This Ain’t Your Grandpa’s Muppets – TV Critique & Devil’s Advocate: The [Modern] Muppets.

The modernised Muppets
The modernised Muppets

From my earliest memories I have been a fan of The Muppets & the works of Jim Henson. I have almost annual viewings of The Dark Crystal & Labyrinth as well as watch other Muppet movies whenever the mood takes me.

Like so many of my generation, my love of The Muppets started with the children’s educational show Sesame Street as well as regular repeats of The Muppet Show. I endured the saccharine nature of Fraggle Rock but fell in love with Jim’s more mature works, such as the incredible first series of The Storyteller (which gave me a love of the actor John Hurt‘s amazing voice & mish-mash of tales in The Jim Henson Hour.

Jim has been dead for 25 years now, so there are a few generations that have missed out on the raw, wild & fertile imagination of Jim Henson & his loyal crew.

His work has been carried on, for the most part, & the Jim Henson Company & Creature Workshop have been involved in pushing the limits of technology to create fantastical creatures for the screen -both big & small.

Through all this, The Muppets have endured -mostly through a strong sense of nostalgia- yet have been tainted by some of the cheap (both cost & emotionally) feeling productions that Disney have pumped out.

The nadir of this was the gods awful Muppets Tonight (1996-1998) as well as some of the straight to DVD stuff that Disney pumped out in order to hold onto the franchise.

Yet the memory of The Muppets -especially the stoicism of Kermit The Frog– has endured. People quietly asked for a new Muppets show, much like the old one (& unlike Muppets Tonight), so Disney & (US) ABC have given us one.

But it’s not the one that people remember.

It’s not like it at all.

& this upsets people & makes them put words into Jim’s mouth like he is one of his own puppets.

I’ve heard people saying “oh, an adult Muppets! It’s not what Jim would have wanted!” & they are both utterly wrong & ignorant of what The Muppets are.

Jim loved adult humour. He loved subversive, risky & dark jokes. He loved innuendo & word plays. You only have to see the original Muppet Show & Muppet movies to realise that fact.

The reason most people take the assumption that Jim wouldn’t like a more adult & mature Muppet show is because they primarily grew up with either The Muppet Babies or the pap that Disney & other companies pushed out after Jim’s death.

Yes, I am assuming that Jim would love that his Muppets have returned to their more adult roots based upon previous evidence of his works & writings. It’s just I’m not sure that he would have enjoyed what the current mature Muppets is.

The premise of the new Muppet show (simply called The Muppets in bad type writer font as you see in the picture at the top of the article) is a show much in the vein of many recent “trage-comedies” like The Office (the awful US version) or Parks And Recreation where there is a supposed documentary crew following characters around. This allows the characters to make asides to the camera, break the 4th wall or intercut the dissonance between words & actions. They’ve also made many changes to the characters, such as having Kermit more bitter & cynics, worn up by his break up to Miss Piggy (which news media & the interwebs went mental over despite it obviously being info released to help hype the show’s premiere).

It’s these changes to well established characters & roles that seems to have many people upset. I can see their points but it wasn’t this new, darker tone to Kermit, Piggy & others that got me. For me it was the miscues of the actual characterisation of the individual Muppets.

The aspects are all there –Fozzie is stll failing at his jokes, Gonzo is still weird, Statler & Waldorf are still heckling, Kermit is trying to be a calm island in a sea of panic- but how they are portrayed feels wrong.

To me, it’s the change in voices. They seems off. Like they are doing bad impressions of the original cast.

I mean, Jim hasn’t voiced any of his creations in 25 years but the new crew just don’t seem to have the vocal cues or forms right -giving it all an askew angle.

Maybe this is good. Maybe it will help break older people like me from nostalgia’s teat. I don’t know.

The thing that really got to me was the lack of spark.

The change of style & setting means that they can do things differently yet they still want to keep the individual characters in their little pigeonholes -such as Sam Eagle still trying to make everyone moral & wholesome & the Electric Mayhem being utterly out of it at the best of times. The same goes with trying to wedge in special human guest stars each week. If they dropped the celebrity aspect or polished it up a bit, it would work wonders for the new formula.

It’s also very cynical & bleak in it’s outlook -which does go very much against Jim’s positivist outlook on life. He believed that people should love each other & get along, where as this new formula relies on keeping the dysfunction going without any resolution or nicety about it.

But let’s not get things wrong, when the show is funny it’s bloody funny.

It still has some incredible wit & the more mature tone allows them to fit in some wonderful little entendre throughout. Great ones being Fozzie talking about online dating & his reaction to meeting his girlfriend’s bigoted parents to Zoot crossing lines of ethics & taste.

Unfortunately, having such moments of brilliance against the mundane formula & plot of Kermit trying to run a show & deal with Piggy post breakup whilst an unseen documentary crew wander around shows how unbalanced it is.

I want to see them work on the core strengths of the Muppets & the humour that they bring. I want this show to succeed & go on. I don’t want another Muppets Tonight situation.

I really do encourage people to watch & give it a go. Don’t let the new formula & mature outlook get to you. If you can look past them to what makes The Muppets awesome, then you’re sure to get a laugh out of it all.


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