Time to Play the Music — “The Muppets” premieres with a whole new approach
Since the promos, producers, and plugs for the new television program to feature The Muppets have promised an edgier, more adult-oriented, “not your grandmother’s Muppet Show” approach to the program, fans, purists and the always irate conservative right went indiscriminately insane. The Million Moms organization staged a boycott, encouraging helicopter parents to forbid the show in their moral households. Angry responses flooded social media, lamenting on how “liberal America” has destroyed even our furry friends. Even Franklin Graham suggested the morning of the show’s premier that no one, let alone children, should watch this program. Mind you, up until about 45 minutes ago, none of them have seen a single episode. Somehow, the felt-tipped performers we all grew up with were now (and really, for the first time ever) the subject of great controversy. I mean, how could The Muppets turn their backs on fun-filled family-time television? Say it ain’t so, Gonzo!
Rest assured, your Muppets, my Muppets, our Muppets THE Muppets are still safe and sound where they have always been and where they should always remain – at the cusp between fuzzy family friendly and just at the edge of pushing that “we know the grown-ups are watching too” envelope they’ve been expertly pushing since they first appeared on TV nearly 40 years ago. Nothing is said or done on the premiere episode that garners anything more than a mild (a very mild) PG rating. Adult joke of the night – on his way to meet his new girlfriend’s parents, Fozzie speaks directly to the camera about his bad luck with romance. “When you’re social media profile says ‘large bear hungry for love,’ you get a lot of wrong responses. Not ‘wrong,’ but ‘wrong’ for me, you know?” If you’re the type of person who is offended at that kind of joke, then I don’t know what to tell you … watch reruns of Davey and Goliath with your kids. Rather than a variety show this time, “The Muppets” takes on both reality TV and the late night circuit. Co-created, written and directed by Bill Prady, the mastermind behind The Big Bang Theory, the program is a reality show based behind the scenes of Miss Piggy’s new late-night program. Kermit, the executive producer of the program, is in what he refers to as a “bacon-wrapped” hell. With his longstanding relationship with Miss Piggy only recently on the rocks, he has to deal with her temperament on the set even more than ever, not to mention he’s balancing his duties on the job with a budding relationship with another – well, pig, named Denise. “We met at a cross-promotional synergy conference,” Kermit says of his new love. “We met and we… cross-promoted.”
Kermit and his new love interest, Denise. Hey, the guy’s into pigs. Who are we to judge?
The other Muppets quickly fill into place in this scenario. Gonzo, Rizzo and Pepe are gag writers for the show. The Electric Mayhem Band is Miss Piggy’s house band (Zoot’s nearly mistaking the daily staff meeting for a 12-step meeting was possibly the show’s best laugh). Fozzy is Ed McMahon to Piggy’s Johnny Carson. Scooter is the talent coordinator. And what else could Sam the Eagle do but dutifully stand in as the show’s liaison for standards and practices.
It’s been four decades since Kermit and company first appeared on television in their own prime-time show. And nothing shows how long ago that was more than looking at the shows that were also popular during the debut of the original Muppet Show. Carol Burnett, The Gong Show, Tony Orlando and Dawn, and other sketch/variety shows were popular, so it made sense that the Muppets would have their own show with a revolving guest host to perform. These days, no one wants to watch anything unless it’s got a direct-to-camera confessional every three minutes. Reality TV may be the bane of our existence, but it’s redefined television for an entire generation, so why wouldn’t the Muppets cash in on this tired cliché since they’ve been doing that since the beginning? What’s also evolved with the medium of television is what passes for “family entertainment.” In 1976, a fart joke on TV was unheard of, but now, they’re balanced evenly among Nickelodeon and anything Seth MacFarlane is working on. In 1976, having a gay neighbor was shocking. Now it’s more shocking if there isn’t a gay character on your favorite program. What The Muppets have done isn’t delicately drop our favorite childhood friends on a new world four decades later, but to drop them into it like a dead weight. The wake alone caused by their disruption is worth a laugh, and the show looks like it’s well on the way of producing plenty of those.
Animal and Don Reynolds of Imagine Dragons trade techniques.
So no, this is not your grandmother’s Muppet Show, but your grandmother should dig this too, because it’s hip, funny, and best of all, it doesn’t dumb down its humor. It might not be what we remember from the original show (or at least those of us old enough to remember) but nothing has been taken away from the Muppets of that dusty old stage and that corny old variety show. If anything, a worldly and familiar glow is the facelift they needed.