Let's Check In On 'The Muppets'
Back in April, when we barely knew anything about the proposed new TV show starring the Muppets, I wrote up a list of qualities I thought would be essential for a successful new Muppet show. Now the show (called The Muppets, just like the group of characters and the recent movie, making it difficult to talk about any of them) has seven episodes under its belt. The series' show runner is stepping down and there are rumblings of a reboot after the midseason break, neither of which suggest that the ratings are great. But how has the show done at fulfilling my essential Muppet criteria? Let's take a look:
In the original article, I suggested nods to the Muppets' long history as a way to acknowledge the hardcore fans and strengthen the sense that Muppets live in the real world. So far, the series is spending more time on its own invented Muppet history, be it Piggy's feuds with various stars or the much publicized breakup of the frog and the pig. I realize that delving into the Muppets' past can raise awkward questions about the timeline and whether Kermit will be collecting Social Security soon. But their long history is one of the things that makes these characters special. It was well handled in the first of the recent Muppet movies (see what I mean about the confusion?) and I'd love to see it get some attention here.
2. Obscure Muppets
This one is more of a win for The Muppets. While I haven't had the time to rewatch episodes and scan the backgrounds for long lost Muppets, we have seen more screen time for some of the lesser known characters. Chip, who originally appeared on the short-lived Jim Henson Hour, has been making regular appearances as the show's resident tech guy. We've also seen a lot of good material from Bobo and Uncle Deadly, who aren't exactly unknowns, but have never quite been the main cast either. I have a particular soft spot for Deadly, so it's great to see him on a regular basis.
3. More Lady Muppets
I recognize that the show is still in the process of reintroducing the existing characters and the new premise. But my hoped for a few additional lady Muppets have gone largely unfulfilled. Mind you, I really like that Fozzie is dating a human lady and the comedy that emerges from that situation, so I'm not too disappointed that she turned out not to be a Muppet. But the overall dearth of new lady Muppets has been a letdown. The only real entry in this category is Kermit's new girlfriend Denise who has appeared in two episodes so far, not enough time for her character to really develop. Janice and Yolanda Rat have each had some good scenes, but no full stories or character arcs.
This one might be the biggest disappointment and evidence of a major issue with the show. Many of the past Muppet outings, particularly the TV series, have been about the Muppets having their backstage issues and dramas, yet still managing to put on a show. We're getting plenty of the backstage stuff, but the show is mostly limited to interactions between Miss Piggy and her celebrity guests and jokes from Fozzie. This has resulted in very few musical numbers. There have been a few tantalizing song sequences, like a fun scene where most of the crew goes out to sing karaoke and Miss Piggy's show stopping "apology." But mostly, the music is sadly absent.
5. Humor and Heart
Tone can be a tough thing to get right with a new Muppets production. The Muppets are neither syrupy sweet nor acerbically sarcastic. They occupy a range in between the two extremes that's tough to nail down. The show has been hit or miss in this regard. I've been laughing at the show's jokes, but there's not a lot of humor that sticks with me after the episode. The heart is a bigger issue. I'm not sure the series is ready to have all of its characters come together to support each other in the way they'd do from time to time on the original Muppet Show. That's going to take a major problem, bigger than the day to day strife they've been dealing with so far. But I would love to see the show delve further into Kermit and Piggy's post-breakup experiences. The first episode showing the actual breakup and the later fallout had some of the best emotional moments in the series so far. Rather than focusing solely on the "will they or won't they?" tensions between Kermit and Piggy, the show could get some really great material out of the problems of two people trying to date again after being in one relationship for....well, a very long time. (Seriously, sorting out the Muppet timeline would take a series of articles, assuming it can even be done.) The first and most recent episodes have touched on this idea a little, but I think there's way more material to mine.
How do you feel about The Muppets? Are you on board with the show's current direction or hoping for big changes with a potential reboot? Let us know in the comments.