The New Muppets TV Show Will Scar You

22 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Living with the Muppets.

A world in which Miss Piggy gets bikini waxes and Fozzie Bear is hip to Grindr? In this uneven cross between “The Office” and “30 Rock,” Kermit the Frog is the executive producer of “Up Late with Miss Piggy,” a late-night talk show hosted by his ex-girlfriend.That’s certainly true tonight with the debuts of ABC’s “The Muppets,” an update of the 1970s syndicated “Muppet Show,” and Fox’s “Scream Queens,” a comedic ode to ’70s and ‘80s slasher films.While many nostalgic Americans are looking forward to the return of the Muppets to network television on Tuesday, one group is less than thrilled, deriding the new, more adult-themed show featuring the beloved 1970’s felt puppets as “perverted” and calling on ABC to can the program: the pro-family One Million Moms. In the premiere, “Pig Girls Don’t Cry,” Miss Piggy has fits when she learns Kermit has booked Elizabeth Banks (the Pittsfield film star and director guests as herself) on her show. “I hate her stupid face,” Piggy snits.

I know where I’ll be: sitting in my family room, laughing and smiling along with the colorful creatures on the screen, just as I did nearly 40 years ago when the original “Muppet Show” aired (1976-1981). The canny publicity campaign for their latest venture, ABC’s sitcom The Muppets, “leaked” “news” to the tabloids that Kermit and Miss Piggy had broken up, and Kermit had taken up with a pig named Denise, drumming up attention and ire in nearly equal measure. Rebecca Traister, in a piece last week headlined “The Muppets should not be having sex, people,” ably captured the sentiment that the Muppets, perfect and lovely (and, sure, fictional), should not be besmirched by tawdry gossip and innuendo. “Please stop talking, writing, and otherwise promoting the upcoming Muppets television reboot by alluding to them actually fucking,” she wrote. “They are Muppets.” But the new show spends far less time than the (highly effective) promotional materials on the unseemly prospect of Muppet boinking, committing instead a less salacious form of Muppet blasphemy: turning the Muppets into neurotic adults. In the lead-up to Tuesday night’s premiere of the new The Muppets TV show, ABC president Paul Lee has been touting that this is “not your grandmother’s Muppets.” As you may have heard, the new sitcom version of the beloved Jim Henson gang features Kermit, Miss Piggy, Gonzo, and the gang in more “adult” situations than we’re used to seeing them in. The show, co-created by Bill Prady, a muppeteer from wayback, finds Kermit and his pals plagued by work stress, day-to-day irritations and relationship problems.

Next week, in “Hostile Takeover,” Kermit decides to make Miss Piggy happy by setting her up with Josh Groban, but his plan backfires when the singer tries to take over the show. Penney JCP 0.11% when that retailer featured same-sex couples in its inserts.) While it is true that there is a more adult feel to the show, if the promos are any indication, it could well be that ABC is in fact not aiming at children, but at Gen Xers and Baby Boomers who grew up loving the Muppets and want to relive a bit of their childhood in an updated manner once a week. It melds the backstage set-up of The Larry Sanders Show or 30 Rock (fans of which will recall that Kenneth the Page already thought everyone on that show was a Muppet) with the mockumentary tricks of The Office: the talking head interviews, the glances at the camera.

The Muppets have been through multiple iterations since the 1990 death of Jim Henson, including a stint making movie adaptations of classic stories (“Muppet Christmas Carol,” “Muppet Treasure Island”) and more recent films where they played themselves (2014’s “Muppets Most Wanted”) to varying degrees of success. And it is the cast that has drawn generations of children and adults into the Muppet family, characters that are loving but not without fault, irreverent but not without kindness, hilarious but not without sincerity and struggling but not without hope. The resulting comedy is knowing, self-referential, low-energy, and a little jaded, perfectly promising qualities in a new sitcom, unless that new sitcom stars a green frog beloved for self-identifying as a “lover and dreamer.” The Muppets turns the rainbow connection grey. The Muppets, historically, have been an ebullient and silly group who love to entertain people, not in some crass or soulless way, but in a generous and good-spirited one. In The Muppets, though, anxiety and overwork creep in. (The mockumentary format is also not a great fit for Muppets, who have many skills, but immobile eyes.

Henson was a childhood hero of mine and an icon in our family, an inspiration of creativity, hopefulness and kindness, someone whose ambition in life, as he once stated, was to “leave the world a better place than when I got here.” When he did abruptly leave the world in 1990 at the age of 53, he most certainly had achieved his goal. Moving lids and irises are required for the deadpan glances to camera so necessary to this format.) There is still the occasional bolt of pure Muppet-y sweetness, like a series of jokes that rely on staff writer Pepe the King Prawn’s multiple claws, but the first two episodes largely focus on the bummers and indignities of workaday life.

