Last September, ABC premiered an ‘Office’ style mockumentary starring one of the many pieces of my childhood that Disney has since purchased, The Muppets. It was advertised with announcements in legitimate newspapers that iconic couple Kermit and Miss Piggy had split up, leaving room for some drama between exes in the show. The “more adult” (Kermit’s words) Muppet Show was welcomed by long-time fans who wanted the Muppets to return to its adult-but-appropriate-for-everyone roots. But it was decried by critics who either thought Fozzie dating a human being was perverted (frogs and pigs are okay) or who confused The Muppet Show with Sesame Street and wondered why they would go from teaching ABCs to dating and relationships. The show went on for a few episodes and, while I loved it, thinking it was a near-perfect combination of modern and classic, the ratings weren’t that hot.
I loved the idea of putting the Muppets in a mockumentary, as I am also a big fan of The Office. I loved the different roles that the Muppets had in this new scenario that were true to their characters (Gonzo was the head writer, Sam the Eagle was the censor, Electric Mayhem was the talk show band). I loved how Miss Piggy’s role as star of the show made her the boss. In the past, Piggy has always had her temper, but now, her newfound authority status sent the other Muppets running and hiding when she was on the rampage. While some thought this was sexist, it made for some very funny moments.
But then, there was Kermit. Longtime fans, even people who know their Muppets, found Kermit’s portrayal on this show to be a little cold. He was the producer of a talk show and came across as kind of a manipulative jerk in the first few episodes. Yes, he has always been “the show must go on” type and he had to get his way when Piggy (the boss) was being irrational. And Kermit’s new demeanor sort of made sense considering that he had to work with his ex. But that was the main complaint that I, someone who loved the show, had with it. I felt that Kermit’s glowing positivity in the face of persecution had been lost in this show. And I wasn’t alone. That was the main complaint that a lot of critics and reviewers had about this show. An episode where Kermit goes to a resort to relax and ends up singing ‘Rainbow Connection’ in a swamp in his backyard was a step in the right direction, but Kermit needed to loosen up.
Then, there was an article on a few websites (about ten episodes in) that Bob Kushell, the Muppets showrunner, had been replaced with Kristen Newman. Knowing very little about either of these people, I was afraid that all those people who thought Muppets shouldn’t be for adults had won. I was afraid that the same thing would happen to the Muppets that happened when Jim Henson passed away, that they would be dumbed down for kids (and no one older), like they were when they started adapting classic novels in their films. Thank goodness no one ever tried to make Gonzo an alien or stick the Muppets in ‘The Wizard of Oz’. Nope. Nope. Nope. That didn’t happen. La la la la la.
But, a few episodes into what was being touted as a “reboot”, the writing on ‘The Muppets’ is just as sharp and funny as ever. The only changes that have been made since their hiatus have made it more like a modern version of the original Muppet Show. Yes, Kermit has loosened up. And he’s gotten the bright idea to use the writers (the other Muppets) in skits on Piggy’s talk show. This has resulted in the show having sketches, something this version was lacking before, but that the original Muppet show thrived on. And you still have the modern office drama, which is like the backstage insanity of the original show. That is what the past few episodes have been leaning towards and the show is better for it.
As for the ‘adult’ aspect, much of which includes cultural satire, a recent episode featured Miss Piggy experiencing a ‘wardrobe malfunction’. Her cute little curly pig tail popped out of her dress and it caused a nationwide, Janet Jackson/Super Bowl-style controversy.
Kermit looks out the window. sees a group called ‘One Million Angry Parents’ (based on real-life activists One Million Moms) protesting and goes “There’s only three of them. Oh, wait. Now there’s four. Oh, wait! That’s the pizza guy.” So, yes, this “reboot” was only a mild tweaking that made the show better. It is more like the original Muppet Show while maintaining its modern ‘Office’ elements. If Kermit’s emo-phase turned you off when this show started, I would recommend you check it out, maybe by catching up on Hulu. It is one of the smarter comedies on television, even without teaching anyone their ABCs.
P.S. if you’ve never seen the segment on Fox News where they accused the Muppets of being communist because the villain in their 2011 movie was an oil tycoon, find it on You Tube. Probably the most unintentionally funny thing the Muppets have been unintentionally involved with.