In the nostalgia-driven era of entertainment in which we currently reside, an age when all things we loved as children are given green lights to find new life in an adult world, rarely have I been as let down as I was with the “fresh” take on the Muppets at ABC. It was a slog of a show… one in which I continued to watch, sadly, with hope in my eyes, but with each episode found myself more and more frustrated. How on earth could they get the Muppets so wrong? Well thankfully, ABC just canned the show during their annual up-fronts, meaning such feelings can finally go to rest.
To understand what makes the Muppets charming, we have to look at the roots of what made the show great. The variety show format. While there was always some hilarious drama behind the curtain, the crux of the show was just that, the show. Each week a new celebrity was selected to host, but at the core it was about putting on the best show possible.
The newest series tried to replicate that format in some part, foregoing the sketch comedy variety show for a late-night talk show starring Miss Piggy. And yet, while that was the reason the Muppets all worked together, it was hardly their purpose. Instead, the show tried to bring us into the life of a Muppet (or Muppets), including their sex life, their post-show meet-ups at the bar, and more. The hijinks of running an intense variety program were replaced by poorly written jokes aimed at disillusioned millennials and those longing for The Office to return.
What the show-runners seemed to miss was that The Muppets are meant to be Loony Toons characters made real. They are physically hilarious. Gonzo’s stunts, Beaker being blown up, the Swedish chef chasing a run-away chicken with a butcher’s knife, all of these are gags. They are childish, they are silly, and they are funny. Each character had his/her/its gag, and each character had a role to play. By minimizing the physical comedy of its predecessors, and focussing on relationships, the show-runners at ABC didn’t make a Muppets show, they made a typical sitcom that just so happened to star Muppets.
It is a shame that we never received the Muppets show that we deserved, and it is somewhat a shame that ABC has not allowed the show time to become better. And yet, if we are left with the choice of Muppets in name only and no Muppets at all, the latter option sounds much more appealing to me.
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