New Muppets: too dark for kids?

23 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘Pig Girls Don’t Cry’.

In ABC’s new mockumentary-style comedy, the furry friends’ personal lives and relationships (or lack thereof for former longtime couple Kermit and Piggy) are on full display, as cameras follow the characters at home and at work, which proves to be interesting when the office is the set of Miss Piggy’s new late-night talk show.Just in time for the Muppets 60th anniversary year and the anniversary of Jim Henson’s birthday, which falls this week, “The Muppets” are headed back into primetime — and as it goes in their world, Kermit and friends are getting a lot of attention, specifically for the breakup between the famous frog and Miss Piggy.Kermit might be Jim Henson’s sweet, soft-spoken, Rainbow Connection-singing frog, but on The Muppets he’s just as flawed and prone to errors in judgment as any human.

Well, not exactly, as the premiere of ABC’s latest spin on the characters saddles them with enough relationship and work problems to look more like the staff of Dunder Mifflin than the crew behind the classic The Muppet Show. The reinvented, modernized “Muppets” series features a show-within-a-show format, including scenes from the fictional “Up Late With Miss Piggy,” for which Kermit the Frog is the exec producer, The Great Gonzo is head writer, Fozzie Bear is the warm-up comic sidekick, Sam the Eagle is head of network broadcast standards and practices, Scooter was Kermit’s assistant and has been promoted to talent coordinator and, of course, Miss Piggy is the host.

That show business adage was first introduced by circuses in the 19th Century, but it could just as easily be the subheading accompanying every single incarnation (from television to film to stage) of the Muppets. The absurdly incompetent, but always well-meaning cavalcade of felt characters inevitably find obstacles stacking up, chaos reigning behind the scenes and seemingly insurmountable odds facing them. Kermit and Miss Piggy actually broke up back in the ’90s, though the story didn’t get nearly as much attention as it did today, due to Henson’s sudden death. “In May of 1990, there was a big publicity stunt done by the Muppets and the stunt was that Kermit and Piggy broke up when Piggy announced she was breaking up with Kermit,” Henson’s daughter Lisa Henson, who runs The Jim Henson Company with her siblings, tells Variety.

That publicity campaign was called “The Pig of the Nineties.” It was pushed out with a press release on May 10, less than one week before Henson passed away on May 16, 1990, causing the company to drop the campaign. “I feel like Bill Prady is picking up literally where my father left off,” Henson says of ABC’s “The Muppets” creator, who began his writing career at Jim Henson’s Muppets. “For insiders, it’s particularly interesting.” Miss Piggy, legendary star of stage, screen, television, video and other assorted media, announced that from this day forth she is “her own pig,” and will no longer be romantically linked with longtime parter, Kermit (a frog). He’s now going out with the new pig in town, Denise. (“What can I say, I’m attracted to pigs,” Kermit says in a confessional, which opens up the floodgates for how exactly the Muppets view interspecies relationships. Henry, who is 7 and has Down syndrome, knows the names of every minor celebrity to appear on the original shows. “I want Juliet Prowse tonight!” he shouts gleefully. “Let’s watch Cloris Leechman.

Looking dazzlingly attractive despite her obvious distress, Miss Piggy assured us that she and “That Frog” will continue to work together on various Muppet projects, “bringing joy and laughter to my many, many devoted fans around the world.” “They had national press for that, just as they had this year,” Henson explains. “Kermit responded publicly by saying they had really never been together and they were just friends and never married and (their relationship) was just a big misunderstanding that had blown out of proportion.” Fast-forward 25 years and Kermit is up to the same old tricks. But that fell apart for all the reasons you’d think their relationship would fall apart: She was too demanding, too self-absorbed, and he was too meek to do anything about it until far too late. This summer when rumors swirled of his new girlfriend — Denise, a pig whom he works with on Miss Piggy’s late-night show on ABC’s “Muppets” — the frog took to Twitter to say, “Sheesh. But the riff goes deeper than that- Banks had a behind-the-scenes, accidental role in Kermit and Piggy’s breakup. “My life is a bacon-wrapped hell on earth,” Kermit says at one point.

