The Muppets make a hilarious, heartfelt return
Photo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons
Written by Emilie Kefalas
My television library for a guaranteed laugh is limited to Netflix binges of “Frasier”, “Scrubs” and more recently “Parks and Recreation.” Finding a clever, genuinely funny, televised half-hour TV show not yet in reruns is a defeating hobby. All too often new shows die (or helplessly prolong their expiration dates) due to poor writing and development. The pressure can prove strangling for a series starting out their first season. The comedy genre is a tactful balancing act similar to learning to chew with your mouth closed.
This fall provided potential update to my library with one particular show high on my expectations list, “The Muppets.” Consensus? Gonzo the Great could not have made a more unpredictable and zany re-entrance into America’s living rooms thanks to co-creators Bill Prady and Bob Kushell.
Not since 1998’s cancellation of “Muppets Tonight” have Kermit, Miss Piggy and the gang starred in their own network television series. They have made dappled appearances on television and Christmas specials with two successful full-length feature films. Now, with their first season in the bag, viewers can anticipate their jovial return to ABC come February with a full 16-episode season. Prady said his inspiration for the premise derived from watching “The Muppet Show” as a child.
The show revolves around its backstage setting, delivering an intimate profile of the Muppets and their personal lives. Miss Piggy hosts her own late-night television show, “Up Late With Miss Piggy,” which in the world of “The Muppets” airs after “Jimmy Kimmel Live!”. She and Kermit are no longer together, which gives her permission to flaunt and flirt with the likes of Josh Groban and Ed Helms. Kermit serves as the show’s executive producer. He oversees the rest of the production team, which includes fan favorites Scooter, Gonzo, Sam Eagle, and Rizzo the Rat.
The show is filmed a la “The Office,” “Modern Family” camera operation, giving us private interview-style moments with Kermit when he’s freaking out about buying a gift for his new girlfriend, Denise (a Georgia peach who is also a pig); and with Piggy who at the request of Kermit, helps him buy it. This scenario and others like it throughout the first season allow for many quotable moments.
Watching the Muppets live as regular, hard-working wackos among hard-working human wackos is one of the show’s strongest qualities. The concept is surprisingly relatable, metaphorical even and Jim Henson would have loved it. After watching an episode or two, you forget these characters are creatures of an animated nature. The interaction between them and the “real world” becomes seamless. However many Muppets may be on screen at a time, “The Muppets” never allows one character to overwhelm another, and each one is given a moment to let the audience in on what he/she/it is thinking.
Muppet humor is a successful equilibrium of quick wit and honesty. This is prime time television, which means the jokes and subtle hints of innuendo are not unexpected. The comedy works two shifts for the kids who get a kick out of Gonzo’s nose and Sam’s overly deep voice, and for the adults who can have their dose of Fozzie while also getting a genuine laugh out of the chaos that comes with watching Piggy sing “Fly Me to the Moon” with Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Each episode features a famous, or at least well-known, face ranging from singer/actor Josh Groban, comedian Chelsea Handler (remember her?), and actresses Mindy Kaling and Reese Witherspoon.
Some critics have been harsh, some overprotective parents slightly agast but what cannot be disputed is the simple fact the show is enjoyable, engaging and humorous without overreaching its original charm. That alone is enough to satisfy in a bleak market of crime shows and crass sitcoms. Kushell explained this idea best, saying “We want to bring them all the way back to what they were intended to be and then some. But never so much that anyone has to explain anything uncomfortable to their kids.” He, Prady and the rest of their team care about Kermit and Piggy as much as the fans who remember Henson and the Muppets’ beginnings.