There are very few things that had more of an impact on me as a child than The Muppets. I’m fairly certain I watched my VHS of The Muppet Movie so many times that it started to wear out and I had a Kermit with me just about everywhere I went. Jim Henson didn’t just create a world of incredibly clever and funny characters that appealed to both kids and adults, but a family with a dynamic that felt truly authentic. I could not have been happier when the troupe made their grand return in 2011 with the help of Jason Segal. Yes I teared up during Rainbow Connection, and so did you. Of course, this was almost immediately followed by disappointment in the failure of Muppets Most Wanted, but now we have our beloved felt friends back where they truly belong: television. This new incarnation comes to us from the team behind The Big Bang Theory, which hurts my brain to even think about. After all, if these guys don’t even understand how to write proper geeks, how will they get The Muppets right?
The show takes on the mockumentary style of Parks and Recreation and The Office (a trite idea by Gonzo’s own admission). It centers on the production of Ms Piggy’s late night talk-show ‘Up Late With Ms Piggy’ and the trials and tribulations of keeping the show running, especially considering that Piggy and production manager Kermit have recently broken up. It’s a nice device to capture the “put on a show” vibe of the original Muppet Show while modernizing it a bit. It certainly sets up a series of the fun, self-aware gags that make The Muppets so iconic. The character interactions and celebrity cameos are as rapid fire as ever. There are several very clever jabs at the entertainment industry that give the show a very 30 Rock feel that provides some of it’s best moments.
Although there is certainly a decent amount to like about The Muppets thus far, it remains very clear that this creative team is nothing compared to Jim Henson. The show already seems a little bored of it’s characters and to a really strange degree feels the need to push the envelope with cheap laughs. For every enjoyable “Miss Piggy auditions for The Hunger Games” bit, there’s an off-putting sex or weed joke. Believe me, I’m not one to slam dirty humor, but what makes the Muppets so wonderful is that they never needed it. Although there was always plenty of humor for adults, it was always subtle and clever, hidden within dialogue or the background. Kermit, Fozzy, and Gonzo were clever enough to grab our attention without trying to constantly shock us, and in a world that’s trying to one up itself with every passing day, I think we need that now more than ever.
There certainly is a great deal of potential within ‘The Muppets’ format to give us some of the best stories these characters have ever had. However, I have yet to be convinced that this is the creative team to do it. While the show as it stands is certainly entertaining, it lacks the deft touch that made Henson such a master. It’s a show that’s certainly fun in the moment but upon reflection seems a bit like an unsavory mark on Henson’s legacy. Hopefully as the show progresses, it will discover the balance between the character based humor and the edgier material that just isn’t fitting yet. As it stands, this is a decent Muppets cover band that will keep you occupied until the real rock-stars show up.
The Muppets premieres tonight at 8/7c on ABC.