The recent relaunch of the Muppet film franchise may have fizzled after just two movies, but a little setback like that can’t keep a good frog, pig or bear down. Jim Henson’s iconic felt creations return to television this season with a new comedy series simply titled ‘The Muppets’, and it’s the first (perhaps only?) new show of the fall that I unreservedly love.
Some of the off-camera voice actors may have changed over the years, but most of the characters we know and love are present and accounted for exactly as we remember them. Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzie, Gonzo, Animal, etc. are back together in a smart reworking of the old ‘Muppet Show’ formula. As we catch up with them in the present day, Piggy has found stardom as the host of her own late night talk show (‘Up Late with Miss Piggy’), and she’s just as much of a diva as ever. Kermit is her producer, Fozzie is the show’s announcer, and the Electric Mayhem are the house band. This format should allow plenty of opportunities for guest star appearances and non-sequitur comedy and musical sketches. In the pilot episode, called ‘Pig Girls Don’t Cry’, Piggy has a petty rivalry with guest Elizabeth Banks while Imagine Dragons rehearse a song in the background.
Some things have changed, however. Piggy and Kermit have broken up, and a flashback showing how that happened is devastating. Kermit has a new girlfriend named Denise (also a pig), who seems like a poor substitute. Fozzie has also found love with a human girlfriend (Riki Lindhome), though the girl’s father (Jere Burns) does not approve of his daughter dating a bear.
The show is staged in mockumentary format, like ‘The Office’ or ‘Modern Family’, as an unseen behind-the-scenes documentary crew follows the characters around. (Gonzo has a good gag about how overplayed that device is.) The writing is incredibly sharp. Much of the humor will play directly to adults and fly right over the heads of children. Fozzie’s line about how his online dating profile attracted the wrong sort of attention is a killer.
Will the show appeal to children? That’s hard to say. The characters are still amazingly endearing, but kids today don’t seem to have much interest in the Muppets anymore. In a lot of ways, the series doesn’t make much pretense of being a kids’ show at all. (Kermit has a line about his life being “a bacon-wrapped Hell on Earth” that I expect will enrage conservative TV watchdogs.) Of course, the Muppets have always played as much to adults as to children, but the crossover here skews more toward the former than the latter.
Regardless, it’s terrific. I hope this finds its audience and lasts a while.