Need to Know: 'Felt'
By Jerry Portwood
Pictured: Charlie and Thom puppets in Episode 3 of 'Felt'
These days, most people have a pretty open mind about what puppets are capable of. We've grown up with giant yellow talking birds, seen them helm action films (and have somewhat censored sex), even laughed along as swore and sang catchy ditties about racism and porn. Now, are you ready for the next step in the puppet revolution? In the show Felt, humanoid puppets act out real people's therapy sessions in a straithtforward, but strangely captivating, new series that shows the complexity (and humor) of relationships.
So far, the show's featured seen straight, gay male, and lesbian couples trying to spice up their bedroom (including a taste test of bacon lube at a sex shop), argue about body image, and divulge details that could be potentially shame-inducing if they were broadcast to the general public. Curious about the ideas behind the series, we caught up with producer Adam de la Peña (who also worked on MTV's puppet prank call series Crank Yankers) to find out why puppets in this case.
"Using puppets, having a conversation about therapy sessions, is a unique way to do it," de la Peña says. "It's an odd pairing and it changes the landscape of what you're doing."
In fact, it's the manner in which it allows viewers to access these personal moments without judgment that is truly groundbreaking. The puppets don't always stick to a hyper-realistic color palette, although they do resemble people you may know (no crazy-colored furries or oversized floppy ears here). As de la Peña explains, the puppet creators don't ever see the couples as they design and are crafting their faces and bodies based on imagination, although they may have access to the pre-recorded sessions to help in some cases. The puppeteers who bring the objects to life are also highly skilled, sometimes three of them working in unison to deftly show a puppet playing an acoustic guitar for her boyfriend. It may look simple, but it never is.
Also refreshing in Felt is the fact that moments don't come off as highly scripted and produced "reality" situations but rather are authentic moments from people's lives. "If people say they are going to discuss one topic," de la Peña admits, "and they don't, then we go with whatever they gave us. There's no one telling them what to say." That's especially true in the "homework" section when the puppets are given "assigments" by the therapists to complete on their own. This "in-the-field" audio recording means that there are unusual background sounds that appear during episodes. And that moment when gay couple Donald & Lamar go to the gym, Donald really was gasping and panting (and hacking), barely audible to the microphones.
"We're not just in it to shock people," de la Peña explains. "We are interested in these couples and their lives. We're not judging and we're having a dialogue. In fact, a few liked the experience and you'll see they returned."
In the third episode, which airs tonight, we meet Charlie and Thom (watch the preview clip here), who take a "passionate" word game to a local coffee shop and answer (some might say) scandalous questions frankly while in public (the reactions of granny puppet featured in the background are genius).
Watch the second episode below: