I recently delved back into Jim Henson’s The Storyteller to address the timeless bone of contention that’s been beating under everyone’s floorboards for ages: What are the top 5 episodes? This is a loaded question, but I’m going to do my best to resolve the roaring debate at long last. Should I fail, I leave John Hurt to tell my story in astounding detail and with uncontested enthusiasm.
Being that there were only 13 episodes produced—and this includes the brief second series concerning Greek Myths—it’s not difficult to sit down and evaluate them yourself. They’re all on Netflix Instant Queue, so feel free to play along, agree or disagree.
First, a brief word on my criteria. Since this is a Jim Henson series, there’s a balance in the evaluation between story quality and puppet use, with the latter holding the power to truly tip the scales. Should two episodes be nose-and-nose in both categories, the draw comes down to how much the Storyteller’s Dog (voiced by Brian Henson) is featured.
5. “A Story Short” Consider this The Storyteller’s “origin,” or at least something from his past that’s as close to one as is offered. Though many might long more for a tale of the dog’s background, “A Story Short” is a great little ditty on the nature of telling stories in general, in which our host recounts a time he was forced to tell a king a story a day. Should he fail, he’ll be boiled in the cook’s oil. Naturally, on the very last day of his service he runs out of ideas. That is, until something extraordinary (kind of a ye olde Inception) happens.
4. “Theseus and the Minotaur” While I enjoyed all four episodes of the Greek Myth series, this is probably the strongest. It doesn’t hurt that it also has the best monster, but overall it’s the most concisely told. Honestly, I could probably put all of Greek Myths in the fourth spot, because that series feels more like one anthology feature. Important note: no points were deducted for Michael Gambon replacing John Hurt as The Storyteller. Hurt is the man, but wouldn’t work in this context. Plus, the dog wanders the labyrinth with Gambon and constantly remarks on how “terrible” all the sad turns of the tragedies are.
3. “The Luck Child” A king attempts to kill a “luck child” that is prophesied to become king himself one day, discarding him into the ocean. Of course, with luck on his side the baby survives, and grows up just fine elsewhere. When the king runs into the child again 17 years down the line, he thinks of a new way to be rid of him. He’ll send him on the impossible quest of retrieving a golden feather from the murderous Griffin. The Griffin, pictured above, essentially has the face of one of Labyrinth‘s Fiery dudes. That and the old Ferryman pushed this episode ahead of contender “Fearnot.”
2. “The Heartless Giant” This little nugget came dangerously close to the top spot. It’s definitely the episode I remember most vividly from its original airing, and is the second directed by Jim Henson. Soon after a child frees a heartless giant imprisoned in his father’s kingdom, he discovers why he was put there in the first place. Setting out to right his wrong, he confronts the giant under the guise of servitude, helping tidy his enormous house while searching for the hiding spot of his heart. I really like giants.
1. “The Soldier and Death” Since this is the very first episode of the series, they had to prove they were gonna go buckwild with the creature shop. Mission accomplished. The Devils are kind of like the goblins in Labyrinth; full of all kinds of, well, deviltry. Rather than explain the premise, I’ll just insist you watch the episode. If you don’t have Netflix, it’s all up on YouTube here. If you’re too lazy to do that right now, just watch The Devils in action. Is it mere coincidence the #1 pick is home to the only other episode directed by Henson? Probably not.
So there you have it. Now all your deepest curiosities may lay to rest at last. Go and tell the world how momentarily satisfied you are, and enjoy your peaceful respite.