Greg the Bunny Review
The oh-so-adorable Greg the Bunny first appeared on a New York City public access show (Junktape) in 1997, and then went on to star in a few short films and features on the Independent Film Channel over a period of two years. FOX noticed something special in The Greg the Bunny Show (as it was then called) and brought the programme over to network TV in the States... only to cancel it after a brief run of 13 episodes. Which is a great shame, as the show unquestionably possesses on-target humour, overarching zany-ness, and a definite spark of brilliance which ties it all together. A longer run would really have shown the potential of the format (and of the writing) – but what we are offered on this 2-disc set is nonetheless a lovingly crafted collection of stories backed up by a wealth of special features that show a potential TV audience just what they missed.
Greg, a cute little bunny puppet, is one of 3.2 million 'fabricated Americans' living alongside mankind. Struggling against the usual prejudices humans hold against puppet kind – not to mention his need to find steady work outside of Easter – he pesters his slacker roommate Jimmy (Seth Green) to land him a job with his father Gil (Eugene Levy), who happens to be the director of a second-tier children's show called Sweetknuckle Junction. While Greg's initial intention is simply to interview for an assistant's position, through a lucky turn of events he manages to score the lead role in the show, replacing the crotchety and worn-down (not to mention perpetually soused) Rochester Rabbit, whose presence had become a drag on the series' ratings. Jimmy ends up taking the production assistant job instead of Greg and so the cast are brought together.
Sweetknuckle Junction is a show often described as 'struggling', and it's not too hard to imagine why considering its peculiar cast of humans and puppets. The human cast members are Junction Jack (a wild-eyed gun club aficionado who's both grumpy and slightly anti-puppet, played by Bob Gunton), Dottie (the irrepressibly bubbly, rather promiscuous, and ever-so-dim blonde sidekick brought to life by Dina Waters). On the 'Puppish' side, they are joined by: Warren 'Professor Ape' Demontague, a drunken, perverted monkey who would rather be performing Shakespeare and who – in both shape and irreverent demeanour – looks somewhat related to Flat Eric; Count Blah – a wise old vampire who is entrenched deep in a personal feud with the Count from Sesame Street over who stole whose schtick; Tardy Turtle, who is just… well, slow (in every sense of the word) but incredibly amusing; and not to forget Susan the Monster ('nuff said). In addition to the stars of Sweetknuckle Junction, there's also Alison, a network executive played by Sarah Silverman who Gil manages to blame many changes on (most usually the unpopular ones he himself has decided to push through), but who genuinely has the show's best interests at heart.
The series follows this core group of characters through all manner of insane situations, father-son conflict and reconciliation, antipuppetism and Puppish rights, sex scandals, blackmail, feuds with Corey Feldman (no joke), etc. It also draws upon some common themes of such television shows, such as bonding - in a cast that's seemingly so internally incompatible, friendship remains strong when put to the test. It's also clear that FOX had an influence on the show's wackiness, as characters do change over the 13 episodes presented here. Greg ended up getting real eyes instead of the plain buttons he starts with, and the show moved slightly away from being about the puppets to focus also on the father-son relationship between Jimmy and Gil, obviously wanting to capitalise on the star draw of Seth Green and Eugene Levy.
It's hard to put into words how the comedy of Greg the Bunny works, but it definitely functions on many levels. While I didn't find myself laughing out loud at many scenes which I'm sure would have garnered that response in others, I smiled and chuckled throughout the show, with a few raucous laughs from time to time. The puppets become very believable quickly, as does their situation... making a 'family friendly' children's TV show while discussing adult themes and situations when off-air. The dysfunctionality of their work environment is also credible, as is their deeper seated friendships and shared goals. The circumstances that they find themselves in are every bit as ridiculous as the central conceit that the puppets are really alive (pardon me for spoiling any illusions here!), and yet sometimes a little too plausible (as in the episode 'SK2.0', which bitingly highlights how consultant-meddling to 'reimagine' TV shows for a new audience often leads to disaster). In fact, thinking about it, it's quite hard to pick the stand-out episodes from the 'standard' ones – another fact that serves to underscore the high quality of the show.