What attracts Fozzie to humans twice his size, and is he then okay with always being the little spoon?) But the split has put Piggy in a particularly bad mood — well, worse than usual—and among her list of demands is that Elizabeth Banks be removed from the guest list for the upcoming episode. (ASIDE: She also wants her lilacs to smell more lilac-y, and Kermit mentions he’ll talk to God about it. KERMIT THE FROG: I face the same challenge every executive producer in town has to deal with — the hectic pace, the crazy personalities, the folks in the suits, the complaints about craft services. He’s often confused about how to play with quicker and more verbal classmates, teachers constantly correct his speech and posture, and he’s shuttled around to therapists who work on his behavior, fitness, and learning. The interview quickly trended on social media. “Playing with the idea that the puppets are real celebrities, in a sense, Bill Prady’s whole show is taking that idea — they are real, they live in our world, they are celebrities, they have their own lives — and taking that to its natural extensions,” Henson notes, giving her stamp of approval.

The Muppets makes one thing clear right away: These zany characters that you’ve been acquainted with for the past 60 years are all thinking individuals with hopes and dreams and feelings of their own. The format is a behind-the-scenes mockumentary with a recipe that includes a handful of The Larry Sanders Show, mixed with pinches of The Office, The Newsroom (Finkleman, not Sorkin) and Sports Night (Sorkin, not Finkleman). END OF ASIDE) Kermit initially agrees to remove her, replacing Banks with Tom Bergeron (definitely not his first choice, as he openly insults Scooter’s choice of the Dancing With the Stars host. The Guardian characterized it as another “misstep,” saying “What were previously sly winks to a grownup audience are now grotesque full-body grimaces, delivered with depressing sledgehammer brutality.” Ouch. New York Magazine, though, thought there’s some hope: “It might take some time to adapt to what the gang is trying to do here, but it’s definitely in sync with the Muppet mission of entertaining everyone at their own level,” their critic wrote.

My father would have been thrilled to see the Muppets getting so much attention, and for them to be one of the most prominent premieres of the fall, that would have been rewarding. He learns that Piggy had a bad screen test with Banks when the former auditioned for The Hunger Games — there are games and people are hungry, who needs to read a script before an audition? Decades before Twitter, Stadler and Waldorf had perfected the art of responding to a show in real time with a running series of nasty quips. “The question is,” Stadler asks grumpily, “What is a manah-manah?” “The question is,” his seatmate rejoins, pursing his mouth into a sour grimace, “who cares?” Whether or not you catch the exact content of their dialogue, the geezers’ sour grimaces and cranky tones say it all, and Henry laughs uproariously every time. Kermit calls Banks back in, but when she arrives early to hang out with Piggy — and Kermit hasn’t revealed to Piggy that Banks has been reinstated — he has Scooter distract her. This was terrifying, not only because of what the term “Muppets for adults” might conjure in the minds of the less sophisticated, but also because everything we know and understand about the beloved franchise suggests that Muppets and maturity are as appropriate bedfellows as platform diving and ice rinks.

The Journal’s television critic Dorothy Rabinowitz was much more optimistic, concluding that “It’s hard, after this encounter with the Muppets, to imagine any confidences from them, private or public, one wouldn’t want to hear more of.” The creators of the show said they’re not trying to exclude kids – the show’s on at 8 o’clock after all – but the jokes are aimed at fans old enough to remember the Muppets from the ’70s and ’80s. “The Muppets kind of lost their way over the years when they became strictly a product for children,” said “Muppets” executive producer Bob Kushell in a recent Journal article about the show’s comeback. The feeling of nostalgia that the Muppets arise in us is based on their silliness, the unapologetic cheesiness they exhibit by pulling together to make something good happen while still being mostly incapable of accomplishing anything but mayhem on their own.

The whole scene riffs on Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, but with wisecracks about raw salmon (Fozzie gets it at Costco, don’t be specist) and using the woods as a bathroom. The slapstick as Banks throws Scooter out of the golf cart touring the studio lot is funny, but Scooter is just so decidedly mean that it sucks some of the fun out of the whole thing. Henry knows nothing of nuclear power, and very little about shaving, but he certainly understands when Honeydew’s assistant, Beaker, takes one look at the shaver and erupts into nervous peeps while anxiously clutching his thatch of orange hair. The dinner scene is a great example of how The Muppets toes a careful line in its season premiere between the adorably lame dad joke, zaniness that’s always characterized these oddball creatures and the smart, modern writing that drives them now. Henry, who has struggled with speech delays and still has trouble making himself understood, is especially energized by characters who communicate with no words at all, like the Swedish Chef and Animal.

