Goodbye vaudeville, hello deconstructed Tonight show, as a TV favourite attempts to lure a new audience.
I suppose if it’s possible to muck up The Muppets, then The Muppets is it.
It’s not altogether bad, and the sentimental part in me loves seeing them back. But given their legacy and the time it has taken to return to screen, this really should have been better.
What was once a backstage vaudeville show is now a backstage Tonight show, fronted by Miss Piggy. She’s kinda Chelsea, Lately meets Oprah -a network star making high demands and even believing her own publicity.
Kermit is the show’s producer, Fozzie is the warm-up guy and announcer, Gonzo is head writer, Scooter is a booking agent and Dr. Teeth and The Electric Mayhem are, fittingly, the house band. And yes, Waldorf and Statler are still heckling from the audience, just not from the royal box.
Instead of cutting to scenes in the wings of Kermit panicking over the next The Muppet Show musical number, the device here is a Modern Family-esque documentary with characters giving direct-to-camera asides.
[In cutaway] Gonzo: “That is just one of those overused devices to make easy jokes. You know, talking to the camera about how you really feel and then cutting back and saying something completely different. I just hate that!”
Gonzo: “I love it! Great device!”
Like 30 Rock, there is plenty of backstage politics in production meetings, offices, corridors, dressing rooms and even scenes outside of the studio backlot. The balance of the show is heavily-weighted to these then those within the fictional Up Late with Miss Piggy.
Piggy’s tantrums fit the new format well. She doesn’t want Elizabeth Banks as a guest. Posters of her adorn the car park and she duets with Josh Groban (described by Kermit as “that horribly evil, velvet-throated, incredibly talented Josh Groban). Gonzo still offers hapless ideas -his Dancing with the Stars with rats is wacky fun and I loved Bobo the Bear as a grumpy backstage set manager.
But after decades as a couple Piggy and Kermit are famously broken up -he is now seeing network marketer and pig-a-like, Denise. History will decide whether sacrificing one of TV’s great couples for a short-term storyline is ultimately worthwhile.
Meanwhile Fozzie is dating Becky, a human girlfriend and trying to impress her parents, or rubbing shoulders with Jay Leno at his party. While the show integrates human performers alongside Muppets without any interruption, it’s a bit confusing when Becky’s parents keep referring to him as a bear.
One of the criticisms of the show has been its incorporation of more adult humour -there are references to casual dating, anatomy, pregnancy alongside innuendo. Chief censor Sam the Eagle won’t allow the word gesticulating -“not on my watch.” Fozzie jokes that a personal ad for a ‘passionate bear seeking love’ elicits “a lot of wrong responses…. not wrong, just wrong for me.” Musician Zoot doodles an (unseen) drawing on a card then realises, “Oh wait, maybe I can make it into a saxophone.”
They all seem unnecessary, and an attempt to drag the show down to a youthful audience. I kept waiting for Waldorf and Statler to yell, “When they can’t be funnier, they just get cruder!”
On the whole I have no problem with modernising the show around Up Late with Miss Piggy, but so far there is too much deconstruction going on and not enough Muppet joy or whimsy. While summer fare is generally far more bleak than the likes of this, The Muppets is too much business, not enough show.
No better example of how times have changed than the opening. Gone is the raucous, singalong theme tune. Now it’s just a bare-boned typewriter font, spelling out The Muppets on a title card.
The Muppets premieres 7:30pm Tuesday December 29 on Seven.