carry out one of the tasks, but finds that the phone is not working.  Pondering how to solve the problem he then remembers he can use the back up phone system, and summons  Elmo and Phoebe, to help, this turns out to consist of several tin cans and strings, with Elmo acting as a go between to relay a message from Fergus up to Phoebe. But the messages get garbed in a Chinese whispers kind of way. Illustrated by a talking broccoli (this is The Muppets) turning up, performed by Kathrine Smee). Fergus replays the message “A broccoli for room –“ which somehow ends up relayed back to him as “There’s an elephant on Phoebe’s toe”  A lamb, named Professor Fleece, who is staying at the hotel for a yodelling conference enters, and suggests they solve their hotel communication problems by yodelling, he happens to be a yodel instructor.  

The next scene, finds Funella, Fergus, Phoebe and Elmo assembled for their Yodel School, Cookie Monster comes in a little later (and apologises for being late). Professor Fleece has some pictures depicting how to Yodel drawn up on a blackboard. He tries to start and the beginning and instruct, but the five all yodel at once. So Professor Fleece tries another, typically Muppet sort of a way, with a song, which all five monsters join in enthusiastically, a song about how to say “Hello” in Yodel.  It was really great to have this extra song. I had been wondering if A Furchester Never Gives Up, It’s A Catastrophe, plus of course the opening and closing songs were going to be the sum total of songs in this show (repeated a lot). I am glad to hear they have some songs specific to individual episodes.  Not least because they do happen to have among their puppeteers one particularly fine singing puppeteer (the last of the three great singing-puppeteers that graced The Muppet Show).  I have to say that although this is very much an ensemble number, with her lovely big strong voice one of course notices Funella. At the end of the song, Professor Fleece declares them all to have graduated from Yodel School, and tells them that anything else they need to know can be found in their Hotel Yodel Handbook. For the rest of the episode the five carry those handbooks around and are continually trying to consult them, to work out what they have to say next. It’s very funny.

They soon discover a problem with their yodelling. Every time they yodel “everyone” (or at least a lot of characters) in the hotel responds , in particular there are a pair of lambs who as if a “taxi” is for them, and that they did not order tea.  Eventually the mass yodelling gets too much and Funella asks “how do we say please stop yodelling in yodel”. Fergus looks it up, yodels the answer and everyone stops yodelling, Funella then asks why every time the staff Yodel everyone responds. The two lambs  explain it is because no one knows who the yodel is intended to communicate with, as they can all hear it. The Furchester monsters are aghast, It’s A Catastrophe, cue into the catastrophe song. Then of course the four of them put their furry heads together. At this one can really notice both Phoebe’s clever purple pony tale, and Funella’s floppy orange fringe (a fringe which reminds one a bit of the chestnut fringe of a certain puppeteer).  They come up with the idea of learning all – room numbers in yodel. It shouldn’t take long if they work at it day and night. Meanwhile things are still chaos, as Harvey P Dull enters holding the plug for the phone, to point out to them that the hotel phone had gotten unplugged from it’s socket , “so that’s what was wrong with it!” Fergus exclaims. Now that Mr Dull has sorted out how to fix the phone, they have a working phone and can function normally, and  order Mr Dull his tea. Though Elmo is disappointed he won’t get to yodel anymore. Fergus points out that he can Yodel down the phone and shows him how as he goes to order Mr Dull’s tea. The tea time gong monster hears this and promptly announces monster tea time. So the monsters all rush off to monster tea time, taking Mr Dull with them.

One of the interesting things about this episode is that Professor Fleece was a great character, somehow Warrick Brownlow-Pike really came into his own and demonstrated that he is a very capable puppeteer, who can work as an equal with the greats (as if we didn’t already know that from the Transmission Impossible termites), it’s particularly nice for the Muppet-buffs to see him get into the limelight. It is also a great fun episode. Very much worthy of Jim Henson’s Muppets. Something about the way Funella and Fergus are trying to manage their hotel, kind of reminds me of Kermit The Frog trying to hold the show together on The Muppet Show, usually with a bunch of looneys circling around him (as one write-up once put it “in and on the arms of four other principal performers and few bit players of noteworthy talent” – it’s very nice to see one of the “bit players” referred to then all those years ago getting a starring role in this series, at the centre of the action).  

 

Episode 5 – Don’t Count Your Chickens

[First broadcast  on Friday 10 October 2014, 17:00 on cbeebies.]

The episode kicks off with Funella welcoming a favourite tour guide, she says with furry arms, and as she goes to do so knocks Isabel off the desk.  Funella appears unfazed, and Isabel hops herself back up onto the desk. The tour guide is a dog, and he is taking five brown chickens to visit The Cluck Cluck Museum. He wants the Furchester staff to make sure the chickens stay in the lobby, while he goes to get his bus out of the garage. He notes one chicken in particular, Mrs Featherbottom, implying she is particularly given to wandering. Phoebe says it will be easy to deal with, and promptly speaks to the chickens in their own language telling them they must stay in the lobby.  Meanwhile Cookie Monster wanders through on his way to the dinning room with corn on the cob, explaining that today’s special is corn on the cob. The tour guide departs. Elmo and Phoebe will watch the chickens, they decide they had better count them, and find there are only four. Mrs Featherbottom has disappeared already. Phoebe and Elmo and the other four chickens all put their furry heads together and phoebe comes up with a monster idea.  Phoebe leaves Elmo to watch the other four while she follows a trail of feathers to find Mrs Featherbottom.  Meanwhile in the dinning room we see a chicken disappearing under a table., Mr Dull has ordered Corn on the cob and Cookie Monster brings it to him, but as he goes to fetch pepper, the chicken pops up and grabs the corn on the cob. So Cookie Monster then goes and fetches another corn on the cob, but the same thing happens. Just then Phoebe enters and realises what has happened and finds the errant chicken with half eaten corn on the cobs under the table. Phoebe then tells the chicken in both English and its own language it needs to come back to the lobby or will miss its bus.  Phoebe arrives back in the lobby to find Elmo sitting cuddled up to the chickens. All well and good, Just then a lady guest with brown hair and a feather hat enters through the revolving doors, and two of the chickens go after her. Elmo and Phoebe go to count the chickens and find there are only three. So Elmo keeps watch while Phoebe goes to ask Fergus if he has seen the other two chickens. Fergus is trying to sort out the lift, which isn’t working, it is making clucking noises. Phoebe says she knows what is wrong and opens the lift doors to reveal a disgruntled lady guests and the two errant chickens, with the guest trying to explain it is her hair and hat not a chicken.  Actually that lady’s hair reminded me a little of a certain chestnut tressed  Muppeteer, and according to Muppet Wiki (which got a lot of informaton from people in the know, like MR W B-P) it looks like this might just be a Muppet-style in joke, on the basis that the character is performed by a certain redheaded veteran puppeteer.

Phoebe again speaks to the chickens in both English and their own language and takes them back to the lobby.  The tour guide arrives to say the bus is ready. They did it…or so they thought. At this point I was feeling a little disappointed we had had no songs apart from the theme tune. But just then Monster Tea Time is announced.  In the rush of monsters through the lobby all five chickens disappear. At this moment the charismatic Funella grabs the scene. Oh how lovely to see Louise Gold exercise her talents for being able to suddenly grab everyone’s attention like that, turning her amazing presence full on as Funella bemoans loudly “it’s a cluck cluck catastrophe” , which is of course the cue into The Catastrophe Song. How wonderful that we do get a song after all.

Once the song is over, Phoebe suggest she checks the dinning room and the lift and Elmo checks elsewhere. But the tour guide, who seems to be a rather good bit part for one of the other puppeteers, says there is no need for that, and produces his chicken whistle, which summons all five chickens back, but leaves Phoebe and Elmo wondering why they didn’t have one of those. It was all they needed!

All in all a fun episode, and well it just wouldn’t be Muppets without chickens.  I wonder who performed those chickens? presumably the additional puppeteers. But it does remind one of the long history of muppet chickens., including of course Linda Lavin’s description in thebook ‘Of Muppets and Men’ of being nervous and getting “offered a wing to hold”, as well as that Sesame Street song from the early 1990s ‘I Am Chicken’.

I was however disappointed to note that as with last week  the end song, ‘Don’t Check Out’ was incomplete, as a verse that Fergus and Funella sang in that song the first week had been cut “We’d like you to stay forever longer if you can”.

 

Episode 6: The Vegitones

[First broadcast on cbeebies on Saturday 11 October 2014, at 17:00]

Once again I think it was Andrew Spooner delivering the episode title, he seems to do that most of the time (except once on ‘Don’t Eat The Guests when Louise did the honours).

However, the opening scene is a treat, as we find Funella on top charismatic form. She is first shown on the telephone. Interestingly when she is holding the phone for a moment I find myself wondering whether she is a live hands puppet, as surely the phone could not be so well manipulated with rod hands. Yet the rest of the scene her hands are clearly to scale as rod controlled hands (I have since learned that she is a puppet with “interchangeable hands”). Funella seems a little tuneful as she summons the others to tell them some “wonderful news”. Fergus interrupts her to give his news, that he has fixed the lift. Elmo and Phoebe are thrilled, But Funella still hasn’t told them her news.  A singing sensation called The Vegitones are coming to serenade the guests.   At which point the Vegitons enter through the revolving doors. They turn out to harmony quartet consisting of a female broccoli, and three males, namely: an aubergine, a green pepper and a carrot.  One of the glorious things about The Furchester Hotel, is the presence of so many classic elements of The Muppets: Monsters, Penguins, Chickens, and now Singing Vegetables.  Funella treats the singing Vegetables as perfectly normal, as one would expect from a character whose puppeteer learned her craft performing various bit parts including singing fruit and veg on The Muppet Show.  Funella can’t help being a little tuneful with her speech, as though on a very musical episode you can’t help wondering if her special friend really wants to be singing.(which given what a wonderful voice that lady has  would be no bad thing) . But on this occasion she only has the opening song and one other recurring song to sing.

Anyway Funella gives the Vegitones the run of the hotel, to go and spread happiness among the guests, and Elmo and Phoebe go to watch them. First the quartet decide to enter Harvey P Dull’s room, they find him asleep, bur their singing wakes him up, he is not happy. Phoebe and Elmo decide they had better tell the Vegitones not to sing to guests who are sleeping. The Vegitones then try singing to an Alligater, Mrs Gater, who is in the bath, and she is not happy about this either. She quite severe and fierce, and I found myself wondering who performed her. I mean the five performing  the principal monsters wouldn’t do any bit parts, would they?  According to Muppet Wiki (and it seems to have got a lot of info from puppeteer W B-P) my suspicions about who performed that Alligator are correct. I thought I recognised that fierce manner (it’s a bit similar to Miss Taptackle on That Puppet Game Show). Louise Gold does have a certain knack for that kind of battleaxe role.

Elmo and Phoebe go to tell Funella the bad news, but just then Monster Tea Time is announced. The monsters rush to the dinning room, and the vegitones decide to go there and sing, which puts the monsters off their tea.  Elmo and Phoebe are then able to explain to Funella that is what they were trying to tell her, the Vegitones singing is making the guests unhappy. Funella declares this to be a catastrophe, and so it’s in The Catastrophe Song, (which Funella sings on, although very much ensemble singing from her).  That’s the second time this weekend we’ve that song!  Cookie Monster suggests a way to solve the problem would be to give each vegitone a cookie so they would eat it and forget all about singing. The four Furchester monsters put their furry heads together. I love seeing Funella involved in this, not least because of her lovely orange fringe and pony tale. her hair reminds me so much the glorious mane of chestnut tresses. that a certain West End actress used to have.

