Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The New Muppets: Needs More Heart

So, the fall TV season has begun, and last night was the premiere of the latest incarnation of the Muppet Show. I want to love it, I was a bit afraid of it, and after watching the first episode, I have decidedly mixed feelings. I think it can work, but it might need some tiny bits of tweaking. I think that a The Office-style mockumentary about the production of a late-night talk/variety show is a brilliant way to move the concept of The Muppet Show into the 21st Century. That gives them a reason to bring in guests and have acts while also getting to showcase the interrelationships among the Muppets. It allows us to have Statler and Waldorf in their usual position as hecklers, Miss Piggy being a star, and Kermit trying to hold it all together. Fozzie as the studio announcer and The Electric Mayhem as the house band are perfect. I'm actually quite glad that Kermit and Miss Piggy have broken up. I never understood that relationship, and not just because of the frog/pig thing (I figure they're all Muppets, a species unto themselves, so species doesn't really count). Basically, it was always an abusive relationship. Piggy was so self-centered and demanding and got violent when she didn't get what she wanted, and Kermit always seemed so terrified of her. Even when I was ten, I knew there was something wrong with that. In this incarnation, Piggy is exactly the same as she always was, but the show acknowledges that this is terrible behavior and Kermit admits that it made for an unhappy relationship. However, I think they may be trying a bit too hard to be edgy. The Muppets aren't edgy. Even when they're being weird and out there and making socially relevant commentary, they're not edgy. The new show seems to be missing some of the goofy sweetness and optimism that was always at the heart of the Muppets. This new Muppets doesn't seem like a world where "The Rainbow Connection" could ever be sung unironically. Way too much of the pilot episode was focused on the characters' sex lives, and I'd really rather not think about the Muppets having sex lives. There also wasn't as much emphasis on the show itself or the interaction of the guest stars with the Muppets. But I think the concept is good enough that it can be fixed. Keep the show focused entirely on the making of the show and just the bits of their personal lives that spill over into the workplace. No side trips for dates. The entire subplot of Fozzie meeting his human girlfriend's parents was a waste of airtime and not at all funny (and, again, I don't want to think about the sex lives of puppets, and that inter-species thing actually does become an issue when one member of a couple is a puppet bear and the other is a human woman). Show more of the show or the making of the show, more of the celebrity guests dealing with the world of the Muppets. Bring back more of the joy, hope, and optimism and, most of all, the heart that have made this world so much fun since the beginning.

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