The Muppets: Still going strong?

ABC’s new Muppets series premiered in September of last year, marking the first return of the Muppets to prime time television since the cancelation of Muppets Tonight in 1998. The comeback has received mixed reviews, with many long-time viewers displeased by the more grown-up, and at times almost cynical approach the show has taken. Set behind the scenes of the fictional talk show ‘Up Late with Miss Piggy’, the series combines two of the set-ups that have taken American TV by storm in recent years: the late night talk show and the mockumentary.

 

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While it could be argued that The Muppets is just jumping on the band wagon at the last minute by employing this device, (mockumentary-style filming has been a commonly-used device in television since first being made popular by The Office in 2001), the show marks itself out as a parody of those that have gone before it, rather than just a latecomer to the party. The common use of the one-on-one interviews is acknowledged near the start of the show in a comment from Gonzo, who criticizes the very device in a one-on-one interview, calling it overused, and is then immediately seen praising their use to the other characters.

Although potentially the most controversial aspect of the Muppets reboot the more adult approach, without being totally inappropriate for children, is hugely successful…

The Muppets fits well into both genres, with the pre-existing relationships between the characters providing a good groundwork for the sit-com dynamic, and a natural host of the chat show in Miss Piggy with ready-made in-house band The Electric Mayhem.

One area which at times leaves viewers disappointed, especially long-term fans, is the voice acting. The unique and quirky voices have always been an integral part of the Muppets brand, and it has to be said that for the most part they are spot on. However Miss Piggy, Fozzie the Bear and Sam the Eagle, all voiced by Eric Jacobson, are markedly unimpressive. For life-long fans this shortcoming in relation to such key characters really detracts from the overall enjoyment of the show. Miss Piggy is arguably the biggest let-down of the characters and her traditional importance makes this short-coming stand out. However this disappointment can partly be attributed to moments of poor script-writing that let down the show as a whole, rather than pinned entirely on the individual performance. This new iteration of the Muppets isn’t entirely badly written, it just wants a bit more wit and subtlety, and less of the predictable sit-com dialogue that is becoming so common place in modern television.

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Despite these shortcomings The Muppets is an entertaining show, with great comedic moments. One of the regular highlights is the scenes between the writers of Up Late with Miss Piggy, Pepe, Ringo and Gonzo. The characters are well-written with a good group dynamic, and the scenes they share are true to the original humour of the Muppets.

The characters doubt their achievements and life choices in the same way we all do, and most poignantly fear they’re becoming outdated and old.

Although potentially the most controversial aspect of the Muppets reboot the more adult approach, without being totally inappropriate for children, is hugely successful. The depiction of the children’s characters, normally relatively simplistic and two-dimensional, as complex individuals with flaws and intricacies is a refreshing take on a familiar brand. We watch as the puppets we have loved since childhood struggle with the issues that come as part and parcel of getting older – for instance the much publicized break up between Kermit and Miss Piggy serves as a prime demonstration of the complexities of adult relationships and the consequences of their breakdowns. The characters doubt their achievements and life choices in the same way we all do, and most poignantly fear they’re becoming outdated and old.

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The introduction of a ‘branding guru’ by the network which produces Up Late with Miss Piggy provides the opportunity to explore these fears. Pizza, (pronounced ‘patchay’), says his role is to make old things relevant – perhaps a comment on the Muppets brand in real life – leading to one of the show’s most cutting quotes from Piggy: “Pizza says the show isn’t relevant. I’m the show which means… I’m not relevant.”

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Overall, despite some significant areas in need of improvement, The Muppets is an enjoyable new take on a well-loved brand. It retains most of the essential elements which makes the Muppets what it is – there are still moments of classic slapstick comedy, and the puppeteering is fantastically done, with Kermit’s facial expressions the leading example of this. It’s unfortunate that ABC has so intentionally rushed the reboot. Let’s hope that future series’ see ABC take the time to fix the holes in the otherwise well-made show.

By Laurie Presswood

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