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What to Serve the Family This Holiday Season: 'Green Eggs and Ham'
November 26, 2019  | By Monique Nazareth

When I first sat down to watch Green Eggs and Ham (Netflix), I felt a bit like the guy in the book: doubtful that I would like it. I wasn't convinced there would be enough of a plot there to hold not only my attention but that of my 8-year-old son. What I found was a series that had the whole family around the TV.

The 1960 Dr. Seuss classic has only 50 different words in it. But it was very memorable, quotable, and it pushed the idea that trying something new regardless of your own doubts is worth the risk. It was apparently that idea that the producers of this series went with. Including Executive Producer Ellen DeGeneres, who told Variety earlier this month that she considered Dr. Seuss to be the first rapper.  "I think it's his simplicity," DeGeneres said. "I dont know; it reminds everybody of their childhood, so these are feel-good stories… It's the kind of thing that parents are going to want to watch with their kids because it makes them feel good, too."

The trick was how to take this story and not only make it into a 13-part series but an engaging one, appealing to all ages and yet stayed true to the aesthetic of its iconic author. That was quite a mandate for writer, co-executive producer and showrunner Jared Stern. Stern has a history of really creative and compelling story writing. Among his credits, The Lego Batman Movie and The Lego Ninjago Movie, both of which are family favorites in my house. He also provided additional story material for Wreck-It Ralph and The Princess and the Frog.

So here's what he had to work with. In the book, Sam-I-am, who loves green eggs and ham, is pushing the unnamed guy to try them. He refuses, but can't get away from Sam-I-am. They end up in various odd situations with all kinds of other animals, and Sam-I-am constantly pushes this guy to try the green eggs and ham, and he refuses. Finally, tired, wet, and worn out, the guy tries them and realizes he likes them. We have no idea why Sam-I-am loves this dish so much, what his relationship is to this guy, nor why the guy refuses to try something new. And that was fine, for the book.

Stern took this story and expanded the adventure as well the character development.  Sam-I-Am has freed or stolen (depending on the point of view) a rare Chickeraffe from the zoo, saying he intends to return it to its natural habitat and its mom. Sam is full of optimism, joy, naiveté, innocence, and sometimes sadness. Adam Devine makes a perfect Sam. He speaks like a man-child, who can be both annoying and endearing at the same time. And yet, as we later learn, he is more complex, and there's a reason behind his obsession with green eggs and ham.

Next is Guy-Am-I. Guy is worn down by his desire to be a successful inventor, but his inventions tend to fail. He's a curmudgeon who has lost his sense of curiosity, adventure, joy, and innocence. He takes one last shot at it, demonstrating his machine the Self Flyer. At first, it seems to work perfectly, resulting in his getting a ticket to Meepville to pitch his invention to the wealthy businessman Snerz. And then it explodes, taking with it his last hopes and dreams. Michael Douglas is the voice of Guy, and he sets the right tone for a character who is weary, guarded, and occasionally angry, and yet is a father figure.

Just to emphasize the differences between these two main characters, they walk the same path to a diner. Their approaches show them as opposites in every way. Guy meets Sam at the diner. They coincidentally have identical suitcases, which Sam joyfully points out. Guy is looking at the help wanted ads when Sam orders his favorite dish: green eggs and ham. You know what happens next. Sam insists Guy tries it. Guy refuses, saying he doesn't like them but admitting he's never tried them. Guy decides he will become a paint watcher and leaves the diner…. mistakenly taking Sam's suitcase instead of his own. He discovers that he has the wrong case and the Chickeraffe and has to swap it back. And thus begins their relationship and adventure.

Of course, what’s a good story without a love interest. That comes in the character of Michellee.  She's a bean counter, widow, and over-protective mom to her daughter E.B. Michellee wants her daughter to think of her as fun and a friend as well, as well as to obey her wishes.  She first sees Guy at his invention audition. And somehow repeatedly runs into him after. She eventually connects with Guy, even though she doesn't entirely trust him. Diane Keaton does a beautiful job of making Michellee strong, vulnerable, loving, guarded, and indignant. Her daughter, E.B., voiced by Ilana Glazer, is eager for excitement, and she is drawn to the Chickeraffe, whom she names Mr. Jenkins.

But what’s a Chickeraffe? He looks like a bit like a cross between a flamingo, ostrich, and an emu. He's part of an endangered species and rare enough that others are interested in him too. Mr. Jenkins has quite a personality, though he only caws and coos like a bird. He loves and trusts these people who say they want to take him back to his home. He's desperately lonely for other of his kind, finding comfort even among stuffed animal Chickeraffes at a carnival. He has hidden strengths and abilities to make himself very small or very big, and to protect those he loves.

This brings us to the bad guys and the BAD GUYS. First, there's Snerz, who is arrogant, powerful, and wealthy and collects rare animals and keeps them on a wall so they can’t escape. Eddie Izzard makes a perfect Snerz. And there are a series of other characters, such as the two BAD GUYS, played by Jeffrey Wright and Jillian Bell, who are like hitmen in hot pursuit of Sam and the Chickeraffe. Throw in Tracy Morgan as an eccentric fox in love with a chicken, John Turturro as a bounty hunting and killer goat, and Daveed Diggs as a French prison escaping mouse, and you see how this is a really fun story.

Every episode ends with a cliffhanger, making this a show the family may end up binge-watching. And taking us through all of this is the wonderful narration of Keegan-Michael Key, who gets as excited in his role, revealing the plot twists and laying out his own feelings for these characters. The series has plenty of homages to classic films from The Shawshank Redemption to buddy films like Planes, Trains and Automobiles, to the suitcase mix-up in What's Up Doc?

The animation is beautiful. It looks and feels like Dr. Seuss, with the bright colors and the very Seussian characters. It takes a village to build a world like this, and Warner Brothers certainly had that with its animation team.

The last time this Dr. Seuss classic got a lot of attention, it was when Texas Senator Ted Cruz read it out loud as part of his 17-hour Affordable Care Act filibuster on the Senate floor in 2013. We're perhaps living in even more partisan times now where there's so much tearing families apart. Green Eggs and Ham can't fix all of our family disagreements, but it is ultimately a series about friendship and family. It's the family you are born with and sacrifice for, and it's the family you create through friendship, love, and trust. It's about what brings us together.

So, I have to end by going back to the Dr. Seuss book and its final words: I do so like Green Eggs and Ham! Thank you!  Thank you, Sam-I-am!

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