Fergus has an idea, since he fixed the lift, Phoebe picks up on it at once, no one sleeps or has a bath in the left, what about lift music! So they put the vegitones in the lift. Phoebe and Elmo then persuade a guest, who was only going down one level and so was going to use the stairs to take the lift as “it’s more fun”.  (“More fun” reminds me  a little of the Bad Ideas Bears in Avenue Q, surely unintentional on the part of the script writers).  It works, the guest is so happy he wants to stay in the lift rather then getting out, and lots of other guests want to get in the lift too, but there isn’t enough room.  So it’s making the guests unhappy if they can’t get in the lift to hear the vegitones.  Then Phoebe has one of her ideas, How about putting the vegitones somewhere big enough for everyone to come in. SHe and Elmo lead the way, to the same area where the film was shown in the first episode. A stage and seating. Now the vegitones have a stage to perform on. Phoebe and Elmo introduces them with the words “Ladies and Gentlemonsters, this is the momnent you have all been waiting for  The Vegitones. And so the Vegitons perform “Dumbe Dumber Dumber.”  all seem to enjoy it, including Funella an Fergus who are watching with everyone else. I can see Funella bob around rhythmically, which seems to suit the piece perfectly. Everyone applauds and they do a reprise as the end credits role. Although I can see it would fit this episode. I was disappointed that for such a  musical episode they did not have the “Don’t Check Out” song, I do hope it isn’t dropped altogether. I like that song, and Louise Gold seems to very much lead her fellow puppeteers with that number, so it’s a good example of her lovely vocal talents.  It’s a shame a musical themed episode didn’t make more use of Louise’s talents in that line. But the veteran puppeteer made the best of what she was given to do., and made herself noticed.

Throughout this episode one thing which is really noticeable, and indeed noticeable on a lot of this programme, but particularly this episode, is that Funella is a wonderfully expressive character, even when not actually speaking, there is something about her facial expressions in particular and body language in general that  communicates so much to the audience.  It is something that many of the Muppets in the hands of the original great Muppeteers were fairly capable of.  Peter Fluck has been known to mention in interviews, particularly with reference to the Spitting Image puppet of The Queen, that Louise Gold is particularly good at facial expressions with a puppet, that skill of hers is much in evidence watching her performance of Funella. Her puppetry has come a long way from the time when she performed a singing tomato who promised “I’ll Ketchup”, and she did. Bearing in mind the way she learned her craft on the job back then her puppetry was surprisingly good for a trainee, but its really wonderful now to see her perform as a polished highly experienced puppeteer, but back once again interacting with similar kinds of creatures to those she started out with.

 

Episode 7, Toast With A Smile

[First broadcast on Cbeebies on Friday 17th October 2014, at 5pm]

This is for The Furchester Hotel, a relatively quiet episode.  The usually vivacious Funella is preoccupied with checking in some Amoeba guests (who are in a petri dish she is holding), which she has to count, only she keeps getting distracted, and having to start again.

The episode focuses on Mak Wilson’s main character Harvey P Dull requesting some toast to be sent up to his room.  Phoebe asks Cookie Monster (as Head Waiter) to do it, but he is too busy waiting for a cookie delivery. So Phoebe has to do it, and she and Elmo decide it would be the perfect opportunity for her to teach Elmo how to carry out Room Service.  We next see Elmo and Phoebe in the dinning room, with Phoebe instructing her cousin how to set out a tray, remember “Tray, toast, napkin”. That was the easy part. Next she shows Elmo how to carry the tray, watching out for various hazards: Don’t trip over the rug. Look out for the horses (two horses are having a race to the horse boutique). Always let others come out of the lift before trying to enter the lift. At this point Fergus exits the left with a trolley load of “Dirty towels coming through”.  For the home straight from the lift to Mr Dull’s room she let’s Elmo carry the tray. Unfortunately he has problems knocking on the door, and in trying to do so drops the tray. Phoebe hastily goes and fetches Mr Dull a replacement  tray of toast.  Elmo bemoans that he will never be able to master doing Room Service, but Phoebe comforts him and reminds him that A Furchester Never Gives Up. So it is cue into that song. How lovely, to hear that, it was absent last weekend.  Back at the front desk Funella is still trying to check in the amoebas. She asks Phoebe to man the front desk, while she takes the amoebas into the office, otherwise she’ll never get them checked in. How good Louise is at delivering dialogue like that.  Just then Mr Dull phones down wanting some more toast in his room. Cookie Monster has eaten the most recent delivery of cookies and is now busy waiting for the next one;  so with Phoebe manning the front desk, Elmo has to take the toast. This time he manages to remember everything that Phoebe taught him. Including waiting for Fergus to exit the lift first with a trolley full of “clean towels coming through”, and an additional hazard of The Teatime Monsters, he even succeeds in knocking on the door and delivering the toast straight into Mr Dull’s hands. As Elmo leaves it is Mr Dull who drops the tray this time!. Elmo is jubilant as he heads back to the desk to tell Phoebe he delivered the toast. At which point the two horses overhear and decide they would like some toast sent up to the stable room, Elmo is happy to oblige. Meanwhile as the episode draws to a close, Funella emerges from the office, still counting the amoebas, but once more gets distracted and has to start all over again. But the ending finds a welcome return of Don’t Check Out, the proper ending song, which was missing from the previous episode. I love this song, not only because it is a great song and very catchy, but also because Funella, with her lovely big strong voice, leads the company in singing it. And it’s always a treat to have Louise Gold’s magnificent voice properly utilised.  Interestingly in this episode, Andrew Spooner was surprisingly underused, only really appearing ferrying towels around, while Louise Gold had somewhat less to do than in other episodes, but made the most of what material the script gave her, and the subtleties she can incorporate into her puppetry are quite amazing. The episode overall gave Mak Wilson some good moments in the spotlight as Mr Dull, while Elmo’s struggles to master the art of Room Service, will no doubt be beneficial to the programme’s target audience, teaching them that sometimes it is difficult to learn how to do something, but with perseverance difficult things can be mastered.

 

Episode 8: Isabell Gets The Ding Ups.

[First Broadcast on cbeebies on Saturday 18th October at 5pm]

This time it is Louise’s turn to announce the title. (Nice to hear her getting to do that) As the title suggests this episode stars Isabell, the Bell Monster;With a strong emphasis on Phoebe, trying to cure Isabel’s Ding ups. If Funella and even more Fergus had been underused in the previous episode, this episode made up for that. This time it was Elmo and Cookie Monster who seemed rather less used.  The episode opens with Isabell in her usual place on the front desk, and beside her a photograph of her Cousin Dinger, who is coming to visit. Isabel Dings to announce the arrival of a Cow Guest Mrs Buttercream. Funella comes to welcome the guest, and Phoebe arrives to show the guest to her room. Funella notices that Isabell was a bit squeaky, and asks Fergus to oil Isabell, as they must have Isabell dinging on top form when Cousin Dinger arrives.

Now it is Andrew James Spooner’s turn to shine, as he gets the oil can out, and the funny part, the oil whooshes all over the place, Isabell is given too much oil, and there is a big puddle of ding oil on the floor, several puddles in fact. Fergus says he had better get a mop and clean the floor before anyone slips on it, at which point he promptly slips on the oil, before fetching the mop. Meanwhile Isabell is making some strange dinging noises, prompting Funella to come from the office, and Phoebe and Elmo to also arrive at the desk, because they assume there is a guest wanting attention. Phoebe realises that the problem is that Isabel has The Ding Ups. Fergus explains he accidentally gave Isabell too much Ding Oil., and also that he is busy mopping up the rest of the oil. He thinks he has done it, but then Funella slips on a patch he has missed, Louise puppeteers that well (though it also momentarily reminds me of the time that puppeteer acted on an episode of Scoop).  Phoebe suggests that she takes Isabell to the dinning room to see if a drink of water might cure Isabell’s Ding Ups.  But Funella is concerned, how will they know when a guest arrives if Isabell isn’t at the front desk. Elmo offers to act as a stand in Dinger, and demonstrates. Meanwhile Harvey P Dull is sitting in his chair in the armchair trying to read. He is not amused by Elmo’s dinging, and asks them to keep the dinging noise down. Then he gets interrupted again as Fergus comes past with the Mop and asks him to lift his feet up (so he can mop the floor). Funella decides that Elmo had better practice dinging. So Elmo does, but at this point, Mr Dull comes up towards the desk and slips on some oil and falls down, Funella tells Elmo that his Ding “sounds like a little blue man falling down”; She also tells Elmo that Isabell has a dingier ding, and demonstrates (being the excellent singer that she is this is rather more convincing than Elmo’s dings).

 Meanwhile in the dinning room, the water (we see a glass with a straw in it) hasn’t worked. So Phoebe tries surprising Isabel, but along the way also surprises Cookie Monster who is carrying and drops a box of cookies, which break, so Cookie Monster makes the best of it and eats the broken cookies (as they can’t be served to the guests). Meanwhile Phoebe and Isabel put their furry heads together, and Phoebe has the idea of trying deep breathing, which seems to partially work.

Phoebe returns Isabell to the front desk, thinking the Dingups have been sorted out, but it turns out they haven’t. Meanwhile Fergus thinks he’s mopped up all the oil, but monster tea time is announced and  the tea time monsters all slip on the oil. Meanwhile the Furchester Monster’s Never give up. This time the cue into the song A Furchester Never Gives Up is a little different from usual, as Isabell’s Ding to start the song is a Ding-up Ding, rather than her normal ding.

Having missed that song last week, it’s nice to have a double dose of it this week. Phoebe or was it Fergus then has another idea, tickling Isabell to make her giggle, this seems to make Isabell dingup less because she is buy giggling, so they all try tickling Isabell and her ding ups finally stop. Just in time, as Cousin Dinger arrives through the revolving door. Funella tells Elmo now is his chance, but Elmo says he thinks Isabell should ding to welcome her cousin, so she does. Cousin Dinger dings back, and then he promptly gets the Ding Ups too, which elicits a gasp of horror from the Furchester Monsters, as they’ve only just sorted out Isabell’s ding ups. What an action packed episode, and now it’s time to end, and here we have a lovely treat, Don’t Check Out is done in full with all the verses. I love that, because it makes Funella and Fergus that much more prominent in the song, and makes full use of Louise Gold’s glorious voice. All in all a really enjoyable episode

 

Episode 9. Mystery Weekend

First broadcast on cbeebies on Friday the 24th October 2014, at 17:00]