The fact that the TV show is different in tone is consistent in what we’ve always done … We’ve always played the Muppets different tonally from one production to the next. Frank Sinatra’s “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” comes alive for him when sung by an enormous furry Muppet who has literally just devoured a small bird, who contributes a muffled chorus from inside his body. With Kermit’s apology, they two don’t necessarily make up, but Piggy agrees to let Banks on the show and all goes well… until Animal plays with Imagine Dragons that is.

Because of the natural discomfort that comes from seeing characters associated with childish frivolity deal with mature (sex) and mundane (traffic) subject matter, it’s going to be easy to dismiss The Muppets as a misguided attempt at rebooting for a new generation. At the end of a day filled with parents, teachers, and therapists telling him what to do, how to behave, and where to go, the Muppets are predictable and familiar.

Zoot pretty much admits he’s an alcoholic at the morning meeting, Janice is horrible at telling a story, and Animal… well, Animal apparently is quite the ladies’ muppet. “Too many shows, too many women,” he explains when having to decline Imagine Dragons offer to tour with them on the road. (Do you think Imagine Dragons’ actual drummer had any input on that offer?) But, when Mayhem meets Dragons, Animal may have found an escape route. With comforting regularity, we know that Fozzie Bear will tell bad jokes, Miss Piggy makes unwelcome advances on Kermit and deals with her frustration by doling out karate chops, Dr. They’re not the greatest role models, especially when they’re being mean, grumpy, or violent, but they give Henry a deeply satisfying source of identification and a feeling of belonging.

The new show challenges our relationship with nostalgia, and in so doing, it challenges itself to be more than a Jimmy Fallon sketch or a BuzzFeed article titled 16 Reasons Why You Know You’re A Child Of The Eighties. But Fozzie has a bigger concern during “Pig Girls” — he’s dating Becky, a human, and her parents are not too pleased with the relationship. (ASIDE: It’s a shame Becky and Fozzie don’t work out, because as cruel as Jere Burns’ comments toward Fozzie are, his utter confusion with the whole situation is hilarious.) Fozzie tries to butter them up by offering to let them meet Miss Piggy, but she has her Banks-related blow-up right as she’s supposed to meet them. Its 30 Rock-esque show-within-a-show premise feels like a perfect fit for these characters, especially with the Office-style face-the-camera monologues.

An early montage shows the two growing up together, Walter gamely participating in the same activities as Gary even as he gets knocked over in baseball and badly outpaced by his brother’s growth chart. Having always been something of an outsider, Walter is eventually welcomed into the community of Muppets, where everyone is different and there are few preconceptions about what it means to act or look normal. We have the “Turkey Hollow” movie coming out and will be doing things for the fans. “Jim Henson’s Turkey Hollow,” starring Mary Steenburgen, will premiere Nov. 21 on Lifetime. Watching The Muppets, I realized how much the show is about appreciating the unique capabilities of individuals who, in most other contexts, would be disabled. Featuring re-envisioned versions of the puppets Jim Henson originally created, he had “Turkey Hollow” in development, but when “Sesame Street” became a hit, he become too busy to pursue the project and Lisa Henson later developed it, first as a graphic novel and now, as a telepic.

Michael Fox. “I would advise some genetic counseling,” he told the couple. “You know, a pig and a frog could give rise to all kinds of strange things.” Miss Piggy’s answer was “Yes, I’m hoping so,” while her more cautious partner responded, “Yeah, bouncing baby figs…or pogs.” Now that their stormy romance is over, we’ll never know what strange figs and pogs they would have sired. It has to find its voice with this new, more adult and seemingly ground iterations of the characters while evoking what audiences have loved for decades about the Muppets. FOZZIE BEAR: It entails warming up the audience before the show, then throwing in a joke when we’re on the air, and ducking when Miss Piggy throws the joke back.

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