It’s entirely too common for media, as of late, to attempt to recapture lightning that once struck in its favor. The numerous remakes and reboots heading to theaters is a testament to this as Nickelodeon creating an entire channel, (Splat,) based on 90’s kid’s TV nostalgia, and so on. One heavily-hyped reincarnation of a past show is The Muppets. Jim Henson’s beloved characters returned to television on September 22nd, but with a new twist; this version of The Muppets would feature more humor and situations geared towards a more adult audience. Much of the promotional material gave indications that this series would be filmed in a documentary style, giving it a blend of old Muppets fun with shows like The Office or 30 Rock. There was charm and humor and a great deal of emotion to everything ABC spoon-fed to eager fans before the show premiered, and so the bar of expectation was set high.
Given that there is only one episode to base judgment on, this is difficult to say; The Muppets watches like a show that expected lightning to strike in the same place twice with absolute certainty. Whether it’s the dependence on nostalgia, or the (potentially risky,) desire to build upon that nostalgia to create something new and fresh, the series premiere of ABC’s The Muppets feels a bit flat. The comedy is there, but it’s nothing particularly attention-grabbing in a sea of similarly-written sitcoms. The dramatic and emotional moments feel forced at times, especially with all of the hype surrounding Miss Piggy and Kermit splitting up. The history of these characters—established by a writer whose name is synonymous with imagination and heartwarming tales—casts a rather intimidating shadow, and The Muppets doesn’t seem too intent on stepping out of it just yet.
However, there is hope. Most good-to-great sitcoms seem to start off a little slow, finding their footing as the writers react to viewers’ tastes and reactions. Shows such as Parks & Recreation and 30 Rock found their comedic charms more strongly, hitting their strides, by their respective second seasons. It’s entirely possible for The Muppets to be in this growing period, still feeling out where it needs to fall in the spectrum of comedy and drama. How much nostalgia should it play up (or downplay)? How much humor should it use, and how often should it favor more adult-focused humor versus family-friendly laughs? What can writers do to create an atmosphere of drama and emotion that feels authentic to what the show has to work with versus something that feels heavy-handed and forced? There are no real answers to these questions yet, though perhaps the remainder of the season could bring greater life to The Muppets. There’s certainly potential there, but it feels lost beneath what Jim Henson and his family have established with these beloved characters. If nothing else, ABC can certainly boast that this series saw some of the highest viewing numbers in recent television history, so it already has that going for it.
By Phil Gorski