The episode opens with Funella and the others being all excited because the hotel is hosting it’s first ever Mystery Weekend. Two detectives arrive to check in, they are called Miss Marples and Penguin Mason. Nice to see Sesame Street’s flare for parody character names get a look in here.  (Remember on Sesame Street itself there is a detective character called Sherlock Hemlock, while over the years bit characters have included: Sally Messy Yuckyael, Ethel Mermaid, and, Renata Scottie Dog among many others).  Anyway on this occasion the hotel soon run into a problem, when they realise that they are actually supposed to have organised a mystery for their guests to solve.  Funella declares this to be a catastrophe, which of course cues into The Catastrophe Song. Meanwhile a Raccoon, called Inspector Raccoonso is also checking in. Penguin Mason then notices his luggage has disappeared, but there is no mystery about that, as Fergus enters and explains he’s just taken the luggage up to the guest’s room.  The Furchester Monsters put their furry heads together, and Funella realises that they can create a mystery easily. She grabs a paper weight off the front desk, and hides it on a table under a newspaper. I couldn’t help noticing how Funella’s  hands seem dextrous and good at picking things up, as though she would be a Live Hands Puppet. Yes most of the tine Funella looks as though she is a hand and rod puppet.  In true Muppet style (shades of TMS) Funella then slightly over acts that her favourite paperweight is missing. The detectives are pleased to have something to do. But when they lift the newspaper, they all find that the paperweight really has gone! Penguin Mason says he will look with his magnifying glass, but that has gone as well, Miss Marples says she will make some notes with her pen, but that has also gone. The detectives find some brown feathers, which lead them to a chicken “That’s Mrs Cluckington, she’s a guest” says Funella, sure that the chicken hasn’t done it. Suddenly Mrs Cluckington’s tira has vanished. Meanwhile Harvey P Dull is bemoaning that he can’t find his silver hairbrush.  Just then Monster Tea Time is announced. The Tea Time monsters almost sweep Miss Marples away in their haste to get to the dinning room. Penguin Mason thinks that they must have taken the stuff. But Miss Marples soon returns and reassuring him “No they just want a cup of tea”. However, the pair are suspicious of Cookie Monster whom they go to question. Meanwhile Phoebe and Elmo decide to try and solve the mystery themselves, they put their furry heads together, and conclude that as all the things that have been taken are shiny and Inspector Racconso is always polishing shiny things, could he be the thief?  Phoebe has one of her Monster Ideas, to leave out a bate, in the form of a shiny spoon and then hide. It works, Inspector Racconso gets the spoon and Phoebe and Elmo who are hidden see him take it. They head to the dinning room, where (with Funella and Fergus watching on) Miss Marples and Penguin Mason are interrogating Cookie Monster who insists “Me honest monster, the only thing me take is cookies”. Phoebe and Elmo tell them all the news, it is Inspector Racconson. They go to his room. Miss Marples is all for just entering, but Elmo says they should knock first, so they do. On entering Elmo says “Our stuff”, as all the things are there. Mrs Cluckington promptly follows them in and grabs her tiara back.  The raccon explains he is an inspector of shiny things. He just wanted to make everything properly shiny and was planning to return them afterwards. He is sternly told he should not take things without asking. He says that next time he will ask. – a good message for preschool children about not taking or indeed borrowing other people’s belongings (at least not without asking).  With that the episode ends happily, and Miss Marples and Penguin Mason are so impressed by Elmo and Phoebe solving the mystery that they make them honoury detectives and award them badges. Funella looks very proud at seeing Phoebe so rewarded. How does Louise Gold manage, without dialogue to make a puppet just look proud! – amazing puppeteering from her.

A fun little episode, with a message. It seemed a little short. I was pleased to see the episode end as normal with Don’t Check Out.

 

Episode 10. Animal Talk

[First Broadcast on Saturday 25th October 2014 on cbeebies at 17:00]

The theme of the episode is how Phoebe’s linguistic abilities really help the hotel to run smoothly.

The episode opens with Elmo doing a drawing of Isabell, followed by Funella dealing with some sheep guests. She reassures Phoebe she can talk enough sheep to manage. But when she tries to tell them their room is ready they seem to be frightened. Phoebe explains that this is because what Funella actually said was that “there was a wolf at the door” (a rather good example of how when people are just learning a language they often get things completely wrong).  Phoebe explains to the sheep what Funella meant. Meanwhile Fergus is struggling with a mouse, Mr Cheesechomper who doesn’t understand about needing to get out of the way when the tea time monsters rush through the hotel. Phoebe goes to the rescue and explains to the mouse. Then in the dinning room, Cookie Monster is struggling with a dog guest, he has brought her a plate of cookies, thinking that was what she wanted. Phoebe explains that the dog actually wanted a plate of doggy treats. Once he understands Cookie Monster fetches the doggy treats for the guest, and eats the cookies (so they don’t go to waste). The Dog, Mrs Woofberg is an interesting subtle performance, from someone who once had to act the role of a fox live on stage (without puppets).At first glance this seems like any other AM character, and yet if you watch carefully you can see she is in the hands of a very skilled puppeteer, who managed to covey a great deal with the character’s facial expressions. Louise certainly comes up trumps in a surprising little role.  Funella and the others say they don’t know what they would do without Phoebe being able to talk to the guests in their own languages.  Then, while Phoebe is explaining that the dog now wants to go to the hair salon, Elmo notices something, Phoebe’s voice is sounding a bit odd.  Soon it becomes apparent there is a problem. Phoebe has come down with Monster Mumbleites. Funella tries to comfort Phoebe (in a motherly sort of way), all Phoebe needs to do is rest her voice and not try to say anything for a while. But it’s a big problem for the hotel, how can they communicate with their guests without Phoebe. It’s A catastrophe. So for the second time this weekend we get The Catastrophe Song. Well we had a double dose of A Furchester Never Gives Up last weekend. Fergus and Funella decide everyone will just have to act out what they mean.  This spectacularly fails to work. Then Phoebe has an idea and (as she can’t talk at the moment) she points to a painting on the wall. Elmo realises what she means. He gets his chalks and chalk board, everyone should draw what the need to communicate. This works to some extent. Fergus is able to use pictures to ask the dog if she wants a shampoo. Mr CheaseChomper is able to communicate to Cookie Monster that he wants some cheese.  But Harvey P Dull is not impressed at being asked to draw what he wants, a cup of tea (after all they can all understand what he says, since he speaks English the same as the monsters), he draws a tea cup only Fergus thinks it looks more like a shoe. Meanwhile the dog has drawn something that is also puzzling. Suddenly a voice explains the dog wants a ball. “Who said that?” asks Funella. It turns out to be Phoebe. She’s better now. Resting her voice worked. Thank goodness.  Now everything can get back to normal., and Elmo decides to draw a picture of himself with his cousin, for her.  And then the episode ends with the full version of Don’t Check Out. I always like it best when they end with that in full, mainly because Louise Gold in particular, along with Andrew James Spooner sing it so well.

A jolly good episode. I rather enjoyed this one. It reminds one that various people really need their voices for work, and can’t work without them. (like singers and actors as well as interpreters). But it was also interesting in how it explored ways to communicate with people when you don’t speak each other’s language, which is also important, as anyone, including children can find themselves with classmates who don’t know their language. I guess I also liked this episode because Funella was around during a lot of it. Is this a cuddly-glamourous role for Louise? I think we could call it that.

 

Episode 11, The Furchester Hoo-tel

[first broadcast Friday 31st October 2014, on cbeebies at 5pm.]

It seemed rather appropriate that this episode was first broadcast on Halloween. It is not specifically about Halloween, but seems to fit in quite nicely (it was later repeated on the equally appropriate New Year’s Eve). The way the Hotel set has been dressed for this episode, also suggests it could be used at New Years Eve as well as Halloween, it’s dressed with some additional lights, and foliage as though some kind of partyish celebration, but not specific which. I think that is rather ingenious on the part of the designers.

The episode title is spoken by Louise, nice to hear, so far she seems to say these titles less often than Andrew, but we are only into episode eleven.

The plot involves an owl guest, called Mr Screach who will be arriving late in the night, because he is nocturnal. Because of this Elmo and Phoebe have been allowed to stay up late to welcome him. Elmo in particular is very excited about this, and sings (Capella) “Elmo gets to stay up late”. However, Elmo and Phoebe start yawning, which prompts Funella to remark (in a motherly way) that she is not sure about them staying up late if they are yawning. But A Furchester Never Gives Up, cue into that lovely song,  So Elmo and Phoebe have to find ways to stop themselves feeling tired, and stay awake till Mr Screach arrives. It turns out, though that even the grown up characters are having a hard time staying awake this late.  Fergus is busy balancing cushions on his head, to keep himself awake, because he can’t possibly feel tired when he is balancing cushions. Elmo and Phoebe try it too. But Fergus drops his cushions, falls onto them, and falls asleep., and snores.

The charismatic Funella, suggests that Elmo and Phoebe try her method for staying awake. Whenever she needs to stay awake she goes around the hotel hugging random things. Thinking of all the things that could do with a hug, including the furniture.  It is very funny watching Phoebe and Elmo imitate Funella hugging things, with her catchphrase “We welcome you with furry arms”.  Especially when Funella is also doing the same, and of course delivering her catchphrase as only she really can. Unfortunately Funella, on going to give the front desk one of her lovely big monster hugs and starts to feel tired, and then nods off while hugging a cushion (on the revolving sofa), she’s snoring a bit too. Just then Harvey P Dull enters, he has come to join in welcoming Mr Screach. His method for staying awake is that rather than sitting in chair he usually chooses, which is very comfortable (and tends to cause him to drift off), he will choose one that seems uncomfortable. Unfortunately it’s not that bad, and he nods off.  Elmo and Phoebe need to look elsewhere. Cookie Monster passing by offers to show them his method for staying awake.  Eating Cookies, in the dinning room he demonstrates with a cookie, but this turns out to be the last one in the jar, and after finding this out he promptly falls asleep at a dinning table.  Back in the lobby,  Phoebe decides that although she is going to stay up awake to welcome Mr Screach, perhaps she will just take a little rest, and snuggling down beside her mother promptly nods off too. So only Elmo is left. Elmo wonders what to do, then he has an idea, what if he pretends to be an owl? He tries it, but is soon interrupted by a real owl (well a real muppet owl), Mr Screach has arrived. Elmo welcomes him properly to the Furchester Hotel (ie with Furry Arms). Mr Screach sugguests that perhaps they should keep their voices down, so as not to wake anyone up. Just then the gonger bangs the gong for Monster Teatime, and the tea time monsters rushing through promptly wakes up Funella, Fergus and Phoebe, who all claim not to have been asleep (as Fergus says “I was just resting my eyes”. They learn from Mr Screach that Elmo welcomed him properly. “You did it Elmo” says Phoebe. And then they turn to look for Elmo, He has now fallen asleep In an armchair. Funella gets a pillow and a blanket and tucks it round him, in her warm caring way.   Then the short version of end song Don’t Check Out, I prefer the long one, but its just good to have that song.

All in all a fun episode, as they all are. I enjoyed it.

 

Episode 12: Furchester TV

[First Broadcast on Cbeebies on Saturday 1 November 2014]

One of the amusing things about watching the first broadcasts of this series on cbeebies is how the broomcupboard announcers get in on the act, with some little interplay that somehow relates to whatever is in the episode of Furchester Hotel that is on next. For example on this occasion one of the Broomcupboard announcers pretends to be acting out a TV programme.

