Return of the Muppets
“It's time to play the music. It's time to light the lights. It's time to meet the Muppets on the Muppet Show tonight.” A theme playing throughout the country from 1976 to 1981 is going to make a return this fall to ABC with “The Muppets”. The felt creations of Jim Henson have graced America’s TV’s since 1954, and have greatly changed throughout their lifetime, yet this may be the biggest change yet. Not being the only attempt of the television network at a reboot of the popular children’s show, with the last one being the poorly received “Muppet’s Tonight,” there are many questions of what the show will look like. All in all, whether it is from long time fans or those who just have a passing interest, hopes are high for the new series.
Though the new show follows a similar format of it’s predecessors, being a “behind-the-scenes” look at the Muppet television show, what makes this new show unique, and may lead to a success that the others didn’t achieve, is that the Jim Henson company has dropped it’s children’s show roots and has replaced it with a more adult centered approach. What some have touted as a brave move, others have seen as a mistake. This change may spell success for the new series, or it may be a gamble that has disastrous results. As it could be viewed, this change is a natural growth, a maturing along with the fans that grew up with the original. Even with only one episode released thus far, the outcry has already started up from conservative evangelical groups based on the new mature nature of the show. The organization One Million Moms have already started a petition to pull it from the schedule, with Franklin Graham, son of famed Christian evangelist Billy Graham, in the ranks. This outrage, though, has not ceased the loyal fanbase of the Jim Henson Company who are celebrating the return of their beloved characters.
The show has already shown to be a complete departure from the original; with even the initial advertisements telling of the big breakup between Kermit and Miss Piggy, two of the main characters of the franchise, whose relationship was always a major theme. To see if these drastic changes will equal success, or if the movements against the show will gain traction, you will have to keep watching, but with the initial reaction to the premier being positive, it appears as if the former will be true.
Though as of currently only the controversial points have been highlighted, the show itself has shown many different themes that are unique and could offer a fresh breath into a somewhat stagnant genre. In the trailer, it seems that the show has adopted a format similar to mockumentary shows such as The Office or Parks and Recreation, but it is used nearly as parody. This is how they attempt to bring new life to what has before been called overdone or overused. The trailer shows one of the characters, Gonzo, making a comment on some of the faults of the genre, while displaying the same faults in his interview. It promises to be a different take on both the franchise and the genre in which it has been placed. The humor is a mixture of physical gags and jokes, much like the original, though the jokes, again, are moremature. There are still underlying similarities with the old children’s show, leaving something for long time fans to hold on to.
Though being one of the main points of those pushing against the show, one topic that takes a main stage in the trailer and in the initial pilot of the show is interspecies relationships. This is anything but new, with the original show playing this theme for jokes many times throughout it’s run. Again, even the main relationship was between a frog and pig, and with Gonzo, an, as of yet unidentified, creature with a crooked nose, being infatuated with chickens. This is not unseen territory for those who have followed the show. So it isn’t that much of a surprise to see Fozzy Bear dating a human woman. The pilot shows Fozzy getting ready to meet his girlfriend’s parents, yet as the scene opens there is a marked difference in format from that of the episodes of The Muppet Show. This is a difference that can be seen throughout the pilot and, foreseeably, the rest of the show. This difference is that the situational humor is real and human, compared to the somewhat staged humor of the original. Particularly with Fozzy Bear, a character who is known as a stand up comedian, who, when he finds himself in this situation, starts telling jokes, but the true joke is the performance that is being put on.
As many news outlets have pointed out, this particular scene reads more like a parent’s response to an interracial relationship, than a stand up routine, making light of a problem that is still dealt with in modern society. This more realistic take on humor, continues with the band Electrical Mayhem making references to the legalization of Marijuana, Fozzy making a remark about the LGBTQ community, and Kermit and Miss Piggy’s breakup. It is hard to tell if this new sense of humor is from an attempt to more so fit the mockumentary style or if it is the show writers trying to maintain culturally relevant material. As reviews are beginning to come out it is still difficult to tell what the verdict will be. As of yet, opinions are mixed, with some attacking the more humanistic approach and with others fully embracing it, yet as the curtains close on the first episode of The Muppets the old theme song still rings true, “this is what we call the Muppet Show.”