The Muppets have always been edgy. Apart from Kermit the Frog’s regular appearances on Sesame Street, there was always a clear separation between educational kids’ programming from Children’s Television Workshop and the more adult skewed Muppet Show of the late 70s. For older audiences, Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzy Bear, and The Great Gonzo are best remembered for their syndicated puppet populated variety show that bridged the gap between counter coulter and mainstream. In subsequent decades, the Muppets have starred in numerous feature films, TV specials, and prime-time network programs. Each event has attempted to maintain the heart and soul of the recognized characters while adapting its presentation to the current media climate.
The new ABC series The Muppets continues that tradition of media evolution. The new series takes the form of a hand-held mocumentary (reminiscent of The Office), following the behind-the-scenes lives of the Muppets as they produce Miss Piggy’s fictional late-night talk show, “Up Late with Miss Piggy.” The action picks up a few months after Kermit and Piggy’s much publicized break-up. Kermit is attempting to maintain his professionalism and sanity as he works along side the former love-of-his-life. In the pilot episode, little of Piggy’s point-of-view is revealed. We mostly see the present state of affairs through Kermit’s eyes, though the show’s format lends itself to revelations from various characters in future episodes.
Much of the pre-show publicity has also made hay of Kermit’s new girlfriend, Denise. While she has been compared to various contemporary Hollywood stars, one may also observe that she heavily resembles Miss Piggy as she appeared in Season 1 of The Muppet Show.
Much like other Muppet projects of the past, the show is set in a world where humans and Muppets coexist. No one is in awe of the puppets. There have been some Muppet ventures in the past where human extras seemed awkwardly out of place in their Muppet shared world. For this show, the Muppet universe is normal.
As mentioned, the visual style of the show heavily resembles documentary style sitcoms like The Office, Modern Family, and Arrested Development. The behind-the-scenes banter and inside show-biz lingo gives the show a touch of 30Rock. The tone of the latter seems more in sync with the Muppets, but it will be interesting to see what is accomplished with this format.
The Muppets are taking a risk with 21st century television. Given the increasingly fickle nature of the modern viewer, we’ll see how long they survive.
The Muppets airs Tuesday nights on ABC.