On to Furchester, and it is Fergus who gets to speak the episode title. Watching the opening titles, I love the way Funella’s orange hair bobs about

The episode opens at the Front Desk, Funella has her back to the desk, as she is looking through the keys and pigeonholes behind the desk, she is singing to herself as she does do, and of course moving rhythmically to her music (oh that’s very like a certain performer, isn’t it). Two ducks enter, and Isabell dings Oh thank you Isabell says Funella, and welcomes the two Ducks Mr and Mrs Quackamore. They are quaking away, and Funella has to say “I am sorry but I don’t speak Duck”. One of the Ducks says “That’s alright, we speak Monster”, the other adds “We learned it from watching TV”. Evidently in this Sesame Street world “Monster” (Language) is like “Federation Standard” in Star Trek.  Elmo, Phoebe and Fergus take the Ducks to “The Paddle Suite”.  As soon as they get there the ducks begin looking around for something, eventually Elmo has to ask they what it is. It turns out they want a television. This seems to be an unusual request at the Furchester. Fergus says there is an old one somewhere in the office, and he will go and find it. Elmo and Phoebe try to amuse the Ducks by suggesting some games, but the Ducks are not interested, they just want to watch TV. The next scene takes place in ‘The Office’. We have heard The Office referred to several times, with various characters going into it (the time Funella took the amoeba’s in there so she could check them in in peace, and before that the time Cookie Monster got sent to look in there for Cookies (really to get him out of the way), but this is the first time we have actually seen The Office. It is small and very cluttered. Fergus and Funella are busy turning it upside-down looking for the TV set. Along the way they find a rubber ring, and a picture frame. And finally unearth the TV, Fergus takes it up to the Ducks room. As the lift has gone wrong again, he has to lug it up the stairs. When he gets to the Ducks room, he then finds that the TV is broken. He says he can mend it, but it will take some time. The Ducks are disappointed.  We are into Furchester Catastrophe territory here.  Once the song is concluded, Fergus and Funella suggest some games, but Elmo and Phoebe already tried those. Then Phoebe has one of her ideas. Using the picture frame, she and Elmo can pretend to be television and act out the various TV programmes the Ducks want to watch.  So Elmo and Phoebe wearing Duck masks do just that, they are also helped by Cookie Monster, who demonstrates a recipe (which actually just involves him eating a cracker).  For a while this seems to work, but then the two Ducks want to channel hop and Elmo and Phoebe struggle to keep up.  Eventually a swap is suggested, with the two Ducks playing at being “on the television” and Elmo and Phoebe, still in their Duck masks, watching.  Finally Fergus turns up with the Television set, which he says he has mended, but now the two Ducks are actually more interested in playing at being on TV., much to the amusement of not only Elmo and Phoebe, but also Fergus and Funella. The episode ends with the short version of Don’t Check Out.

All in all good fun, and nice to see The Office.

 

Episode 13, Penguin Bobsleigh Team

Episode first broadcast on Friday 7 November 2014]

Andrew Spoooner says the episode title.  In the hotel ‘Bird Ice Games’ are taking place, and the hotel is accommodating some of the avian athletes. This include an ice-skating duck, Mrs Flappingham, and a Penguin Bobsleigh team called The Ice Flippers. To help the athletes with their training, Fergus has built a bobsleigh run all around the hotel, which Elmo and Phoebe try out. At the front desk, Funella has been polishing the Duck’s skates, and hands them back to the Duck telling her they are all nicely polished. And then gets to see Elmo and Phoebe arrive in style at the front desk having just tried out the bobsleigh. This is Funella’s most noticeable scene in the episode, but Fergus gets even less of a look in. At this point The Ice Flippers, the two penguins who make up the bobseligh team enter.  And then we get a typical Muppety situation. It turns out that our bobsleighing penguins have never actually ridden a bobsleigh before, they don’t even know what it looks like (they first mistake a chair for a bobsleigh). So Elmo and Phoebe have to teach them how to do it.  The bobsleigh course goes all over the place, so Elmo and Phoebe in particular roam about the hotel catching up with the bobsleighing penguins, this includes in a corridor where Mr Dull is trying to find a quiet place to read his book in peace, and also the Duck’s room. Where, because, the duck is ice-skating, the floor is a slippery skating rink. Just then Monster Tea Time is called, and the teatime monsters in rushing through the hotel end up rushing down the bobsliegh course through the duck’s room, and getting stuck in the snow (of the course) just as the penguins and the bobsleigh enter that section. The penguin crash into the teatime monsters. Phoebe and Elmo are concerned as to whether anyone has been hurt, fortunately no one has, but one of the bobsliegh’s runners has been damaged.  Which as Phoebe says “It’s a catastrophe”, and so cue into The Catastrophe Song.  But on thinking about it, Phoebe has one of her ideas, borrowing the duck’s ice-skates to use as a substitute for the bobsleigh’s damaged runner. Thus the penguins are able to finish the course, everyone is impressed, and then the duck wants to join in, the penguin team have room for one more. I found myself wondering who  performed the duck, she was a good character. I also thought it was just great to have those penguins taking centre stage. After all Penguins have long been quite a feature of The Muppets (including the Sesame Street ones).  I couldn’t help noticing that Fergus seemed rather under used in this episode, and Funella was somewhat underused too. But that is a minor detail. It’s a good fun episode.

 

Episode 14: The Sculpture

[Episode first broadcast on cbeebies on Saturday 8 November 2014, at 17:00]

If Funella had not had much to do in yesterdays episode, she more than made up for it by featuring heavily in todays. An episode which also caused me to wonder whether the scriptwriters had seen  or were aware of The Lost Musicals production of One Touch Of Venus.  All of todays action takes place in the hotel lobby, a contrast to yesterday when action had been all over the hotel. Funella has arranged for a cow sculptor, called Henry Moo-re  to make a sculpture of herself for the hotel’s lobby. and it is now finished. Everyone admires it, and Funella says “It looks just like me”. For some strange reason the sculpture is holding what looks like a cookie, which Cookie Monster wants to get, and has to be restrained with Phoebe explaining to him that is not a real cookie, just a sculpture of one. Unfortunately the sculpture is very fragile, so no one is allowed to touch it, and the sculptor is very very nervous. They have a problem. How do they keep the statue safe? Charismatic Funella, who is very much the star of the episode, picks up a tannoy speaker, and makes an announcement, to all the guests explaining about the fragile statue. She does touch it several times while speaking, to illustrate her points, but fortunately the statue survives this. So maybe things will be alright. But then Monster Tea Time is announced and the tea time monsters rush through the hotel. Fortunately the statue survives this, but the sculptor is very very nervous and talking about taking the statue to put in a museum, where it will be safe. However A Furchester Never Gives Up, cue into that lovely song. The Furchester Monsters all put their furry heads together to think. It’s always lovely when Funella joins in with that, not least because of the distinctive way her orange hair bobs about.  They consider putting the statue in a room. Room 212 is currently empty, as there will be walls to protect the statue, but if it is in a room no one will see it. Then Phoebe has an idea, why don’t they build a wall around the statue in the lobby to keep it safe. Fergus immediately volunteers and does it very very quickly.  But unfortunately he builds the wall far too high, so now no one can actually see the sculpture. Fergus solves this problem by getting a ladder, the idea being folk can climb up it to view the statue. Unfortunately the addition of the ladder causes the wall to come crashing down, and in doing so shatters the sculpture.  The Sculptor is distraught. But Phoebe has an idea, why don’t they rebuild the sculpture from its pieces, so they do, and they seem pretty pleased with the result, and with the exception of Cookie Monster, don’t seem to realise it doesn’t look like it did before. The programme ends with the short version of Don’t Check Out.

All in all a fun episode. of course I enjoyed the fact that Funella was at the centre of all the action, it is lovely to see Louise Gold get a starring role, all be it on television and all be it a puppteering one.

 

Episode 15. Caterpiller Catastrophe

[Episode first broadcast on Cbeebies on Friday 14 November 2014, at 5pm]

I will draw attention here to the opening titles theme song. Mostly it is a great song and it is generally well sung by the puppeteers. However the middle verse suffers from poor diction on the part of Andrew James Spooner and particularly Louise Gold. I do wonder how many of the target audience will end up mispronouncing the words “So Genteel” as “So Gentile” or indeed howdentile as a result of Louise’s awol diction. Yes I know that Louise’s diction tends to go awol when she is tired. But strangely her diction is just fine on the other two verses of this song, and perfectly good on the end credits song. It’s just this middle verse of the opening titles.

The episode got off to a good start, with Louise saying the episode title, an indication perhaps that she might be well featured in the episode, as indeed she is. The episode opens with a new guest, Mr Squigglebottom checking in. He is a caterpillar, wearing a pink top hat, and he is on the front desk when we first meet him. Funella goes to do her usual welcome “Oh Mr Squigglebottom we welcome you with furry arms..” and then just as she is about the embrace him, says that as he is rather small “I’d better welcome you with furry fingers instead”, and those kind monster fingers do the job. Mr Squigglebottom only wants a twig to sleep on, fortunately Funella has allocated him “The Twig Room”. Louise is in her element, dominating the scene as Funella, I did wonder who was performing the caterpiller, vocally it sounded a bit like Andrew Spooner, but it was an accent that I think several of the men could have done. Elmo is given the job of carrying Mr Squigglebottom to his room, so that he won’t get squashed. This proves to be tricky, as just at that moment Monster Tea Time is announced, so Elmo has to dodge the teatime monsters. Mr Squigglebottom says he is hungry and asks for a leaf to eat. So Elmo replays this message to Cookie Monster who brings a leaf, and then Mr Squigglebottom ask for more, and more, in the end a tired Cookie Monster wonders if he would like a change and brings some cookies, but Mr Suqigglebottom says he is full now, and just going to spin himself a cocoon, his sleeping bag.  So Cookie Monster eats the cookies. There always seems to be some incident in almost every episode that involves Cookie Monster eating cookies.

We then have a scene, of early the next morning, when Mr Squigglebottom emerges from his cocoon, now transformed into a butterfly, still wearing the pink top hat, and decides to try his new wings out by going out of doors through an open window (in his room).

Down at the front desk, Funella finds herself speaking to another caterpillar, a female, Miss Scuttles, who has come to visit her friend Mr Squigglebottom.  Phoebe tries to call him on the phone, but there is no reply. So Elmo, Fergus and Funella go to look, and find that Mr Suqigglebottom is not in his room. I noticed that Fergus closed the open window, and no one knows where he is. Funella says that this is a catastrophe, as they have never lost a guest “Well not since last time…” Which is of course the cue into The Catastrophe Song.  The four Furchester monsters, led by Funnella turn their attention to looking for their missing guest, and trying to think where a caterpillar might have gone, one suggestion is under the sofa, because then he wouldn’t get squashed.  Of course they put their furry heads together, and I noticed on this occasion Funella was  bottom stage left in the group, normally she’s further to the back in the centre when she is part of this. But her orange hair still bobs about delightfully.  Mr Dull wanders through the lobby with a request, and is told “Not right now because we’ve lost a guest”. to which he says “Typical”. They also try looking in The Garden, to no avail, but this was interesting because it meant we saw a new part of the set, we’ve never seen the hotel garden before  (actually I don’t think we’d seen the twig room either). Only when Elmo chances to mention the cocoon thing, does Phoebe suddenly realise that Mr Squigglebottom must have changed into a butterfly, and they should be looking for a butterfly. Just then Mr squigglebottom flies into the lobby, and someone recognises his hat. He then greets his caterpillar lady friend, who is envious of his new wings, he suggests that she should try checking into the Furchester Hotel, as the experience certainly changed him. And with that it is cue into the short version of the end song.

Overall, of course I enjoyed the episode, because Funella dominated so much of the action, very charismatically. She was certainly well used in this episode. However there was one thing where I felt the script had some weaknesses., namely the fact that the viewers see Mr Squigglebottom fully transformed into a butterfly, just before he goes missing. In previous episodes when the problem has been a bit of a mystery, although there have been clues hidden around, the viewer has generally not been shown something explicitly that the Furchester Monster’s don’t know about. Ok there was the chicken pinching the corn on the cob, but that was a relatively minor detail, we knew that Phoebe was looking for the chicken and she soon realised where the chicken was. In this episode the viewers spent a lot of it completely privy to information the four Furchester Monsters didn’t know. I think it is better when the viewers only have as much information as Elmo and Phoebe do on a situation. But if course I enjoyed the episode, Funella was just shear furry charismatic brilliance. And the storyline was basically good apart from telling the viewer a little too much too soon.