The cast and crew do a really sterling job in bringing the characters and puppets to life. Seth Green is of course likable as Jimmy and Eugene Levy is more or less perfect casting as the nervous and put-upon director of Sweetknuckle Junction, Gil. Sarah Silverman brings superb comic timing to her role as network nazi Alison Kaiser and the two human stars of Sweetknuckle Junction, Bob Gunton and Dina Waters, give superb performances throughout. Added to that, there's the multifaceted talent that is Dan Milano (creator, co-writer, executive producer) who plays both Greg the Bunny and Warren Demontague and surely delivers the stand-out performance of the series, bringing two very different characters to life. He's joined by Drew Massey (who breathes life into Count Blah) and Victor Yerrid (whose turn as Tardy Turtle can't be forgotten either, as he portrays a character that never once failed to get a laugh from me with his often inappropriate comments that are just too cute). There are even a couple of notable guest stars in these 13 episodes; David Spade is very briefly in 'Welcome to Sweetknuckle Junction', Gary Oldman appears in 'Piddler on the Roof' and Corey Feldman gets to send himself up in 'Jimmy Drives Gil Crazy'. (Oh, and did I mention that he also gets to kidnap Greg?!)
Greg the Bunny is a breath of fresh air and very enjoyable to watch. I was a bit dubious at first of how the format would work, but I'd heard so many good things about it from America that I thought I'd give it a shot... and I'm very glad I did. The humour is fairly off-beat and wacky, but honestly I think it deserved a bit more of a chance from FOX and probably a lot better publicity – there's no reason a mainstream audience couldn't have grown to love this show, even though it's fairly obviously targeted at a smaller and more quirky demographic.
Just as a side note, the episodes are presented on these two discs in production order, not in the order they were eventually broadcast on TV. I'm not sure how much of a difference this makes, as each episode stands well enough on its own and there are no multi-episode 'plot arcs' in the usual sense of the word. Moreover, production order makes a lot more sense considering certain elements of the show… such as when Greg got his 'real' eyes; the broadcast order has a number of occasions where he switches back to button-eyes for no apparent reason.
1: 'Welcome to Sweetknuckle Junction'
Having a hard time finding work in a puppet-prejudiced world, Greg the Bunny cajoles his human flatmate Jimmy into helping him land a job at Sweetknuckle Junction, Greg's favourite TV show.
2: 'Sock Like Me'
Greg's ham-handed attempt to fit in with his fellow actors by making a little 'joke' results in near-disaster and the entire cast is forced to attend a puppet-sensitivity training workshop.
3: 'Dottie Heat'
There definitely seems to be a certain chemistry between Greg and his human co-star Dottie... but when the rest of the cast assumes their late-night 'rehearsal' was sexual in nature, feelings are bound to get hurt on both sides.
After a focus group of four-year-olds suggests that the show needs to be updated if it's going to hold the attention of the modern child, Jimmy leaps into the fray with his own CGI-laden, MTV-generation concept for the future of Sweetknuckle Junction.
5: 'Piddler on the Roof'
After hearing from Gil that network executive Alison won't let him deliver a few choice Shakespearean monologues on the show, Warren Demontague chooses to take his revenge in a rather unsavoury fashion.
6: 'Rabbit Redux'
Both Greg and Jimmy find their plans going completely awry in this episode, which sees the former trying to give Rochester Rabbit a second chance on the show while the latter attempts to make Alison jealous.
7: 'Father & Son Reunion'
A much more 'human-focused' episode, this instalment sees Jimmy distraught by the discovery that his mum is seeking a divorce and gives Gil a chance to show his son how much he really cares for him.
8: 'Jimmy Drives Gil Crazy'
Caught up in the ongoing feud between Hollywood neighbours Warren Montague and Corey Feldman, the dynamic duo embark upon a simple errand which ends up in humiliation for Jimmy and kidnapping and grand theft auto for Greg.
9: 'Greg Gets Puppish'
Exhorted by a puppets' rights leader to use his star role in Sweetknuckle Junction as a means to 'spread the word', the always-impressionable Greg the Bunny quickly starts wearing outlandish Puppish clothing, demands that the show's script be rewritten entirely in the Puppish language, and eschews his 'Fleshie' name for his true Puppish one... Bizzleburp.
When an attractive reporter from TV Guide turns up on the set to do a write-up of Sweetknuckle Junction, Jimmy and Greg both try to chat her up... but in the background, Alison is losing her cool, fearing the PR repercussions should the show's cast come across as anything like as dysfunctional as it really is.
