The weird history of treating the Muppets like real people

22 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

5 TV Shows To Watch In An Otherwise Uninspiring Fall Season.

Missy Piggy and Kermit The Frog have revealed the real reason behind their breakup while the world is reeling from David Cameron’s on-going ‘pig-gate’ scandal.Kermit is getting a paunch, the puppets in the band are stoned, Pepe the King Prawn has to marry his girlfriend before she gives birth to hundreds of thousands of shrimpettes, Fozzie Bear is dating outside his species and Miss Piggy is planning a butt lift and teat implants. “The Muppets” are back in prime time.The Muppets have been working in Hollywood for almost 40 years, but rather than considering retirement, they are well into the second act of their careers. The Muppets couple called time on their romance in July, and now they have had their first TV interview together as the British prime minister faces allegations he put his private parts into a dead pig’s mouth during his boozy student days at Oxford University. “Putting the lid down, closing the refrigerator door – not doing the dishes while taking a bath in the sink!

I know you like water, but I like it to be sanitary!” It wasn’t the only revelation during a bitter conversation between the two former lovers, with Jimmy bringing up Kermit’s new, fresh-faced girlfriend Denise. Taking a mockumentary approach — or should that be, “sockumentary?” — cameras follow all the chaos as Miss Piggy readies for her her own late-night talk show with Kermit as her producer.

The vagaries of interspecies puppet love is but one workplace issue explored in “The Muppets,” a new series that returns the fur-clad wags to living rooms nearly 35 years since they last carried prime time with “The Muppet Show.” (A short-lived series, “Muppets Tonight,” aired in the 1990s.) Led by the amphibian-porcine duo (recently broken up), the whole gang is back when the ABC comedy debuts Sept. 22, including Fozzie, Animal, Gonzo and — to the delight of cynics everywhere — peanut-gallery pundits Statler and Waldorf. 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. This means there’s never been a greater need for ambitious, groundbreaking material to prove the broadcast networks haven’t become the buggy whips of the media business. Unfortunately, they are no longer dating and that makes for a lot of tension on the set in the days leading up to the show’s premiere, especially since Kermit has moved on to a porcine brunette named Denise. Unlike the “Muppets” movies (which tended to focus on a specific quest) or the original series (which both indulged in and poked fun at the conventions of the classic variety show), the new “Muppets” aims to explore the lives and relationships of its title characters.

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. The continued success banks on the nostalgia of a generation that grew up with Jim Henson’s creations and is now raising their own children on the Disney-owned characters. Because they must court advertisers and the widest audiences possible, ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox have developed nearly two dozen new series which can mostly be summed up by one word: Retrenchment. Viewers follow the creatures at work, at home and out and about in Los Angeles. “Whether it’s Kermit on the 405 or Fozzie at Gelson’s, we want you to see them as real people out in the world,” said Bill Prady, “The Big Bang Theory” co-creator and Jim Henson acolyte who cocreated the new series. “There’s a bar that the ‘Big Bang’ cast goes to when they finish shooting an episode.

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. Last year, broadcast TV shows like Black-ish, Jane the Virgin, American Crime and Empire made a big impression with new stories offering fresh takes on family, romance, race and society.

We want to take you to that bar, only it’s with the Muppets.” Yet as with Beaker trying not to blow up the lab, the question of whether a forerunner can come back in the age it helped create is a perpetual one. 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.

So, of course, using the topsy-turvy logic of the television business, this year’s season is packed with shows that play it safe trying to stitch a new face on old concepts. After all, the Henson creatures’ latest big-screen foray, “Muppets Most Wanted,” flopped just last year. “What the show does is let us really see who these characters are on a 365-day-a-year basis instead of just once every few years,” said Debbie McLellan, vice president of the Muppets Studio, which oversees the property. 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.

To celebrate the next step in their long careers, we’ve gathered a few of their best pieces of advice from one of their very first creative ventures together, 1979’s The Muppet Movie. There are TV versions of old movies (Fox’s Minority Report, CBS’ Limitless), retreads of old hits (NBC’s Heroes Reborn) and new shows which seem like retreads of old hits (ABC’s Dallas-style soap opera Blood & Oil).

The obvious concept for the show is that creators Bill Prady and Bob Kushnell have taken a stock comedy situation and made us laugh because the dialogue is mostly spoken by puppets. The duo’s love, like a tadpole on a hot summer day, is a fragile thing, and as the show opens Kermit has separated with her to be with Denise from marketing.

Kermit may be the leader and the one with the plan, but he’s always recognized that you can accomplish a lot more with others than you can on your own. “I’ve got a dream too. It is as clever and well constructed as many series whose casts are entirely human (and an improvement on the pilot, released to the press early in the summer). Lead director Randall Einhorn and others are shooting episodes in the docu-comedy style popularized by “The Office” and “Modern Family,” where Einhorn has worked.

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. 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. And it kind of makes us like a family.”—Kermit Kermit has long served as an inspiring leader for his eccentric group, but in the closing number of the movie that served as their origin story, he reminds them that they control their own destiny. Miss Piggy, after all, is always going to be Miss Piggy, for better or “wurst.” Ryan Murphy and his “Glee” colleagues are adept at satirizing B movie cliches of the past for contemporary TV audiences.

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. So you’d naturally expect sorority house slasher films to be over-ripe for the picking as Murphy, Brad Falchuk and Ian Brennan sat down to craft another over-the-top show for Fox.

