9 July 2009 | F Gwynplaine MacIntyre
Hilarious, even though I don't get all the jokes.
If I chance by happenstance to be in France (or Belgium) whenever an episode of 'The Gen Puppets' is transmitting, I nearly always make a point of watching it: partly because this show is so damned funny, but also in an attempt to improve my knowledge of the French language and French culture. (I prefer to avoid subtitles.) This programme is, of course, in French, and it derives most of its humour from satirising current events in France (especially politics), or satirising international events from a French viewpoint. Even when I understand all the dialogue voiced by the puppets, I'm sometimes utterly baffled by jokes that are local references. Meanwhile, French people watching the same episode with me are falling about laughing.
The basic idea here was borrowed from Britain's 'Spitting Image': use puppets to depict real public figures (particularly politicians) in outrageous situations. The puppets here -- caricatures of real people, rather than faithful likenesses -- are impressively made, but I liked the Fluck & Law puppets on 'Spitting Image' much more. Fluck & Law took the art of caricature to the extreme, often viciously so ... whereas the French puppets on this programme have a more cuddly look, as if being reluctant to draw blood. Many of the puppets on 'Spitting Image' were often wicked commentaries on their targets: for instance, the puppet of architect Sir Richard Rogers had his internal organs outside his body (a reference to Rogers's architectural penchant). So far, I haven't seen that level of wit in any of the French versions ... although much of the scriptwriting is very witty indeed.
Naturally, Britain gets a look-in here, in skits reflecting Franco-British relations. The French troupe added a Tony Blair puppet to their contingent early on, but so far (as I write this) there doesn't seem to be a Gordon Brown puppet yet.
A delightful characteristic here, as in 'Spitting Image', is the ongoing interaction between figures who would probably (or definitely) never meet in real life. Just the other day on 'The Gen Puppets', I saw the fictional American physician Dr Gregory House challenging President Sarkozy on his health-care reforms ... both of them puppets, of course. The puppet-maker did an excellent job of caricaturing Hugh Laurie's face for the Dr House puppet.
The voice actors on 'The Info Puppets' splendidly capture (and subtly exaggerate) the vocal traits of their targets, including a wide range of accents. Well done, all! I'll rate this programme 9 in 10. I might rate it a perfect 10 out of 10 if my French were better, and I could understand all the jokes.