Murphy, Brad Falchuk and Ian Brennan, “Scream Queens” incorporates the bitchier, put-down humor of “Glee” without any of the Up-with-People optimism or hope. Bobo the Bear sells his daughter’s Girl Scout Cookies around the office, but after having little luck he mourns that he’s teaching his daughter “that she can’t rely on her father.” Gonzo struggles to come up with bits that please Kermit. Set largely at Wallace University’s Kappa House sorority, the series follows Kappa Kappa Tau queen bee Chanel Oberlin (Emma Roberts, “American Horror Story”) and her minions – Chanels No. 2 (guest star Ariana Grande), No. 3 (Billie Lourd) and No. 5 (Abigail Breslin) – as they fight against Dean Cathy Munsch (Jamie Lee Curtis, “Halloween”), who wants them booted from campus. “You represent everything that is wrong with young girls nowadays,” Munsch says to the entitled, possibly murderous original Chanel, who refers to Kappa house’s maid as “white Mammy.” Grace (Skyler Samuels), the show’s heroine, rushes Kappa House when Munsch declares Kappa’s rush must be open to all, including a neck brace-wearing geek (Lea Michele, “Glee”), a deaf girl and a militant lesbian. And everyone is working overtime for a nightmare boss, an egomaniac with a horrible temper, unpredictable whims, and a hatred of direct eye contact: Miss Piggy. He has written for seven different Muppets shows or specials and worked on a different potential Muppet TV show in 2007 that never started the music or lit the lights.

Golf fraternity leader Chad (Glen Powell) tells Chanel, “I don’t go around dating garbage people,” as he sets the stage for a break-up even as his closeted gay frat bro Boone (Nick Jonas, “Kingdom”) looks on. “Scream Queens” is at its best when it skewers modern youth culture, particularly in a murder scene where the show’s costumed Red Devil killer enters the room of a sorority sister who communicates with the Red Devil only by text even as he threatens to kill her. Even at her worst—hitting Kermit all the time, for example—she was the sour powder slathered onto the Muppet gummy bears: the lip-puckering tang that made them taste so good. In recent years, Piggy has even become a kind of feminist icon, authoring a piece for Time, “Why I am a feminist pig.” On The Muppets she is, it’s true, a woman with a late-night show, but otherwise she’s a real boor. All of that said, in a perverse way, this maturation of the franchise may be exactly what was needed if The Muppets has any hope of being the same lightning rod or have the same longevity as the original Muppet Show, which ran from 1976 to 1981.

I was reminded just how special that wall was — or rather, how special my parents were for allowing us to paint it — when Carnegie Mellon professor Randy Pausch gave his famed “Last Lecture” in September 2007. The vaudevillian nature at the heart of their humor was a dying comedy genre and the beating heart behind these characters’ humanity was no longer around to give it a pulse. In the second, she’s been in a hellacious mood for days—the crew hides beneath their desks, rather than risk eye contact—because she doesn’t have a date to an awards show, and only a famous person will appease Piggy’s ego. During his lecture, the professor reflected on his childhood and recalled asking his parents’ permission to paint on his bedroom wall when he was a teenager. “I want to paint things on my walls,” he said, “things that matter to me.” Mr.

Bossy, shrill, hysterical, irrational, moody, and all the other condescending words that are disproportionately used to describe and police women’s behavior, all truly apply to this iteration of Miss Piggy. (Except frumpy. So it was that he set to work painting the things that mattered to him: a quadratic equation, chess pieces, a rocket ship, a submarine and Pandora’s Box. The Muppets Show was very much an homage to the classic variety hour, a format forever married to an antique sense of humor that—as Neil Patrick Harris could certainly tell you—has struggled to modernize without feeling cheesy or dated. This Muppets, however, embraces the very trendy entertainment that threatened the franchise’s relevance all these years: more mature, less earnest humor; the rise of the single-camera comedy; and the reality TV conceit that the show spoofs. The original Miss Piggy is a forerunner to the complicated female protagonists TV continues to provide, characters from Liz Lemon to Hannah Horvath, from Skyler White to UnReal’s Rachel Goldberg, deeply flawed women not primarily, or even particularly, concerned with being likeable.

Making Missy Piggy so awful has dour ramifications for the rest of the Muppets: Why are they working so hard for this pig, who can’t even deign to remember Fozzie Bear’s name? The Muppet who comes off worst is Kermit, who spends his days sneakily managing Piggy’s moods, working up the nerve to disobey her, a mild-mannered middle manager.

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