The Muppets and Limitless Make Their Debut: Are You Here for Puppets & Bradley …

23 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘Pig Girls Don’t Cry’.

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.ABC on Tuesday reintroduced The Muppets to primetime television, debuting a more adult-themed (but still family-friendly) reboot of the beloved franchise. 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.

Kermit and Miss Piggy are broken up and learning how to coexist in just a work relationship, where Kermit is the executive producer of Piggy’s late-night talk show “Up Late With Miss Piggy.” Zoot, of the show’s house band Dr. 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 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. The entire process is being filmed documentary style as the series explores the personal lives of characters including Fozzie, Gonzo and the gang in a bigger way than ever before. 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). Here, The Hollywood Reporter chats with Prady — who started his TV career working for Muppets mastermind Jim Henson — about relaunching the franchise, ABC’s Kardashian-like publicity campaign focusing on Kermit and Piggy’s split and how big of a role their “relationship” will have going forward. 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. 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. 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. I can’t believe I already have to do this again…we are simply close friends.” “I’ve been following along with all the marketing, and it’s very appropriate that ABC got the audience’s attention with these messages of Kermit and Piggy breaking up,” Henson explains, pointing out the beloved character’s longtime placement as real celebrities in the pop culture stratosphere. “One of the thing that’s great about puppets is they can have an independent life in the press and on talk shows, as happened when Disney was marketing the last movie and the Muppets made some remarks at a press conference,” Henson says, referring to the 2014 Disney flick “Muppets Most Wanted.” She adds, “They’re not animated characters.

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. 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 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). 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.

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. 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.

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. 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. 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? I don’t know how it happened but when you’re making this project, you’re juggling three to four levels of reality and everybody seems to draw the lines between them in exactly the same place.

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. 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. 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 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. When you talk about who that pragmatically is, to a great extent, it’s the Muppet performers, who have been guardians of these characters for a long time and then [Muppets Studio vp] Debbie McClellan. 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. However, something tells me that the problem isn’t in the show’s script or production, but rather in my own expectations of what makes the Muppets the Muppets. 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. But “Pig Girls” gives some more of a spotlight to Sam the Eagle, enforcing network’s standards and practices — don’t say crotchety, twiddle, or gesticulate on air.

It was a fun idea and there was an unauthorized tell-all biography of Piggy by Kitty Kelley, who did Frank Sinatra’s bio and who would write hatchet-job books. 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.

Think about this: Every year, every local news station on Dec. 24 has their weatherman give a report about a sleigh being pulled by reindeer that’s been sighted and NORAD every year reports the location of Santa Claus. To me, the most interesting thing about Denise and Piggy is when you date a famous person — when you date an actor, like Kermit dating Piggy — you share that person with the public. Gonzo, who was this incredibly out-there performance artist, you look at guys like that and think about the kind of stuff that David Letterman did on his early show and he probably had writers with that kind of way out there sensibility. That wasn’t a factor, except cases where we deliberately went to people, [Dancing With the Stars’]Tom Bergeron and [Black-ish star] Laurence Fishburne, because our fun reality is we imagine all ABC shows are shot on the same lot.

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