11: 'The Jewel Heist'
When Jimmy starts dating a woman with an aggressive, puppet-hating dog, Greg finds himself in a tight spot until Junction Jack hatches a plan to give the pooch a more docile demeanour.
12: 'The Singing Mailman'
Yet another of Dottie's past indiscretions comes back to haunt her in this episode, when an unscrupulous Goodwill employee resorts to blackmail after finding a dodgy video starring her amongst the last box of clothing she donated.
13: 'Blah Bawls'
Greg and Jimmy's scheme to set Count Blah up with a new woman (his own wife having died many years ago) only leads to more mayhem when Blah hooks up with the one woman Warren can't live without – his ex-wife!
Greg the Bunny was actually shot in HD widescreen video on digital cameras, but is presented here in non-anamorphic fullscreen, the same 4:3 ratio as it was broadcast on TV. (Apparently the widescreen versions of these episodes are still floating around somewhere, but they're not available on DVD as far as I know.) The image quality is very crisp, with deep, rich colours and very nice black levels. There are actually very few picture problems to speak of; it's really an excellent transfer, as you might expect from a recent television show and also one shot in high definition.
The sound is presented in Dolby Surround, which is probably a better format than is actually required for this particular series. Obviously a dialogue-driven comedy like this is not going to show off speaker directionality as much as an action-packed TV show, but ambient sound effects employ just enough of the rear soundstage to at least give the Dolby soundtrack something of a workout. As one would expect, all of the vocal performances are clear throughout. Nor are they tarnished by the quite appropriate and well-chosen background music which forms an integral part of the series.
Menus & Extras
This DVD package is about as complete as anyone could reasonably hope for – the sort of loving treatment that I wish many other cancelled shows would receive when they come out on disc. This release truly forms a remarkable tribute to Greg the Bunny, presenting a full raft of special features which reward the loyal fans for their support of the series and will certainly make a great first impression for those who have yet to see it.
However, first a word about the disc menus, which at first appear overly simplistic, considering that they are comprised for the most part of static screens without any animation or fancy transition effects (although the main menu does cycle through a series of short video clips from the show). But there are a number of narrative audio segments, and while it's the sort of thing you might not notice the first time through (in your eagerness to play the pilot episode), if you give it a chance you'll be surprised at how endearing it is. For example, the main menu on the first disc features Greg explaining how DVD menus work and enthusing upon the DVD format in general, while gently encouraging you to make a selection in that cute, bunny-like way of his. The main menu on the second disc has Warren Demontague doing pretty much the same, but of course in a vastly more sarcastic and flippant manner – that cheeky monkey. And let's not forget the episode selection sub-menu narrated by Count Blah and Tardy Turtle! Honestly, this description doesn't do justice to how amusing Dan Milano and Co have made their creations and you can actually sit and listen to the menus for a fair while before feeling any real need to press a button... my personal favourite bits being Warren calling me a couch potato, and Greg working out that if I need to pick another language I may not even understand what he's saying about how to pick another language!
The special features, split across both discs in this set, also reveal quite amazing candour when it comes to discussing changes in the show and why it was cancelled. But before we go into that, here's a quick run-down of what you get alongside 13 half-hour episodes of wacky comedy.
First off, there are commentaries on no fewer than 6 of the 13 episodes. (Not bad when you consider that even hit series like Buffy and The X-Files generally only manage commentaries on about 4-6 episodes out of a box set of 22-24.) These commentary tracks run the gamut from the in-character silliness of the puppets in a room together discussing their acting and anecdotes about the show, to more serious real-life discussions about why the show was cancelled, what changes were made to it along the way, how it evolved story-wise, and even fiddly legal aspects... such as how by not airing the last two episodes FOX got to hold onto the rights to the show. There's a palpable undercurrent of sadness that this show wasn't given enough of a chance to establish itself, but this doesn't skew the commentaries, which are remarkably honest as well as being interesting. Specifically, the episodes and their commentators are:
• 'Welcome to Sweetknuckle Junction' – Dan Milano, Jim Dultz, Howard Paar, Brad Elliot
• 'Sock Like Me' – Dan Milano, Seth Green, Bob Gunton, Drew Massey, Victor Yerrid, James Murray
• 'Piddler on the Roof' – Dan Milano, Seth Green, Sarah Silverman, Dina Waters, Drew Massey, Victor Yerrid, James Murray
• 'Rabbit Redux' – Dan Milano, Brent Carpenter, Bill Freiberger, James Murray
• 'Jimmy Drives Gil Crazy' – Greg the Bunny, Seth Green, Bob Gunton, Warren, Count Blah, Tardy Turtle, Rochester Rabbit, Susan the Monster, etc.