 

Episode 16: Furchester On Wheels

[First broadcast on cbeebies on Saturday 15 November 2014, at 5pm]

Wow! I thought yesterday’s episode had been a good one, at least in terms of featuring Louise. But today’s is even better. The episode starts unremarkably with Andrew James Spooner delivering the title.  The episode opens At the front desk, as usual. In the foreground is a bed, which Fergus is trying to move. The action is initially centred on Elmo who is trying to learn how to roller-skate, with difficulty. Some convincing puppetry from Ryan Dillon, which kind of reminds one of Frank Oz’s tour de force as Fozzie, on The Muppet Show (in a series 2 episode). Mr Dull complains that the lobby is no place to practice roller skating, so Phoebe sugguests that she and Elmo go and practice in the skate park, the hotel has a skate park next to the bowling alley. Meanwhile, at the front desk  we find two tortoises, Mr Sheldon and Mrs Shelley enquiring as to whether their room is ready yet, it is not, because Fergus is still getting the bed there (clearly shades of one of his lines in the opening titles “Just need to get the bed”).  Funella suggests the tortoises might like the wait in the dinning room, as there is a lettuce special. How deliciously Louise delivers her lines, with complete conviction. Things get even better when Funella overhears the tortoises remarking that the service at the hotel is “slow, slow, slow. She immediately tells Fergus they have a problem, a huge problem, a catastrophe, their service is slow, and the guests won’t be happy with slow service. Cue The Catastrophe Song, hey we had that yesterday. I prefer A Furchester Never Gives Up (because Louise’s vocals are more distinctive on that) but this is a good song too, and of course she puppeteers on it (and being a brilliant puppeteer puts a lot of clever little nuances into her performance).  How can they make their service speedy?  Fergus and Funella put their furry heads together, fast (I couldn’t help but be amused by that, Funella’s hair stilll bobs about so distinctively even speeded up.  Then Elmo and Phoebe’s roller skating antics give Funella an idea. “Skates would make us fast”. So they all, including Isabel wear skates. And of course they all have helmets on. With Funella wearing her bright blue helmet (previously seen in the porcupine episode) over her orange hair.  A dog on entering, is promptly shown to his room by Phoebe. On returning to the front desk Phoebe tells her mother they now have a problem, that the guests are slowing them up. So they decide to give the guests skates. We find Cookie Monster in the dinning room carrying out his duties, while on skates, he looks very convincing as he turns, we do get a glimpse of Cookie’s feet in skates. But it is David Rudman’s puppeteering skills that really convince us. Cookie drops of the salads, and then very soon comes to take them away. Before the tortoises have had time to eat them. Just as they are about to protest, another expertly performed character whizzes in, and smoothly turns to a stop by their table, Funella, who suggests they tortoises might like to wait on the log, as tortoise guests always like that. Gosh what a treat, of a performance we are getting from Louise. It’s also the first time I can recall seeing Funella in the dinning room (apart from briefly during Mystery Weekend). Meanwhile Fergus is still trying to move the bed, which is still stuck in the lobby. He tells his wife it is a bit difficult on skates; but he thinks he’s got it now.  Andrew Spooner is another expertly convincing puppeteer here. Particularly when Fergus then falls down.  Much to Funella’s concern, Louise brings so much to her characterisation which makes it so convincing. Both puppeteers have their puppets convincingly lean on things as through trying to keep their balance and stay in one place while on skates. Fergus says “I wish this bed was on skates”. “What furry thinking” says Funella, so they put the furniture on skates, not only the bed, which Fergus then rolls across the hotel;  but also Mr Dull’s favourite chair, Mr Dull is not pleased about that, and the tortoise’s log, which the tortoises aren’t pleased about either. Just then we find  Mak Wilson’s performance of Gonger, balancing on skates as he bangs the gong for Monster Tea Time and then all the tea time monsters skate through the hotel, and of course into the log. At the front desk, the two tortoises announce they want to check out. Just as Fergus tells them that their room is ready. A concerned Funella asks why, and they tortoises explain that everything is too fast. Here it is Funella who dominates the action, as she mentions that they said the service was slow before. The tortoises explain that is how they like things, slow, they weren’t complaining. How well Louise conveys Funella’s bemusement at this. Just then Phoebe asks if they can take their skates off, as the skates are making them too fast. So they all agree to take the skates off. Then Elmo skates in to announce he has now learned how to skate. Mr Dull is appalled, until Elmo skates to a standstill and says “Elmo can stop too”. And with that the Furchester Monsters all decide to go over to the Skate Park to celebrate Elmo’s achievement. Mr Dull sits down in his favourite chair, and then the chair starts to move. He calls out “Hey you forgot to take the skates off my chair” and then “Make my chair stop”. With that the show’s Puppet Captain Mak Wilson has the final word. And then it is into the short version of the end titles.

A super episode. With Louise Gold really on her metal as a puppeteer. Charismatic Funella seemed to dominate much of the action, and the skill with which Louise portrayed her gliding about on skates was very very impressive. David Rudman as Cookie Monster and Ryan Dillon as Elmo also performed extremely well, and Andrew Spooner though less used was convincing too. I noticed that of the main puppeteers performing skating characters Sarah Burguess’s Phoebe saw the least action. I couldn’t help wondering if there was for a reason for that (and note that she seems to be the least experienced puppeteer of the furchester five). It was grand to see Louise Gold as Funella get such a large slice of the action. Not only did she get to be so brilliantly charismatic, but also she got to demonstrate just how skillful a puppeteer she really is. It’s wonderful to see her puppeteering talents displayed to the full on this international production. Let us not forget that Louise did a lot of her best known work right at the start of her puppeteering career, she had potential back then, but lacked the polish of experience; With the result that I think sometimes people don’t realise how good she is at puppetry, because they’ve only seen stuff from so early in her career.  The Furchester Hotel has finally redressed that balance, and today’s episode is a splendid example.

 

Episode 17. Monster Monster Day

[first broadcast on cbeebies December 2014, think it was 22 or 23 December]

This was the Christmas special, only rather cleverly the episode is not about Christmas, but instead about ‘Monster Monster Day’, which is good, because there are and have been midwinter festivals of some kind in many many different cultures throughout history.  One of the special features of this episode is the special effects, although we have apparently the exact same opening titles song, and a performance of The Catastrophe Song, at least as per the puppets. During both songs, we can see it is snowing outside, and the windowsills have snow on them. Nice special effect. The episode starts with Phoebe waking up Elmo (who is asleep in a High Sleeper/top bunk), she reminds him that today is Monster Monster Day”, at which Elmo says “Monster Monster Day that’s Elmo’s favourite holiday”. Next scene we find the two of them, now wearing party hats, entering the lobby, which has been decorated Phoebe remarks “it’s all monstery beautiful”. And Elmo says “Monster Monster’s gonna love it”, at which Funella chips in, in her motherly (Mrs Doasyouwouldbedoneby like way) “If he comes. You never know what Monster Monster will do”. Funella then says she has just got to hung this “fuzzletoe” up.  As she does so, Fergus calls Funella don’t move” very seriously, and then drops the seriousness as he says “Because you’re standing underneath the Fuzzletoe, time for a monster monster monster day hug”, at which he goes and hugs Funella. Meanwhile Mr Harvey P Dull is being a bit “Scroogey” saying that it is “Monster Monster day poppycock, everyone rushing around in silly hats yelling “Happy Monster Monster Day” when I’m trying to read my book”.  Elmo asks Phoebe to tell him the story of Monster Monster “Again” exclaims Phoebe. So we know Elmo has asked for this story a few times, but of course this is also the writer’s way of letting the audience know the story. So Phoebe tells Elmo, and therefore the audience “Every year on Monster Monster Day,  Monster Monster visits just one hotel, and when the nose of the Monster Monster Statue lights up the real Monster Monster lands on a roof somewhere, comes down In the lift. And sings the Monster Monster Day song with everyone  Here we can see elements of Father Christmas and other similar mythical characters. Just the Fergus calls out “Calling All Furchesters. Phoebe and Elmo (but strangely not Funella) rush over to see what the problem is. Mrs Popple’s luggage is stuck in the lift and Fergus can’t get it out. He says “I guess the lift is out of service until I can get this shifted”.  Elmo is aghast, as if the lift is out of service then there is no chance of Monster Monster choosing to visit The Furchester, as he always comes down in the lift. This cues into The Catastrophe Song,  which also ostensibly the same puppeteering wise has added snow special effects.  The monsters put their furry heads together and Fergus thinks they could try sliding the luggage out, clever Phoebe (she is the clever one) suggests they first try rubbing something over it to help it slide, such as butter. Just then Cookie Monster comes by and says they are all out of butter, because he just used up the butter making Monster Monster Day cookies, he offers them to the others, who reply “No now” he says “suit yourself” and  eats one anyway.  Just then a guest, Ms Soap, slides by, Phoebe suddenly realises soaps are slippery, could Ms Soap make the luggage slippery to they can get it out of the lift. Ms Soap (I wonder who performed her, could it have been Catherine Smee?) is happy to oblige. The three monsters try pulling together but still can’t quite shift the luggage, then Monster Teatime is announced, and the yellow teatime monster helpfully stops and helps Fergus, Phoebe and Elmo pull the luggage out. It’s interesting to note how sometimes Monster Teatime adds to problems, but just occasionally it helps to solve problems., and this is one of those occasions. With the lift back in service two humaniod muppets come down, and wish Elmo and the others a “Happy Monster Monster Day”. Elmo waits near the lift for Monster Monster. The nose lights up, but Monster Monster does not appear. Elmo is so disappointed even Mr Harvey P Dull is sympathetic and says “Poor little guy”, and then, we can see it in Mak Wilson’s puppetry, he clearly has an idea, and exits. Phoebe comforts Elmo saying she knows how he feels as she really wanted Monster Monster to come too. Just then Mr Harvey P Dull comes down in the lift, disguised as Monster Monster. Which cheers Elmo up no end as they hug and then Phoebe asks “Can I get a hug too”. It’s fun to see Mr Dull acting out of character. A nice performance from Mak Wilson (and kind of reminds me of the time Farkas Faffner got hit on the head and started behaving completely out of character on Faffner Hall).  Just then someone else comes down in the lift, A real Monster Monster. At which Elmo recognises the still disguised Mr Dull, and realises that Mr Dull “Dressed up as Monster Monster for Elmo” and is so appreciative he gives him a thankyou hug.  Then the real monster monster leads everyone, including of course Funella (with her lovely big strong voice) in The Monster Monster Day Song. This seems to be a Sesame Street monster parody of Deck The Halls With Boughs of Holly, well the same tune, but completely different lyrics, expertly sung by the Muppet Puppeteers.  I am sure the original or originallish versions of this song have been used in previous Muppet Christmas specials – certainly it is on the album John Denver And The Muppets A Christmas Together. (as is one of this programme’s singing puppeteers) Apparently it is actually a traditional Welsh Tune. (So perhaps particularly appropriate for a UK production).  It’s also kind of special for us Muppet Buffs  that Monster Monster himself is performed by Warrick Brownlow-Pike.  Really great to see him playing parts like this.

Fergus and Funella get the last word, as standing under the fuzzletoe, Funella suddenly says in an almost teasing voice “Fergus” and reminding him they are under the fuzzletoe gives him a hug, he responds by kissing her. It’s very sweet.

The episode ends with a reprise of The Monster Monster Day Song, we even see Sesame Street’s old Two Headed Monster joining in. Would love to know who performed it for this (as that character has sadly lost its special friends). For once, I was enjoying The Monster Monster Day Song so much I didn’t mind that we didn’t get the usual ‘Don’t Check Out’ ending.  And while Louise wasn’t used as much in this episode as she is in some of them, she had a few moments that were very much her own where her (and her character’s) vivacity came into its own. And although only singing as part of the ensemble, at least she IS singing on it.