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. When Kermit wrestles with his guilt about disappointing his new friends, he realizes that perseverance is also important in order to keep the promises you make to yourself. The behind-the-scenes qualities of the show might add appeal in the TMZ era, as might Muppet characters’ appearances on “Sesame Street” over the years. The show has a loose connection to the most recent Man of Steel movie, depicting a relative from Superman’s doomed homeworld who got caught up in space travel and arrived on Earth many years after he did. It sort of comes alive in the last half-hour with a faint hope that it might be more gripping in the future, but I can’t help wondering if the audience will still be watching by then.

Current musical guests will be featured on the show too; Imagine Dragons is among the first. “I know there are questions like that out there,” Prady said when asked if edge could be maintained. “But that’s for people on the outside to decide. Crafted by the producers who made the CW’s superhero hits The Flash and Arrow, Supergirl laces its story about a wannabe hero who can fly and lift a passenger jet with the emotional tale of a young woman ready to push herself to the limit while trying to hold her non-superhero life together. So how much good does it do — which is to say, how much good does it do us — to give the Muppets sex lives and psychologies that, except in the broadest and sketchiest of terms, are new to them? Melissa Benoist (Glee, Whiplash) is spot-on as Supergirl and Ally McBeal alum Calista Flockhart chews the scenery appropriately as media mogul Cat Grant.

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. Grandfathered and The Grinder: Both of these Fox series are centered on pretty boy leading-man TV stars who don’t always get credit for how funny and sharp they can be.

Grace is a typical “nice girl,” who seems as though she’d never fit in at Kappa, where a house full of entitled mean girls is ruled by Chanel Oberlin (Emma Roberts) and her two sidekicks, Chanel #2 (Ariana Grande), Chanel #3 (Billie Lourd) and Chanel #5 (Abigail Breslin). None of these qualities is required for good television, of course — indeed, they are conspicuously absent from much of what is prized in this New Golden Age of Television — but most would be considered useful if not absolutely essential to what would appear to be a family show. Eventually Kermit hooks her up with Josh Groban, whom she tries to impress by forsaking her own tastes and going highbrow, pushing to interview some authors even though she’s never read a book. Grandfathered features John Stamos as a self-centered forever bachelor who discovers he has a son and a grandson in the same moment, turning the typical criticism of Stamos — that he too often seems like a TV-sized version of megastar George Clooney — and making it work for this character. In fact, Grace would never be allowed to pledge Kappa if it weren’t for orders from the imperious, sexually voracious, sorority-hating dean Cathy Munsch (Jamie Lee Curtis) that the house has to accept anyone and everyone who wants to join, including Hester Ulrich (Lea Michele) who has scoliosis, and Zayday Williams (Keke Palmer) who has a genius IQ.

The Grinder stars Rob Lowe as an actor who played a lawyer for many years on TV returning to his hometown to help a law firm led by his perpetually overshadowed brother — played by perpetually overshadowed Wonder Years alum Fred Savage. The campus is not a very safe place as the school year begins because Kappas and the boys of the Dickie Dollar Scholar golf fraternity are being hunted down by a mysterious killer dressed in a red devil’s costume. 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.

Plucky Grace teams up with the cute Carl Bernstein-wannabe Pete Martinez (Diego Boneta), editor of the school paper, to uncover the killer’s real identity and motive. What “Muppet Show” Kermit or Piggy or Fozzie would or would not do is not even an issue here; that world, “The Muppets” seems to say, was an illusion, a dream of childhood. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend: Originally intended for Showtime, this CW series centers on a high-strung overachiever who walks away from a high powered legal career to chase a high school ex-boyfriend who dumped her years ago.

Oh yeah, and it’s a musical comedy, with a showstopping production number about getting ready for an important date and a cast with serious Broadway credits. 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? Still, star Rachel Bloom, who’s also the show’s co-creator, is an energetic talent worth watching closely, even when the program’s oddball premise gets in the way. 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. Ken: It’s the worst malady for any old school multi-camera sitcom: Domineering Star Syndrome, a TV comedy illness in which only the star is allowed to be funny.

Turns out, a serious case of DSS has hobbled comic actor Ken Jeong’s disappointing ABC sitcom about an acerbic doctor with a wacky family — no one else gets to shine. And since it’s already a self-satire, there isn’t much the writers can do with the role to make it more interesting. “Scream Queens” may get better, but its first two episodes are far too tame, especially coming from Ryan Murphy’s house of usually hilarious horrors. If it’s not the first rule of broadcast programming, it’s pretty near the top: For lack of anything better, when you need a new show, just repurpose an old concept. Truth Be Told: This awkward, completely unfunny NBC sitcom about two couples who are best friends — one is black and the other is a white man married to a biracial woman — feels like a program developed by a committee determined to Tell The Truth About Race In America. Its family tree includes “Body of Proof” and “Quincy, M.E.” “Limitless” is the more preposterous of the two shows, but despite its shaky premise, ends up being just a skosh more engaging.

Brian Finch (Jake McDorman) is getting too old to keep hoping to get the band back together, but he has no career, no aspirations, no direction in life. Cue “White Rabbit.” Not only can he finish the filing job he’s been assigned now, but he even figures out what’s been causing his father’s recent health crises.

Brian has to solve crimes but he also has to maintain his stash of NZT or he’s toast. “Rosewood” has an attractive star in Chestnut, but the script is weak and predictable and there’s zero chemistry between Chestnut’s Dr.

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