Monday saw the broadcast of the first episode of the Muppet’s new program, titled simply “the muppets.” Several of my friends have taken to Facebook with their reactions to the program, but I thought that perhaps taking more time to express myself was worthwhile. Also, I’m trying to keep an eye open for more material to post here, and this seemed as good a topic as any, considering the Kermit figure that sits on the wall behind the main floor counter:
Alright, shameless product placement aside…
I think it’s worth saying that I tend to avoid spoiler. I generally like to know as little as possible about a show going into it, other then the basic story concept so I have some notion if I’ll like it at all. As such, I feel I should warn readers that I am not holding back with this view. There will be spoilers (if there is such a thing for the Muppets). You have been warned.
As I had not been following the development of the show at all, I didn’t really know what to expect. But I wasn’t expecting a mockumentary of the production of a late night talk show, one SO in the vein of “The Office” that the title card itself references it (see above).
My initial reaction to this was a bit of knee-jerk “Ew, THIS is not what The Muppets is meant to be!” But then later I started thinking- WHAT are the Muppets meant to be, and why?
Well, for those of us with the blessing of age enough to remember the original Muppet Show (and the many more who have seen it in some home media format) we know that said program took the form of a variety show with added backstage elements, and was to some extent a satire of such things.
It was 1976, and such things were common on prime-time television. Laugh-In, The Carol Burnett Show, Saturday Night Live, these are just three examples of some of the more popular variety shows on TV during that era, but there are more. Many more. The comedy variety show was a major part of the culture of the mid-to-late 70s, and this became a natural format for a show of goofball humour and occasional commentary/satire.
Would that hold today? How many comedy variety show are there out there these days? SNL is the only one I can think of that’s still going, or still lives in the cultural mind. What is much more popular? Reality shows (or shows mocking them) that feature dramatic situations and one-on-one interview cutaways. I think, then, that taking this format is ENTIRELY within the spirit of the Muppets, and in a way is getting back to their roots, the original intention with which they were created.
Jim Henson’s creations got their first large-scale exposure with Sesame Street in 1969, but it’s not what Ji really wanted to do. Sure, he thought educated kids was important, but he was concerned about being pigeonholed into children’s media when he felt that puppetry had the potential to be a medium for more mature entertainment as well.
This is why the more adult tone that the humour took in the show was refreshing to me. Yes, we’re all familiar with the image of the Muppets as innocently goofy, child-friendly entertainment, but go back and look at the first season of the Muppet show. Violence and innuendo abound, as do references to politics and news that would likely have gone over kids heads.
Sadly, I think Jim’s fears came true, and the show was forced to take a more child-friendly tone as it became more popular because, in North American society at least, we relegate puppets and animation to the realm of children’s entertainment.
This show displays an effort to break away from that with a return to innuendo in conversations regarding Kermit and his new girlfriend, and I say good on ’em.
The celebrity guest star trend returns with a hilarious (and self-depricating) visit from Tom Bergeron, and appearances from Elizabeth Banks and Imagine Dragons, who all blended into the environment of Muppets casually and smoothly.
The show was filled with the kind of wit that I love and expect from the Muppets, with Janice and Sam the Eagle both eliciting a laugh-out-loud reaction from me with particularly memorable lines.
While I’m not sold as of yet on how specifically the show seems to reference “The Office” specifically (I often feel that the parody and satire of today focuses too much on specific references, and not enough on tropes and conventions of genre), all-in-all I came away form the show with a lighter heart and a desire to see more.