One of the joys of The Furchester Hotel is that the ensemble numbers have lovely big strong backing vocals. With it being  Christmas, I was listening to the album of John Denver And The Muppets A Christmas Together, and also to the soundtrack of the film A Muppet Christmas Carol  the backing vocals on both of them are quite big and strong. The same sound of those sort of big strong backing vocals one tended to find TMS. I always think of that sound as being typical of The Muppets.  Earlier this year, I was a little disappointed that Muppets Most Wanted did not have such big strong backing vocals. We are fortunate to have that distinctive sound in The Furchester Hotel, and it is very apparent on this episode.

 

Episode 18. Pektity Woodpecker

[Episode first broadcast on Saturday 3 January 2015, at 5pm on cbeebies]

Andrew Spooner speaks the episode title The itself episode opens with the entrance of Mr Elwood the woodpecker. He seems quite jolly. As he is a bird, and birds like trees Funella has put him in “The Oak Room”.  Meanwhile Phoebe and Fergus are busy putting up a poster to advertise The DingaLing’s In Concert. Even Mr  Harvey P Dull seems to be looking forward to this. Mrs Ling is there, but Mr Ding her performance partner is not, though his glockenspiel has arrived. Mrs Ling had an interesting accent.  Then they all hear a strange tapping noise. Funella, Fergus, Phoebe and Elmo go to investigate, and find the sound is coming from The Oak room, on entering the room they find, holes everywhere, Funella asks “What has happened to this room?”, and on discovering that Elwood has been pecking it, she says they have a strict no pecking policy, and it is explained that the hotel is made of wood. Meanwhile  Elwood explains in song, with the Furchester Monsters as his backing chorus, that “A Peckitty Bird Is Who I Am”. The song  is great, and in common with many of the songs on The Furchester Hotel, has those wonderful strong backing vocals (that several Muppet productions had, which were strangely missed from the latest film).  So the Furchesters decide to find something Elwood can safely peck. In the dinning room Funella tells him their latest delivery of cheese has no holes in it, but the cheese gets stuck to his beak, it is too soft. Cookie Monster then produces a batch of cookies that he baked, but forgot to put chocolate chippies in, he says if Elwood could peck some holes in them he could add the chocolate chips, but the cookies are too crumbley, so Cookie Monster eats what is left of them and says not to worry he will go and make some more, but this time “me no forget chocolate chippies”.   Elwood suggests maybe he should just go and find a tree out in the park, but Funella declares that they will not give up, which of course is the cue into A Furchester Never Gives Up – of the two songs that alternate, the other being The Catastrophe Song, I prefer this one.  Just as Funella, Elmo and Phoebe put their furry heads together to think, Fergus enters and asks if he could “borrow a couple of furry heads” to solve another problem. So Elmo and Phoebe go with him, Funella says “and we’ll carry on in here . Fergus’s problem is the Dingaling’s in concert. Mr Ding has not turned up, and it’s nearly concert time. Mrs Ling asks if anyone can play the glockenspiel. Elmo says no, but clever Phoebe says “I can try”, so she does, but finds it too difficult to play well enough for the concert, but then she has an idea “this could solve both our problems”. she gets Elwood to peck the glockenspiel. At the concert Mr Dull is surprised he says “I thought woodpecker’s pecked wood”, to which Phoebe replies “This one also pecks the glockenspiel”.  Then just as the concert starts monster teatime is announced, but somehow the teatime monsters are persuaded to quieten down and become part of the concerts audience too.  Well they had to get monster teatime in somehow! The concert with Elwood pecking the glockenspiel and Mrs Ling playing the violin is a success, and the players ask for a special thank you to Phoebe, at which Funella looks really pleased. How can a puppet look pleased? Well that’s really down to the skill of Louise’s puppetry, as Peter Fluck as so rightly pointed out, Louise is very good at giving puppets  facial expression.  The episode ends with the short version of the end song.

 

Episode 19: Super Rock

[Episode first broadcast on Friday 9 January 2015, at 5pm on cbeebies]

It is Louise’s turn to speak the episode title, for which she seems to be playing around with funny voices.  The episode opens with it being very windy in the lobby, because it is windy outside and Fergus is trying to mend the revolving door, which is sticking. The result is that the papers on the front desk keep blowing away, much to Funella’s consternation, and Phoebe and Elmo have to keep retrieving them. Mr Dull Is also annoyed when his newspaper blows away.  Suddenly a rather strange guest blows into the lobby, a large rock in a red and yellow cape, Super Rock. Who says he hears the sound of papers in distress, and he asks to be picked up and placed on the papers on the front desk, holding them down. But soon after he hears the sound of a wall in distress, and asks to be taken to the garden, Elmo does so, and they find a brick has fallen down, Super Rock gets Elmo to place him on the wall and then put the brick in front of him, and then move him to nudge the brick back into position. Elmo wants to be a Superhero too, so Super Rock tells him he will need a cape, as his power comes from his cape. Elmo borrows a clean tea towel from Cookie Monster (who is hanging up the washing). Super Rock and Super-Rock-Assistant-Elmo head back indoors. Back in the lobby Monster Teatime is announced, and in the confusion, Super Rock gets dropped on the floor, and his cape gets torn. He is distraught because his powers come from his cape, and if it’s ruined he isn’t Super Rock anymore.  Phoebe says she knows how to solve the problem, they can sew up the tear, she thinks “there is some super thread in the office” and takes the damaged cape away to mend. But Super Rock says that will take time, and what is he going to do in the meantime, Elmo declares it to be a catastrophe, so cue into The Catastrophe Song. Phoebe and Elmo helpfully sugguest to Super Rock that really he just needs to believe in himself. Super Rock says he will try. Phoebe then goes over to the front desk and pretends the papers her in distress again (she blows on them). Super Rock gets put on the papers, and Phoebe can’t blow them. Unfortunately just then Fergus’s attempts to mend the revolving door, cause another guest of wind, much windier than before to blow in, blowing both Super Rock and the Papers off the desk. Elmo and Phoebe try to explain that was a really strong wind. But Super Rock seems distraught. Then Fergus gets stuck in the revolving door, which is now not sticking, but spinning far too fast. The other three put their furry heads together.  They need to stop the door. Even Funella is panicking, wonders if she could jump in and stop it, but Phoebe points out she might get stuck in there too. Super Rock says that when he was Super Rock he stopped doors all the time, but not now. Phoebe and Elmo suggest that if he believes in himself maybe he could still do it. So Elmo rolls Super Rock into the door, and it works, the door stops and Fergus is freed.  Funella then comes over with the cape and tells Super Rock “We’ve sewn up the tear, it’s as good as new”. (I find myself wondering if the plot intends Funella to have been the cape mender rather than Phoebe). But Super Rock says he doesn’t need it anymore, and had better be going as there are papers to weigh down, walls to med and doors to stop elsewhere. So Elmo takes him outside. And just then a new guest arrives, a Banana in a green cape, yes “Super Banana” (I found myself wondering was that one of Warrick’s characters?). And Funella welcomes the banana with furry arms.  And with that it’s time for the end song. Given that this was an episode I wasn’t too keen on, I was rather glad the ending song was the full version, which I like best, that brightened up the episode.

All in all, while I realise that the purpose of the episode was to teach belief in oneself and one’s ability to do things, I found Super Rock a bit irritating. I guess part of it is I’ve never been all that into Super Heroes, so the jokes get a bit lost on me.  I know that over the years Sesame Street has done various Super Hero send ups (the best known being the hapless Grover), and I must admit I’d love to see their Mary Poppins send up from 1993 (when Super Nanny Penny Pipkins got entangled with the grouches). That said I did enjoy the gusto Louise put into Funella’s panic over Fergus getting stuck in the door, and then the complete contrast with the calm way she brought his mended cape back to him. Of course it was nice that Louise said the episode title, And it was good to have the full version of Don’t Check Out. But overall there are other episodes I like a lot better than this one.

 

Epsidoe 20, Mr Huggles Hiberbernates

[Episode first broadcast on Saturday 10 January 2015, at 5pm]

Andrew Spooner speaks the episodes title; it seems that mostly he and Louise alternate. (though I think so far he has said it a few more times than Louise has). The episode opens with a large sleepy brown bear coming up to the front desk, Mr Huggles. He says he wants somewhere to sleep for the winter. Funella is behind the desk and in in her vivacious enthusiastic way immediately says “Oh you’ll love our hibernation site” “It’s even got a bed” adds Fergus. Funella turns to get the key, but when she turns back to the desk she can’t find Mr Huggles. She tries looking under the bookings book, and peering here and there in puzzlement, Louise does a fine job portraying the character’s bewilderment.  Just then Mr Dull asks for some help. Phoebe and Elmo go to sort this. Mr Dull is sitting in his chair, and Mr Huggles has fallen asleep on his lap and is squashing him. Phoebe goes to get “The bear moving trolley”. On asking for this Funella says to her “Oh you’ve found Mr Huggles.  Fergus finds what he thinks is the bear moving trolley, but it’s rather small “No that’s the bunny moving trolley” says Phoebe. At which point a rabbit pops up and says “Can I borrow that. I’m taking the family to the vegetable patch . They still can’t find the bear moving trolley, so decide to use the luggage trolley instead. It’s fun to see all four Furchester monsters heaving Mr Huggles off Mr Dull. I wonder how did they do that!. Then as they try to push the trolley we get Fergus and Funella pushing from one side and Phoebe and Elmo from the other, until Phoebe suggests it might be easier of they all pushed from the same side, so they do, and make their way slowly towards the lift. Just then Monster Tea Time is announced, and in the confusion, the luggage trolley rolls back some way, so they have to try again. But just as they get towards the lift, the trolley breaks. “It looks like the trolley’s broken” says Funella. “Yes a wheel has come off” says Fergus.  Charismatic Funella declares that Mr Huggles can’t sleep on the luggage trolley all winter “he wouldn’t be comfortable” she exclaims “We can’t have an uncomfortable guest, it’s a catastrophe”, which of course cues into The Catastrophe Song. (I had hoped it might be A Furchester Never Gives Up’s turn, but never mind at least this song does have those lovely big strong backing vocals. So the monster’s put their furry heads together and think, and decide that if they can’t get the bear to the bed they had better bring the bed from the hibernation suite down to the lobby. So Phoebe, Fergus and Elmo go to fetch it, and discover it is too big to go in the lift so they will have to take it down the stairs, Phoebe warns them to becareful no one else is using the stairs at that moment.  Once the bed is in the lobby all four heave the bear into bed, and he’s still asleep. The effort of trying to get the bear into bed has exhausted all four, and they collapse in a sleepy heap around the bed. Just then Mr Huggles wakes up, declares “that was a refreshing nap” and that before he beds down for the winter he wants a snack and a tour of the hotel. But no one answers him, they are all asleep, worn out. And with that the episode ends, with, joy or joys the full version of Don’t Check Out.

I really rather enjoyed this episode.  It was well scripted and rather funny. And all four Furchester Monsers got a good amount of screen time, including my favourite, Funella.  And ending with the full version of Don’t Check Out was the icing on the cake.

 

Episode 21: Ballroom Dance Weekend 

[Episode first broadcast on cbeebies on Friday 16 January 2015, at 5pm]

This episode gets off to a good start, with Louise speaking the title. Somehow I find myself reminded that back in TMS days one of TMS’s regular skits was “At The Dance which Louise certainly puppeteered on.

