‘The Muppets’: TV Review

18 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘The Muppets’ return: Kermit and the gang ready for fall TV premiere.

In this image released by ABC, Kermit the Frog, left, and Gonzo the Great appear in a scene from “The Muppets,” premiering Sept. 22. (Eric McCandless/ABC via AP) 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. The publication excluded Samantha Bee, whose show doesn’t premiere until January, but the portrait also was missing Miss Piggy, host of Up Late With Miss Piggy. It’s a goal that has been assisted by media types who have approached “reports” of Miss Piggy and Kermit’s “breakup” like news and not like an overly honored plot summary.

The Miss Piggy-Kermit news that you read about was never even really news because it was always part of the proof-of-concept presentation that convinced ABC to order The Muppets, co-created by Bob Kushell and Bill Prady, in the first place — a presentation that ABC made available to the public. A problem, since his girlfriend and her parents are human and Fozzie happens to be a bear—which detail particularly upsets the girl’s father, who begins asking searching questions. The show aims for humor 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. That original presentation has been absorbed into the first two Muppets episodes sent to critics — like a biologically weaker twin, only a biologically weaker twin that happened to be tighter and more efficiently funny. The girl’s mother, who clearly holds the most progressive attitudes, worries only that she should have served Fozzie’s main course—salmon—raw.

No, he’s told, it’s not THAT kind of meeting. “The Muppets” is the crew’s first regular prime-time TV gig since the short-lived “Muppets Tonight” aired in 1998, and it comes more than three decades after the 1976-81 success of “The Muppet Show.” 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). In some cases, their jobs are carried over from past show-within-a-show Muppet joints, while other characters have been shunted off to an Up Late writers’ room populated by motley talking vermin and crustaceans. 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”).

From there, the show is trying to give screen time to as many favorite characters as possible, which only works if you happen to have the same favorites as the writers. 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.

Fozzie is amply served with a B-story in both episodes, but with Bobo the bear also getting a storyline, fans of less represented classics like Gonzo or the entirely absent Rowlf will surely find the early going excessively ursine. The show, co-created by former “Muppets” writer Bill Prady (“The Big Bang Theory”) and Bob Kushell (“3rd Rock From the Sun”), has been conceived as a satirical mockumentary of sorts, with the characters departing the action to confide their private thoughts to the camera.

They include Barretta (the Swedish Chef, Rowlf); Steve Whitmire (Kermit, Rizzo); Eric Jaconson (Miss Piggy, Fozzie); Dave Goelz (Gonzo, Zoot); David Rudman (Scooter, Janice) and Matt Vogel (Sgt. If you think Beaker, for example, is a garbage Muppet, you won’t lament his mostly missing meeping, while if you’re a purist, you’ll cringe at every appearance of shrimp-come-lately Pepe. Floyd Pepper). “It’s the richest world of characters I’ve ever been a part of, other than maybe when I was writing for ‘The Simpsons’ back in their fourth, fifth, six seasons,” said Kushell. “That was an expansive, exciting world of characters.” Whitmire, with the Muppets since 1978, says the series offers “a nice little progression of who (the puppets) are. It’s both the blessing and curse of the deep Muppets library that you get to choose between dozens of predeveloped characters, but it’s the rare devotee who doesn’t play favorites.

Making the proceeds even more diffuse is the necessity to weave in as many celebrity guests as possible and to do it without seeming like an in-house publicity machine for ABC. From Modern Family Emmy nominee Elizabeth Banks to Dancing With the Stars host Tom Bergeron to an ABC comedy star whose cameo was one of my favorite moments, the show isn’t giving the impression that Hollywood’s A-list is beating down doors to appear. Fears from certain paranoid quarters that The Muppets would yield an excessively adult, and therefore smutty, version of these beloved, family-friendly characters are, of course, unfounded.

The Muppets have, in many of their incarnations, sustained a certain amount of double entendre, and this documentary-style glimpse behind the scenes doesn’t remove the gauzy filter in any way. Protective parents can rest assured that Sam Eagle, representing network standards and practices, is there to protect children from words like “crotchety.” The Muppets gets no raunchier than jokes about cuddling, a soft Fozzie reference to responses to listing himself as a bear in his dating profile and a fairly awesome comment about gender fluidity from Pepe. Parents are more likely to have to explain to their children the etiquette of talent booking than anything dirty, and if you’re not prepared to tell your kid about why it isn’t polite to cancel a late-night guest at the last minute, I guess I can’t speculate on what other conversations might prove difficult. The Muppets never have lacked for emotional nuance, but in exploring the reality of their lives, a demystifying occurs that isn’t always for the best when it comes to the Muppet legacy in your mind.

These people don’t belong together, but somehow they’ve formed a decadeslong pairing, one that always felt buoyed by Miss Piggy’s stronger affections and a submissive aspect to Kermit. Now Kermit just has a fetish, so has he always been playing hard to get with Piggy as part of some role-playing that we haven’t previously established? And within the same dynamic, Miss Piggy’s affections for Kermit, even affections tempered by occasional abuse, always have been a key softening factor for Miss Piggy. The Muppets always have relied on a suspension of disbelief to pre-empt this sort of intrusive reality-based questioning, but the premise of their new show seems to demand belief.

The best way, then, to avoid practicalities of frog-pig sex, Scooter’s species (and whether or not Skeeter is canon in this universe) and Electric Mayhem’s drug consumption is with laughter.

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