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TV Series Review

So now we know what Julie Andrews has been doing with her time.

Andrews, the practically-perfect-in-every-way star of stage and screen, has been a bit out of the public eye as of late. Oh, sure, the 81-year-old actress served as the voice for Gru's mom in Despicable Me, and she gave Lady Gaga a big ol' hug at the Academy Awards two years ago when Gaga belted out some Sound of Music standards. But what else does an entertainment legend do with her free time when not so engaged?

She mentors a bunch of puppets, apparently.

To be fair, it's not clear whether the "Julie" in Netflix's Julie's Greenroom is meant to be, y'know, that Julie. "If she is," writes Los Angeles Times' TV critic Robert Lloyd, "she is awfully modest in never mentioning My Fair Lady, Camelot, Mary Poppins or The Sound of Music." But whoever she is, she's awfully nice.

The Hands Are Alive With the Feel of Puppets

In the Netflix show, Julie is a longtime theater owner who has taught generations of young, would-be actors, singers and stagehands the craft of puppeteering.

And while many of her past pupils were less, um, muppety (Broadway and Frozen star Idina Menzel stops by and mentions she's a former student), this year's crop is short in stature but long in ambition (and felt). And they're as diverse a crew as one can imagine. Enthusiastic puppet wannabe star Peri is of Asian descent. Wordsmith Spike is black. Penelope Guadalupe Fitzgerald Sanchez is known, simply, as Fizz. Hank rides a wheelchair. I'm not sure what gender Riley, the crew's backstage helper, even is.

And Julie's theater doesn't even draw the line at human pupils: She has taken a duck named Hugo under her metaphorical wing, too. As Julie says, "The theater never discriminates." (Tell that to all the actresses who can't get parts after they hit 40, but I digress.)

All of them are there to learn about theater and, by extension, the arts. Julie and her young, human helpmate, Gus, patiently walk their aspiring puppet charges through all the pieces it takes to put on a show, from set design to costumes to the music played in the orchestra pit. And it's all done with the idea that, at the end of the workshop/season, the pupils—called "greenies" by Julie—will stage their very own theatrical extravaganza.

Just a Spoonful of Performing Arts …

Julie's Greenroom is, in a way, Sesame Street meets Glee. Like Sesame Street, Greenroom is all about educating its young viewers. But instead of teaching them their ABCs or how to count in Spanish, this Netflix show aims to give kids an understanding of the arts.

Many education experts would say Julie's Greenroom comes none too soon. With many public schools either curtailing or abandoning their art and music classes, many children aren't exposed to music and theater as they once were. So Julie's Greenroom becomes a kid-friendly conduit to that world—a place where youngsters with a yen for the spotlight can learn a little more about it.

It also reminds us all that the theater (and the performing arts) aren't just about the stars who take to the stage: The folks who work behind the scenes are just as important to any good production. Peri may want to trip the light fantastic, but Riley just wants to build sets—and that, Julie tells us, is just fine.

But while the show may have a bit of Glee in its DNA, it doesn't carry over that former Fox show's litany of problems. Our puppet greenies don't swear or smooch each other: The worst we hear in Greenroom is the occasional "gosh," the worst we see is the occasional pratfall. While no show is completely without concerns, Greenroom is about as antiseptic as a television program gets these days. It scrubs clean Sesame Street's sometimes subversive wit and steers well clear of Glee's militant social activism. Julie's Greenroom simply wants to glorify the performing arts a bit and teach its viewers something about theater. No more, no less.

Julie's Greenroom may actually be a little hard for parents to sit through with their little ones. The show's tailored for young children, and it certainly hasn't mastered Pixar's ability to tell great stories on two levels simultaneously, one for the kiddos and another subtext for adults. The Julie we meet in Julie's Greenroom is wonderfully kind and thoughtful and, at times, fun, but she's not exactly given a lot to work with here.

Still, it's nice that Netflix is reintroducing this icon of stage and screen to a new generation—perhaps allowing her to encourage the next Julie Andrews to sing. (Or the next top-notch stagehand to pick up a pair of precision calipers.)

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Episode Reviews

Julie's Greenroom: Mar. 17, 2017 "The Show Must Go On"



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Julie Andrews as Ms. Julie; Giullian Yao Gioiello as Gus. Voices of: Jennifer Barnhart as Riley, Tyler Bunch as Hugo; Frankie Cordero as Spike; Stephanie D'Abruzzo as Peri; Dorien Davies as Fizz; John Tartaglia as Hank; John Kennedy as Toby






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Paul Asay

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