You most likely recognize the name Neil Patrick Harris. If you’re a present-day T.V. fan, you probably know him as Barney Stinson, the charming, likeable, unlikable character on the sitcom How I Met Your Mother. If you don’t have a T.V. now, but were once a child, you know him as Doogie Howser, M.D. (Uh huh, remember that show?) However, if you’re really savvy, or underground, or a giant geek, you know who Neil Patrick Harris really is: a card-carrying nerd. He is on the Board of Directors of the Magic Castle. He directs magic shows and he hosts magic awards ceremonies. He’s also a self-proclaimed puppet maniac. And as of November, his dream of working with Jim Henson’s legacy has manifested.
The premise of the project—the webisode Neil’s Puppet Dreams—is that Harris, who plays himself, dreams in puppet. There is very little beating around the bush. Each five-or-so-minutes show opens with a very brief intro, which loosely sets up the theme. Then Harris introduces himself, explains he sleeps a lot and dreams in puppet, then immediately conks out. Cue the puppets.
Without watching any of the episodes, you might assume, like we did, that they would be fit for kids. Henson, puppets, dreams? You bet. But the branch of the Jim Henson Company that Harris has partnered with is called Henson Alternative. Some of the other show titles on their webpage are labeled “Content not intended for our young viewers.” The humor of Neil’s Puppet Dreams is certainly geared to appeal to adults. There is veiled—and not so veiled—sexuality and very low-grade violence.
An example is the first episode, “The Lullabye,” wherein Harris dreams he is falling. As he plummets through fluffy clouds—albeit rather slowly—he is joined by three puppets with wings. They cajole him to relax, assure him he is flying, not falling, and offer to sing to him. The lullabye is soft and cooing, with reassuring words, but shortly begins to describe what will happen when Harris hits the ground. “We angels are with you, feel our love divine. The worst that could happen: you shatter your spine.”
It goes on from there, but doesn’t get much more gruesome. The song is just cute rhymes about smashing into the ground. It’s funny because of the juxtaposition between the lovely sound and the semi-macabre words. If your kids are older than 10, they’ve heard and seen much worse (especially if they play video games.) The viewer never sees the collision and then Harris wakes up. Younger kids will most likely find the episode funny and entertaining too. It depends on whether you’re trying to raise your children without knowledge of violence of any kind. Preview the episode first, but our rating is PG.
The episode “To Catch a Puppeteer” however will probably not pass the parent test. It’s a parody of the show To Catch a Predator, and features Harris as “one of the sickest puppeteers ever encountered.” There are no direct dirty words or visuals, but there are plenty of sexual overtones and puns. “C’mon, let me see your seams,” and “I just really wanna put my hand inside a puppet,” are some of the quips that get hoarsely whispered. It’s hilarious stuff. (An especially good moment is when Harris gets asked to name a sport.) The sexy jokes are probably beyond the comprehension of your kids, but if they’re overheard repeating any of the dialogue at school, there might be eyebrows raised.
To be sure your kids aren’t being corrupted by the felt and fur, you’ll have to watch each episode individually and decide for yourself if it meets your approval. However, they’re short and right now there are only seven. This means a wonderful afternoon break full of puppets and laughs for you.