• 'The Singing Mailman' – Dan Milano, Seth Green, Sarah Silverman, Dina Waters, Drew Massey, Victor Yerrid, James Murray
The Deleted Scenes section is spread over both discs and runs to about 17 minutes overall. You can watch them with or without commentary from creator Dan Milano. They're fun and interesting, but overall I didn't see many that I was particularly surprised got cut.
A rather more meaty extra is The Humans Behind the Fabricated Americans, which is over half an hour of featurette that examines the origins of the show, the casting of both the puppets and the puppeteers, the technical aspects of shooting the show and the many problems that seemed to dog the footsteps of the series. And, despite the title, it also takes an in-depth look at the human cast, so never fear! Dan Milano (who co-created, executive produced, wrote and played both Greg and Warren), Victor Yerrid (Tardy the Turtle), Drew Massey (Count Blah), Seth Green and Eugene Levy all take part in this informative piece which helped to explain a lot of the background for me, as I'd never actually seen the show before... just a handful of interviews with Seth Green talking about starring alongside a puppet!
And talking of puppets, the extras also includes an insight into the puppet auditions, which is a pretty amusing addition and clocks in at over 6 minutes long – assembled from the strange pitching meetings that eventually sold network executives on the concept of the show. There's also 21 screens of conceptual artwork included as another extra, primarily focusing on the puppet design, of course, but also covering some of the sets as well.
For completeness, an episode of the Independent Film Channel The Greg the Bunny Show is included here so we can see the origins of the series. The episode shown is called Reality and Greg is just as cute here as he is on the network TV version of his show (but with rather more star time and less supporting cast), and seems genuinely concerned by the question of whether or not he's real. (As in, 'Do I have a life when the camera isn't running?') Come to think of it, I found it just as quirky but not really as funny as the FOX version, for better or for worse.
There's also a short film Tardy Delivery featuring the cast and crew of Greg the Bunny with optional commentary from Drew Massey and Victor Yerrid. It's really included for fans of Tardy – of which there are many, and it's both sweet and very funny, if a little silly.
The wrap reel made at the conclusion of the first (and only!) season of the show is also provided here, and is just under 7 minutes of cast and crew goofing around and demonstrating to the viewer just how well they really got on behind-the-scenes. It's not your usual 'goodbye' fest, and again was a bit too sweet for my tastes.
Rounding out the special features are 22 behind-the-scenes stills, 83 pages (!) of storyboards from 'Jimmy Drives Gil Crazy' and a publicity gallery showing just how bizarrely (and ineptly) FOX chose to market this show with many clips and stills. The menus also contain some amusing easter eggs behind them, including 'Warren's Play – Dailies' on disc 1 and on disc 2 'Dina Cracks Up', 'Greg Tries to Exit Door', 'Cast and Puppeteers Singing on Set', 'Warren and Seth', 'Turkey Dance', 'Sarah Silverman Does Stand-Up', 'Dog Bites Rochester', 'Sarah Walks By', 'Seth and Greg Do Willy and Alf'. Again, they go to show the fun and friendship behind this show. Just as one added note, out-takes, which you would normally expect to find shunted off into the disc extras, are actually shown during the closing credits of each episode.
Greg the Bunny is a fun show which manages to combine eclectic comedy with more traditional sitcom fare and to emerge not merely unscathed but stronger from the experiment. Puppets acting like humans – with all of the concomitant swearing, boozing and womanising (all of the puppets, aside from Susan the Monster, are male) – is pretty funny in and of itself, but not nearly as hilarious as it ends up being through the class comedic writing and spot-on performances highlighted during the brief run of this show. While the series' humour might not have achieved episode-on-episode consistency in this first season, it seems likely that it would have done had it just been given a slightly longer lease on life. Regardless, it's certainly highly unorthodox, so if you like your comedy a trifle on the bizarre side, then this might well be right up your alley. Beyond the value of the show itself, however, is the superb quality of this DVD package, which has been lovingly put-together and is of a very high standard all around.
Last updated: 19/04/2018 11:02:47