‘The Muppets’ Isn’t Your ‘Muppet Show’ And That’s Okay

23 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘Pig Girls Don’t Cry’.

When Muppets owner Walt Disney Co finally agreed this year, Prady quickly encountered his next key constituency: the puppets’ adoring fans, whose congratulations to the producer came with a stern warning. “‘Listen, these were a very important part of my childhood, and if you do anything to screw it up we’ll never forgive you,’” Prady recalled being admonished by everyone from his sister to strangers. “‘We’re going to be watching.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. Best of luck!’” The moment of truth arrived on Tuesday with the debut of ABC’s The Muppets starring Kermit, Gonzo, Fozzie Bear, Animal and the ever-fabulous Miss Piggy.

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. They’ve got plenty to cover: star tantrums (Piggy, of course), office romances (Kermit and an ABC marketing executive, Denise, who happens to be a pig; he likes pigs, the frog concedes) and the Muppets’ off-set lives (Fozzie meets his human girlfriend’s parents and encounters blatant species-ism).

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.

The show aims for humour that can be appreciated on both adult and kid levels, its producers say, with a gentle reminder that these Muppets, save for Kermit, never mixed with their tamer Sesame Street relatives that include Cookie Monster and Elmo. 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 puppets haven’t been idle, of course, making TV movies and specials — including one with Lady Gaga — and big-screen hits The Muppets (2011) and Muppets Most Wanted (2014). 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).

But Prady said he wanted to see the Muppets in a more authentic light and figured he had the credentials for the job: He started as a TV writer with Henson, the brilliant Muppets creator who was 53 when he died in 1990. “Characters over time, without the boldness of the person who set them in motion, soften,” Prady said. “It’s a natural thing and it comes from the best place, which is that these are beloved characters, let’s protect them.” Prady saw the rise of mock-documentaries, among them The Office, as a way to achieve a Muppets renaissance. 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. 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. He tried again, failed, then found a distraction: co-creating and producing (with Chuck Lorre) CBS’ hit The Big Bang Theory. “Part of knowing this would work is in the characters themselves, because this in a way was what they were built for, to try to be real and in the real world,” said Prady, who developed the show with co-creator Bob Kushell (The Simpsons, Anger Management).

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. Prady rejects the idea that the mockumentary concept he long nurtured could be stale, instead arguing that it’s become entrenched as the sitcom form of today.

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. 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. 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.

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. We consume nostalgic content so frequently on late night television and listicle spewing websites that we’ve grown accustomed to the safety of familiarity that comes from Full House jokes and reciting silly lyrics to songs from the Cocktail soundtrack. 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. 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. 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. Down syndrome is caused by anomalous cell division that produces an extra copy of the twenty-first chromosome: I’d like to believe that the Muppet species is vibrant and interesting because its genes are subject to the same kinds of random mistakes as human genes. 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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