Airtime: Tuesday at 8pm on ABC
Tweetable Takeaway: The Muppets are back with their take on modern love, interspecies dating, and bisexual shrimp.
Puppets are cool again. Like, really cool. Between Avenue Q, to the celebrity guests Sesame Street bags lately, and a surge of online throwback listicles, the world is now a safe space to proclaim our puppet love once and for all! So it’s perfect timing for our favorite felted friends, THE MUPPETS, to return to the airwaves with an updated – and in my opinion – upgraded version of The Muppet Show (now just The Muppets).
The original Muppet Show ran from 1976-1981 and followed the format of a typical Variety show – a common style for it’s time – which incorporated celebrity guests, musical guests, and scenes of the Muppets as themselves, working together on bringing their show to life. And almost seamlessly, the new version on ABC doesn’t lose any of these elements, but simply updates them into a more modern format – the mockumentary, a la The Office or Modern Family. And it’s for the better – without a laugh track the show seems more real. Yes, I know I’m saying that puppets seem real, but here’s the thing – they really do. By treating the tone as a modern day comedy about relationships in the workplace, as opposed to just a kids show or slapstick vaudeville act, we find ourselves forgetting that a pig is in love with a frog and that a rat is card carrying WGA writer.
The Muppets is based on the premise that a documentary crew is making a film about what it takes to create and run a successful late night show. In doing so they get behind the scenes interviews with staff, a peek into the writer’s room and general access to “Up Late with Miss Piggy”. Kind of meta – like 30 Rock but with stuffed bears and a bisexual shrimp. Oh, did you not hear? There’s rumors that Pepe the shrimp is bisexual – seriously, just google it. And I predict this is just the beginning of puppet gossip. We had a taste of it in a clever publicity stunt by ABC a few weeks back when Kermit and Miss Piggy announced their amicable separation – skewering the recent celebrity ‘consciously uncoupling’ phenomenon. The break up was difficult for many fans to take, but it’s smart and makes for great TV. Our show’s hero is Kermit, and the poor guy has to executive produce his ex girlfriend’s successful TV show. A situation that whether human or muppet is wrought with tension, drama, and of course hope in a happy reunion at some point.
While no longer together, Kermit and Miss Piggy have a cordial working relationship and we viewers reunite with the rest of the gang at the 9am production meeting. All our old friends are there and contribute to the show in variety of ways – of course Electric Mayhem is the house band, Gonzo is in the writer’s room and Fozzie is the announcer and warm up comedian. Miss Piggy is as always her diva self – making demands, yelling at staff, requesting that “garbage be put on top of her actual garbage” in her dressing room – and the like. She even demands that Kermit cancel the next evening’s guest, Elizabth Banks, because she “hates her stupid face”. Kermit describes his former girlfriend as exciting but goes on to explain, “but if you take dating out of the equation, she’s just a lunatic.” Haven’t we all been there?
Meanwhile, Fozzie goes to dinner at his girlfriends house (a human) to meet and impress her parents. The beauty of this scene is in the realness in which the actors played it. Real fatherly concerns about what society will think of his daughter marrying a bear, “how will you raise your kids?”, derogatory comments about eating salmon, shitting in the woods, and other “bear” stereotypes. We’ve all watched that scene – a guy trying to impress and a girl’s parents who will never accept him. The absurdity that it’s a bear and not a man, is treated as if its not absurd in the slightest, but rather a real modern day issue that needs addressing- humans and bears and what prejudices exist around that. When Fozzie realizes they’ll never respect him, he gives up on the relationship rather easily and with no fanfare. Maybe we’ll find out Fozzie is a serial dater? I wouldn’t mind if Fozzie had a new lady every week – some guys just can’t be tied down.
We continue to see all the behind the scenes activities that happen on a late night set – a glimpse into the writers room, sound check for the musical guest Imagine Dragons, and Elizabeth Banks – who Kermit did not in fact cancel on – shows up to set. Again, the realness that the actors played it only adds to the show – Elizabeth Banks, the guys from Imagine Dragons, Tracey Anderson as Miss Piggy’s trainer, and even Tom Bergeron who poked fun at himself as being a second tiered back up guest, all played it like pigs and frogs are no different than us. And thats where this show’s success will lie – in the actors continuing to play the reality of the scenes so that audience members will suspend our disbelief just long enough to forget these are simply sacks of fabric being hand operated.
In a moment of downtime we meet Denise, Kermit’s new girlfriend, a pretty pig (he admits to having a physical type) with what seems like the opposite personality of Miss Piggy – demure, sweet, and deferential. While there’s absolutely nothing wrong with sweet Denise who works in marketing, we know Kermit well enough to know that he likes being ordered around a little, and that just ain’t her. Miss Piggy was too much excitement and Denise is a nice breather for him, but might get a bit too boring. Despite describing his life as “a bacon wrapped hell on earth”, we know deep down Kermit and Piggy can’t really be over. That’s made especially clear in a flashback that reveals the reason why Miss Piggy hates Ms. Banks. Kermit broke up with Miss Piggy at the movies – where they were about to see Pitch Perfect 2 – how could he have forgotten? “I really am an insensitive toad”, he confesses.
The show goes on with Elizabeth Banks as the guest, and it’s revealed Miss Piggy is actually an entertaining host and Miss Banks is actually, well, a bit of a bitch. Miss Piggy is taken aback when Elizabeth makes a comment referring to Miss Piggy’s plastic surgery, on the air no less and I say good for Elizabeth Banks for not taking herself too seriously. Just like back in the beginning days of The Muppet Show, we end on a musical performance, and just like that we’re waiting for next week all over again.
My favorite moments of the show will probably be considered the most “controversial”. What used to be more of a kids slanted brand is now a bit mature and edgy – now I’m not calling The Muppets edgy here – but just more edgy than ever before. Innuendos abound, and in just the first episode there were references to 12 step meetings, stoned electric mayhem members, and bear/human cross species love. On his way to meet his girlfriend’s parents Fozzie describes how he has to be careful with online dating because ‘a lovable bear’ doesn’t always mean the same thing to everyone. When the guys from Imagine Dragons invite Animal to drum for them on tour he declines, “too many women, too many towns” while staring off into the distance, disturbed. Maybe some parents or old school Muppet fans won’t like the new direction but I for one found it to be the best part and despite being in that eight o’clock time slot, I hope they continue to flirt with the line in this way.
Corey is a writer, comedian, and teacher of improv comedy. She plays Cousin Gail on the first and second seasons of the Emmy award winning show, Transparent. Corey is also the co host of two podcasts: We Should Have a Podcast and Taboo Tales – both available on iTunes.
Corey Podell | Contributor