Muppet Stuff - ABC's The Muppetsby Chris Barry, contributing writer
From time to time here on MousePlanet, I have the utmost pleasure to cover what's happening in the world of the Muppets. Considering that something glorious happened in the Muppet universe last week, I thought it was time to check in with them again. That glorious event was the Muppets' return to primetime series television.
On September 22, 2015 at 8 p.m. on ABC Television The Muppets premiered and made this writer a very happy viewer. That's not usually too difficult for me when it comes to Jim Henson and his long lasting menagerie of puppets. As an official card-carrying member of The Muppet Show Fan Club, Jim Henson and his wacky clan of felt friends had me at hello. I was born in 1968, right in time for Sesame Street's debut. Like many others around me growing up in the 1970s, my life was Muppet-filled. My Muppet fandom came to a full-blown zenith when I completed a successful college internship at Jim Henson Productions and was subsequently hired to work in the New York City production studios. Life was good for this Muppet aficionado.
After Jim's untimely death caused a slowdown in production and my departure from the company, I watched for years as they appeared here and there, almost forgotten by a once adoring public. Even my beloved Disney seemed to take its time looking for the right vehicle to bring them back once they officially entered the Mouse House fold. In this fan's eyes, it was the Jason Segel penned 2011 film The Muppets that finally put these characters back where they belonged.
It's my belief that these characters are at their best when they are just being themselves—as much as inanimate pieces of cloth can really be itself—as opposed to say, "acting" in a spoof like Muppet Treasure Island or The Muppets Wizard of Oz. The joy of the original Muppet Show to me was always the interactions back stage as this band of misfits attempted to put on a variety show. They did their best and believed in their show, but most of the time, it was just barely controlled chaos.
This new iteration, simply titled The Muppets, finds the lovable rag tag crew (along with the occasional human being) doing their best to, once again, entertain people by putting on a show. This time it's a late night television talk show known as Up Late with Miss Piggy. Kermit and Piggy have broken up and despite the awkwardness and uncomfortable moments, the frog is producing his ex-pig's TV show. Confusion, hilarity and the classic celebrity cameos, a staple of Muppet movies and shows past, all ensue. This time around, however, the show is being shot "mockumentary" style, breaking away to on-camera interviews every so often, as seen on shows like The Office and Modern Family.
Much is being said out there in conservative America about the more adult vibe the show has adopted. Was that a not so thinly veiled reference to the Muppet band, Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem, benefiting from the recent proliferation of legalized illicit substances in this country? Why yes... yes it was. I, for one, have always enjoyed the edgy irreverence of classic Muppet material.
Needless to say, I was very happy with the premiere episode. I will say that it's a little racy for something that has the Disney name attached to it. Thus the complaints that are apparently being registered out there in "I don't have a sense of humor" land. However, in their heyday, the Muppets always walked a thin line between class and crass, so this should be nothing new.
With longtime Henson and Muppet collaborator Bill Prady at the helm, it's my firm belief that this new show will harken back to the days when the Muppets intelligently walked that line. Let's not forget that the intended title of the original Muppet Show pilot was The Muppet Show: Sex and Violence. It was reportedly named so because Jim Henson himself was concerned that his Muppet creations were being pigeonholed as kid's entertainment due to their involvement with Sesame Street. Personally, I've always felt it to be a stroke of Jim's inherent brilliance to reposition The Muppets in the 70's as more of an adult property. I'm not sure they would have become the phenomenon that they were without this move.
So far, with only two episodes aired this season, I can honestly say that I laughed out loud, that they shocked me a little bit here and there, and that I truly can't wait for next week to see where they go next. The bottom line is the Muppets are back where they belong, in primetime on a major network. Let's hope it lasts even longer this time.
One thing's for sure, I know where I'll be each Tuesday evening for the foreseeable future. The DVR has already been programmed. I've been waiting a long time for this and I'm in it for the long haul. It's The Muppets and once again, they had me at hello.