The Furchester is hosting a Ballroom Dance weekend, Evidently this is something they have hosted before, as Funella rather convincingly remarks how she always likes the Ballroom Dance weekend. Phoebe and Elmo are having a little practice of a dance routine which Phoebe is trying to teach Elmo, Fergus is busy sliding around very fast with the floor polishing machine, busy waxing the dance floor. Presently he announces it is finished. Interestingly for this announcement Fergus is shown full length with legs, instead of as is usual from the waste up. How did they do that, chromsky?  A miscellaneous Muppet drummer, Frankie, takes up a position behind a drum kit up on the balcony. Funella and Fergus, with great enthusiasm decide to try out the dance floor. They, and several other dancing couples, including a pair of rabbits, and a couple of chickens, soon discover a problem, Fergus seems to have overwaxed the floor, making it too slippery.  Interestingly here we not only get to see Fergus’s blue furry feet, but also Funella’s yellow furry feet. But of course even more amazing is how on earth do the puppeteers make their puppets, only from the waist up look like they are falling about sliding on a slippery floor. They need something to make the floor less slippery. Phoebe and Elmo decide to go and fetch some towels, as Phoebe says maybe they could wipe the wax off with those. Then Cookie Monster enters with a jar of honey he is taking to a guest Mr Bearlix. Cookie slips and drops the jar of honey, which goes all over the floor. At which Fergus confusingly exclaims “Honey!” As this is also one of his pet names for Funella she immediately answers him, and he has to say “Not you, honey, I meant Honey honey.  So Cookie Monster is sent to get some more honey and once again slips sending it all over the floor. Now the floor isn’t slippery anymore, so Fergus invites Funella to try it out with him. Soon all the dancers are stuck in the honey, except for Phoebe and Elmo who weren’t there because they were fetching towels.  We see Fergus’s blue paws stuck in the honey, and a rabbit’s pink ones, though not Funella’s. Fergus and Funella know they must think how to solve the problem, but as Funella points out “We can’t put our furry heads together when we’re stuck  - One of the noticeable things about this episode is that the script writers have given Funella some terrific comical lines to say, which she delivers brilliantly, giving Louise Gold a great opportunity to show off her flair for delivering lines. Phoebe and Elmo volunteer top put their furry heads together instead, which gives Phoebe one or her ideas. Why don’t they mop the floor, so they go to ask Cookie Monster for a mop. Cookie Monster arrives with a hosepipe, Phoebe asks him if he’s sure it will work, he says yes he uses the hose all the time to wash off sticky cookie crumbs (a line which would surely resonate with the grownups watching). Sarah Burgess delivers the line memorably too. Soon there is water all over the ballroom dances, including Funella and Fergus. But they aren’t stuck any more, only the water has made the floor all slippery again. The rabbits want to give up and take their ballroom dance weekend somewhere else. But Funella cues into the A Furchester Never Gives Up song. Phoebe and Elmo offer to dry the floor with the towels, but Funella declares there is too much water even the towels won’t be enough, they will have to use the fan. We soon find out why she said that in such a despairing voice, when Fergus switches the fan on and tells it “Fan do your work”. It blows everywhere, and is so strong everyone has to hold onto something. Funella and Elmo cling to a column, Phoebe ended up holding onto a lamp and looks very funny like a furry purple flag. – How did they do that with Phoebe!   She yells for Fergus to turn the fan off. He does. It seems that the fan has dried the floor, and now it’s just right for dancing on, but all the guests have departed “And I was so looking forward to the ballroom dance weekend” says Funella with convincing sadness. Fergus attempts to be cheerful “Well the four of us are still here” and he offers to dance with Funella. Now we get a virtuoso puppeteering display from Louise Gold and Andrew James Spooner as they perform Funella and Fergus ballroom dancing. Funella of course moves rhythmically anyway, But the shear flexibility of Louise Gold’s left arm and hand is just amazing. True she was very well taught learning her craft on the job on The Muppet Show itself, and now that stands her in perfect stead, as she gets Funella into a backbend, and quite often has Funella toss her hair about in that distinctive way Louise Gold has often made a puppet do over the years (a manner just like the way a certain British singer-actress used to toss her own chestnut tresses, when she had long hair).  It’s a truly lovely piece to watch.  Soon the other guests, including the rabbits return, having heard the music, so the show ends very happily. Yes we have the short version of the end song. But what a great episode, with some terrific puppetry from Andrew and Louise, Plus of Louise’s Funella was very much part of the action, charismatic, great at delivering comic lines, a rhythmic flexible mover.  A super role for the TMS veteran. What a performance!

 

Episode 22. Bebe Comes To Stay

[Episode first broadcast on cbeebies on Saturday 17 January 2015, at 5pm]

Andrew Spooner speaks the episode title. Elmo and Phoebe seem to be looking forward to Bebe’s arrival, she is another relative of theirs. It’s not quite clear whether she is related to Funella or Fergus, she and Elmo get introduced to each other as cousins too, but that could be once removed. Clearly she and Phoebe are cousins. I notice on her entrance Fergus says to her “How you’ve grown”, which might suggest she’s his niece.  The basic premise of the episode is that Bebe is rather like Phoebe,  another little purple girl monster (a paler purple than Phoebe) only er even cleverer. Which rather puts Phoebe’s nose out of joint.  

Bebe soon shows that she can speak and understand Chicken better than Phoebe, she can also help carry plates in the dining room, Phoebe isn’t that adept at carrying plates yet, she can also get the teatime monsters ton stop, by holding up a stop sign (to let Fergus pass), when Phoebe tries she holds up the Go sign by mistake. And finally she offers to show a Wolf guest who has just arrived to his room, before Phoebe gets a chance to do so.

There are two lovely moments with the Chickens, the first is when they arrive, and Funella as usual turns to Phoebe to translate, Phoebe says they want a room with an umbrella and a horn. But Bebe corrects her it is a room with a nest and some corn. Funella tells Fergus to put the chickens “in the Bork Bork Suite”.  Later the front desk phone rings. Funella answers it, it is the chickens and Funella then replays to Phoebe and Bebe what was said. it’s funny to see the way Funella attempts to speak the languages slowly and hesitantly, with a straight monster accent, basically the manner of someone who doesn’t really know the various languages.

Phoebe finds herself feeling jealous. In her motherly Mrsdoasyouwouldbedoneby kind of way, Funella points out that it is jealously, and that everyone is good at something As Funella says “I’m good at welcoming people”. Elmo adds that he’s good at handstands (and demonstrates). “But Bebe’s perfect” says Phoebe sadly. Just then Bebe enters, she needs help. She has accidently put the Wolf in the Chicken’s room and now the wolf is chasing the chickens.  The problem is she doesn’t speak Wolf. Suddenly Phoebe brightens up “I can help you solve the problem” she adds “Because I can speak Wolf”. Phoebe, Bebe and Elmo set off, they find chaos in the room (one of the chickens is attempting to hide by getting into bed). It’s a catastrophe, cue into The Catastrophe Song.  But afterwards Phoebe has an idea. Since she speaks Wolf, and Bebe speaks far better Chicken than she does, she suggests that she will get the Wolf away, while Bebe and Elmo keep the Chickens safe. They put the plan into action and Phoebe takes the wolf to another room. Back out in the corridor Elmo asks “Is Phoebe still jealous of Bebe?” At which Bebe seems amazed that Phoebe was jealous of her, and asks “Could you teach me to speak Wolf” “Elmo too” says Elmo. At which Phoebe says to BebeWell only if you help me with my Chicken”. At which the episode ends with the lovely full version of Don’t Check Out.

I’m not usually so keen on the out and out Educating about feelings, self-esteem etc episodes (Toast with A Smile, and Super Rock being two others in a similar style). But I actually rather enjoyed this one . I think also for those viewers who sometimes find Phoebe a bit precocious it was rather good to have a character who was just like her, but even more precocious than Phoebe. I guess I also liked the fact that Funella had to come over all gentle but firm (a bit like one of the grownups on Sesame Street) reminding Phoebe about jealousy.

 

Episode 23: Fergus Gets A New Plant

[Episode first broadcast on cbeebies on Friday 23 January 2015 at 5pm]

The episode starts with Louise speaking the episode title, and then opens with Funella at the front desk checking in some guests. She says to them “My husband will take your luggage up just as soon as I can find him.” She then calls “Fergus” in that lovely distinctive way she has (that sounds almost like a Lady Bracknell kind of a voice).  At the sound of that voice, Phoebe and Elmo enter swiftly and offer to show the guests to their rooms and take the luggage up. Fergus soon appears, but he’s literally got his hands full, as he is carrying his new plant, he announces “Meet Mr Evergroan”.The plant’s name is clearly a one of those wonderful Sesame Street jokes. A parody of the word Evergreen, but it soon becomes apparent that the plant does seem to spend a lot of time moaning too.  I do wonder who performed the plant, since the bulk of the episode focuses almost entirely on Fergus and Mr Evergroan, as Fergus attempts to find a place to put this new plant. Mr Evergroan insists he’s “really not fussy, but…” and with the but there always seems to be a problem with the chosen spot. By the revolving door is too drafty, another spot in the lobby is too noisy (particularly when the tea time monsters rush through), the dining room smells of cookies (a smell he dislikes – though Cookie Monster eats the currently offending ones but says there are more in the oven)), one of the guest bedrooms has flowery curtains (which he also dislikes) and the garden is too sunny. The exasperated Fergus leaves the plant in the garden for a moment or two, as he returns to the lobby and clearly worked up. Funella calms him down, with her calm gentle voice instructing him to breathe “in slowly through our noses and out through our mouths”. Phoebe and Elmo also arrive at the desk to announce gleefully that they have delivered all the guest’s luggage to the guest rooms. Fergus is still ready to give up on trying to find a place to put the plant. But Funella (becoming quite severe) reminds him that “A Furchester never gives up”, which is of course the cue into that lovely song. A Furchester Never Gives Up. Fergus then explains the problem, they put their furry heads together and Phoebe realises that maybe Mr Evergroan doesn’t like staying in one place and would be better off being moved from place to place. We come to one of those moments where a puppet character delivers a line which is particularly funny when you know there is a puppeteer underneath who has to say this (moments like Jerry Nelson’s The Count singing about how useful hands are, or Dave Goelz ‘s Ditz wondering how trees do it all day , or Louise Gold’s Raisin telling Ditz what a great tree he makes (because his arms were stuck up in the air),. In this particular instance, Fergus complains that he can’t keep carrying Mr Evergroan around all the time because he’s “too heavy  At which Phoebe suggests putting the plant on the luggage trolley. The plant is still temperamental, wanting to be pushed this way and that, but the exasperated Fergus is relieved of this chore by Phoebe and Elmo who actually want to have a go. And they end with the short version of Don’t Check Out.

The extraordinary thing about this episode is that it literally rests firmly on Andrew James Spooner’s shoulders. It’s nice to see one of the senior puppeteers performing one of the “grown up” monsters getting such a major starring role. And Andrew Spooner certainly does it justice.  Though Louise Gold and Sarah Burgess both have their moments, and whoever performed that plant.

 

Episode 24: Phoebe’s Key

[Episode first broadcast on Sesame Street’s Youtube Channel on Friday 23 January 2015, and on cbeebies on Saturday 24 January 2015 at 5pm.]

For the second time this weekend it is Louise who gets to speak the episode title. I do wonder if she and Andrew Spooner have taken it in turns, but up till now it seemed as though Andrew had a few more turns than Louise on this particular task.

