When ABC announced last year that The Muppets were returning to prime-time television, it wasn’t clear what form the new series, centering on the old, furry cast of friends, would take. Now that The Muppets has seen its premiere, it’s clear that, although some of the characters and personalities may be the same, the return of the Muppets is bringing an entirely new sense of humor to a new target audience.
The Muppets has been marketed as a more mature version of the classic Muppet humor that many know and love. No longer are the puppets mere peers of Elmo and Big Bird; they rival Tina Fey and Steve Carell in the mockumentary type of comedy television which has surged in popularity after the success of The Office, 30 Rock and Parks and Recreation.
The new series centers, classically, on Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy. Miss Piggy hosts her own late night show, similar to Jimmy Fallon or Seth Meyers, and Kermit is her executive producer. And, if you haven’t heard, Kermit and Piggy are no longer a couple, with Kermit dating a new pig, Denise, and Miss Piggy presumably playing the dating game.
The rest of the characters fall into their likely roles, with the Electric Mayhem taking the place of a band like The Roots, Fozzie Bear playing the MC and Scooter being the stage manager as usual. The best comedic moments of the show came from these characters and from what I would call ‘typical’ Muppet humor. Fozzie’s bad jokes, the jeers of Statler and Waldorf and the self-awareness of Gonzo, who claims that he hates confessionals on reality shows because they allow hypocrisy right before he says that he loves confessionals to the main camera, were some of the biggest laughs I had. When it came to these classic, goofy punchlines, the writers hit the mark with jokes that were for all viewers to enjoy.
Although critic Erik Adams claimed that the “emotions” and not the “humor” in The Muppets made it more than ever accessible for an adult audience, I disagree. As one who grew up watching innocuous re-runs of The Muppet Show and who was delighted by the recent and child-friendly The Muppets and Muppets Most Wanted films, I was really disappointed by how heavily the show relied on cartoon violence and sexual innuendo for the majority of laughs. Seeing Rizzo and a female rat prepare to take their dinner date to the ‘next level’ and listening to Kermit’s new girlfriend suggestively whisper into his ear definitely dispelled the magic of The Muppets that I grew up with.
The franchise survived nearly 40 years of show business without reverting to sexual humor. At the risk of sounding prudish, I wish I hadn’t seen the writers stoop down to these jokes which alienate younger viewers and make The Muppets suggestive enough that some parents might want to keep the series away from their kids, the exact opposite result intended for the new series, which hoped to reach a wider audience. I could have gone through life without hearing Kermit the Frog say he was “living in a bacon-wrapped Hell” or Miss Piggy talk about getting a butt-lift and I’m sure other viewers felt the same way.
With that being said, it wasn’t just the old jokes that stayed true to The Muppets of days past, but also the sentimentality that always accompanied the jokes and taught valuable life lessons to viewers. In the middle of the show, we saw a poignant moment where Miss Piggy vulnerably reveals to Kermit that she doesn’t want Elizabeth Banks to appear as a guest on the show because the celebrity reminds her of their break-up. In this moment, we saw Piggy and Kermit put their differences aside and cooperate. That was really the golden moment of the series premiere. If we see more sentimental and touchingly realistic moments like this, I think the show has a chance to keep The Muppets in the spotlight.
The actual airtime of the show was relatively short, so it really only gave us a taste of the updated Muppets. As a long-time fan, I have hope that The Muppets will shape-up and redeem themselves as a family favorite for all ages.