At first I thought this was going to be an episode almost entirely carried by Sarah Burgess and Ryan Dillon, and it soon turned out to be far from the case. The episode starts with Phoebe and Elmo looking after the front desk, as Funella and Fergus depart for some time off (possibly a night out), in the hotel’s bowling alley. Phoebe cheerily telling her parents “Bye Mum, Bye Dad, enjoy Monster Bowling”. A guest, Mrs Jangles, who is wearing a lot of jewellery, is going for a swim and wants her special bracelet locked into the hotel safe while she goes swimming. (she doesn’t seem to mind wearing her necklaces).  So taking the skeleton key from around her neck (where she always wears it) Phoebe unlocks the safe and puts the bracelet away.  Elmo didn’t know Phoebe had the key to the hotel safe.  Phoebe and Elmo then have to take Mr Dull his bath stuff, which includes a large rubber duck (as well as towels and washing liquid). He thanks them but manages to lock himself out of the bathroom, so Phoebe uses her skeleton key to unlock the bathroom door. Elmo is impressed, and even more so when Cookie Monster passes by and explains that Phoebe’s key also unlock’ s his “Just in case cookie cabinet” where he keeps his “just in case cookie” in case he runs out. Elmo asks Phoebe if he can have a go, but Phoebe says no her special key is too important. “Oh ok” says Elmo, accepting this totally (I guess that is intended as a lesson in how to accept limitations). Elmo asks Phoebe what else her key can do, and she says “I’ll show you” and then proceeds to do so in song My Special Key. Sarah Burgess sings nicely, as one would expect of Sesame Street. But one also can’t help feeling this song, like one about talking like the animals do in the Animal Talk episode is a sign things are about to go wrong.  During the song, they are interrupted by Mr Dull who asks them to keep the noise down so he can enjoy his bath in peace, he then locks himself out of the bathroom again by mistake, but by the time he realises it Phoebe and Elmo have moved on.  Back at the front desk Mrs Jangles arrives holding her necklaces, and wanting her bracelet back. Phoebe has her key in her paw, just then Monster Tea Time is announced, and the Tea Time Monsters bump into both Phoebe and Mrs Jangles, we see everything getting dropped in the floor. Elmo and Phoebe help Mrs Jangles pick up her necklaces, but in the confusion no one (but the viewers) notices that Elmo accidently picks up Phoebe’s necklace and hands that to Mrs Jangles along with all her ones.  Phoebe goes to open the safe, and realises she doesn’t have her key. Just then Cookie Monster comes by wanting his Just In Case Cookie, and Mr Dull arrives at the front desk with needing his bathroom unlocked again. Phoebe is in despair. At which point Fergus and Funella arrive back from their Bowling game. How enthusiastic Funella is telling everyone with great glee that she won the bowling match by 7 points. Actually her glee at this reminds me very much of seeing Tim McArthur and Hayden Tee’s late night cabaret Dead By Midnight a few years ago, when a certain puppeteer was a guest on it and helped one of the audience teams with the quiz, and was jubilant when they won.  So who knowns maybe Funella’s touch of jubilation is based on somebody….

Fergus and Funella ask “IS everything alright”, at which Phoebe runs over to Funella for a hug and says “Everything’s all wrong, I’ve lost my special key”. Funella is very comforting, in a motherly kind of way, saying “Everyone looses things sometimes” at which Fergus adds that one the way back from the hotel bowling alley he lost his bowling ball. Funella continues “It’s alright we’ll find your key together”. she then says, and this line is very funny coming from Funella, “It’s not a catastrophe” (after all she’s normally the first to declare a catastrophe) . Just then Mr Dull chips in that he left his bath running. At which Fergus, quite calmly says “OK that is a catastrophe”, cuing them into The Catastrophe Song.  I love the way Fergus and Funella both deliver their lines so memorably with great feeling.  The monsters as usual put their furry heads together and think. One idea is to make the hotel really cold to freeze the water, but there's no time for that. Funella realises that Phoebe needs to calm down as that will help her remember, and so for the second time this weekend instructs a fellow monster to breath in slowly through your nose and out through your mouth”. This does the trick, as having calmed down, Phoebe remembers have her key in her hand coming out of the lift, “and the the monsters barged into us” says Mrs Jangles, at which Elmo, Phoebe and Mrs Jangles all realise what had happened, Mrs Jangles ended up with Phoebe’s key by mistake, she has it safe and hands it back. With which Phoebe goes to unlock Mr Dull’s bathroom, and then Cookie Monster’s Just In Case Cookie and gets Mrs Jangles bracelet from the safe. She declares that from now on her key will stay right were it belongs round her neck. So all ends happily, with the short version of Don’t Check Out.  All in all a rather fun episode. I particularly liked Fergus and Funella’s dialogue. And Sarah Burgess sang a lovely earworm of a song very nicely.

 

Episode 25: Mr Lawnmower

[Episode first broadcast on cbeebies on Friday 30 Janaury 2015, at 5pm.]

Andrew Spooner spoke the episode title. Then the episode itself opened with Fergus trimming one of his plants, who is off to a garden party. He then turns his attention to his Speedy Grow Vine. Meanwhile, Funella is behind the front desk, getting out her sandwich, which she places on the desk saying, to Isabel, that “there’s nothing like a sandwich after a busy morning.” Just then a guest enters, a goat named Mr Lawnmower.  Who (when Funella isn’t looking) grabs her sandwich and eats it. Funella welcomes him, in her usual way, but he just meres at her. Putting on a sort of posh voice, giving Louise a great opportunity to use a classy English accent, and deliver some wonderful lines, memorably (something she is very good at) Funella says “I’m afraid I do not speak goat, but my luckily my daughter does” At which Phoebe enters and speaks to Mr Lawnmower in his own language, giving Sarah Burgess another opportunity to do some animal imitations.  Funella tells Phoebe and Elmo to “show Mr Lawnmower to Billy Bedroom”.  They do so, but find that Mr Lawnmower tries to eat things, like his pillow and bed. Phoebe says that Mr Lawnmower says he is hungry, so they take him to the dinning room. Where he tries to eat the menu, and wants everything on the menu, a surprised Cookie Monster obliges.  Mr Lawnmower then requests some pepper on his salad. Now it’s David Rudman’s turn in the spotlight, as watching Mr Lawnmower eat, Cookie Monster says it reminds him of dinner at home with his mommy. Having eaten everything he was served Mr Lawnmower is still hungry and attempts to eat various furnishings in the hotel, as there is no more food left (well there was a cookie, but of course Cookie Monster ate that).  Back at the front desk Fegus announces he has finished pruning his speedy grow vine “I don’t think so” retorts Funella, as the vine seems to be spreading all over the place, including the lobby floor causing Mr Dull to trip over it. Phoebe comes to ask her mother if she has a sandwich to spare, as Mr Lawnmmower is still hungry.  Louise is very good at playing deadpan as she delivers a line that she did have a sandwich but it disappeared.  They declare the goat eating the furnishings a catastrophe (he even tries to eat Mr Dull’s chair). and of course cue into The Catastrophe Song, with Isabel’s ding into it showing Isabel on the front desk rapidly becoming buried in the vine. Obviously they need to put their furry heads together and think, as usual. But here we have a twist, just as they are about to do so, Fergus enters to announce a second catastrophe, his speedy grow vine is growing out of control. So they put their furry heads together, twice.  After this Phoebe says her catchphrase, twice, Fuzzawaba, Fuzzawaba, and suggests they could use one catastrophe to solve the other. Get Mr Lawnmower to eat the vine. So Phoebe approaches Mr Lawnmower and suggests he eats their delicious vine, but he doesn’t like it. Then Elmo has an idea, pepper, he fetches the pepper pot and sprinkles pepper over the vine, Mr Lawnmower declares it delicious and starts to eat it. At which it is time for the ending titles. Just before the door closes we see the front desk still covered with vine. Then it’s into the short version of the closing song (well I thought it was the short version originally, but some of the later repeats definitely used the long version, so maybe I misremembered initially).  All in all a fun episode.  Funella got some good dialogue moments,  and it was a nice twist to have a double catastrophe, of course there were two problems to solve before with Peckitty Woodpecker, but that wasn’t declared a double catastrophe which this episode was.

 

Episode 26

[Pony In Disguise, episode first broadcast on cbeebbies on Saturday 31 January 2015, at 5pm]

With Louise having done double duty on episode title announcing last week, this time Andrew Spooner did double duty (so maybe he has done slightly more than Louise, I guess we will only know at the end of the series, which we are now halfway through.  The episode opens with Funella on the front desk welcoming a new guest, Mr Carrot The Pony.  She says, speaking with great enthusiasm “And we hope you’ll enjoy our many many activities”.  Mr Carrot seems horrified, he explains he’s come here for a rest, he’s been giving too many pony rides.  Funella now demonstrates just how quickly Louise can change style, even when performing the same character, as without missing a beat Funella changes tack and says he will find the Furchester relaxing. Just then a humanoid Muppet child and parent enter, and the child seeing the pony asking for a ride. Mr Carrot says “Anything for the little one” and the child puts on a hat and hops up. Soon the other guests notice and want a ride too, as does Elmo and Cookie Monster. Fergus enters and complements Funella on pony rides being a great idea.  This gives Louise a splendid moment to exercise her powerful presence, grabbing Fergus, Phoebe and Elmo’s attention exclaiming, loudly, that “Mr Carrot is a guest, he’s come here for a rest, not to give pony rides”. The others catch on immediately. Phoebe suggests that Cookie Monster distracts the other guests while she and Elmo try to sneak Mr Carrot up to his room. So they try, and Mr Carrot is so pleased to see his bed. But then a rabbit knocks on the door and asks if his little rabbits can have a ride.  Discussing the problem, the monsters wonder whether they could try disguising Mr Carrot, so that he doesn’t look like a pony, then no one will ask to ride him. So Phoebe and Elmo set to work and try disguising him as an elephant. But a tortoise promptly comes and asks for an elephant ride, and in the process the disguise falls off. Phoebe then thinks of trying to disguise Mr Carrot as something no one rides, so they try disguising him as a lettuce. But then a humanoid Muppet child asks for a ride on the lettuce as “Whoever heard of a lettuce this big”, and again the disguise falls off.  Phoebe and Elmo report back that “the disguises aren’t working”. And, I think it was Fergus who said “What can we do”. At which Louise gets another chance to display her glorious presence and deliver a memorable line  as she declares “Well I know what we can’t do. We can’t give up” which is of course the cue into A Furchester Never Gives Up.  After this they are still discussing the problem, when Mr Dull chips in saying he doesn’t know what the big deal is, if someone asks him to do something he doesn’t want to do he just says “no”. At which Funella asks Mr Dull if he would actually like to join in the conversation and he says “no”.  But he has solved the problem, why doesn’t Mr Carrot just say “no” “Politely of course” adds Funella.  Mr Carrot isn’t sure he can do it, but Phoebe and Elmo get him to practice, with Cookie Monster pretending to be a guest, and he manages very well, Cookie Monster even compliments him on it. When a real guest comes and asks for a ride, Mr Carrot says “I’m on holiday, so I’m afraid the answer is no”, and the guest totally accepts this and goes off. Problem solved.  And then it’s time for the short version of the end song.

My only criticisms of this episode are that Andrew James Spooner’s Fergus seemed rather underused. And I was a bit concerned as to whether the solution could encourage the programmes target audience to object to doing things that they need to do but don’t want to do, which could cause a problem. But the programme is well researched, so I do wonder on reflection whether it was meant to be teaching children to accept that sometimes other people need to say no.  Overall I enjoyed the episode. Particularly Louise delivering some great lines and some splendid moments for her to utilise her magnificent presence.

 

Other episodes to follow

 

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