The Muppets return to prime time

T.V. Review: “The Muppets” Episode 1

Jacob Judd, Features Editor

For members of a younger generation, The Muppets occupy a certain place in the pop-culture zeitgeist. If you primarily grew up on The Muppets as a staple of your VHS collection, the two recent Disney theatrical releases feel like an extension of that series of films including the particularly wholesome tone that eventually came to define them.

ABC’s new sitcom “The Muppets” however, feels much more like a deliberate attempt to “update” our old felt friends for an edgier, modern audience. Parts of this approach are more successful than others.

It’s easy to forget that the original “Muppet Show”, played with much more adult humor than we might remember as children, but this new Muppet show certainly does. For example, I’m not sure I need to see Kermit’s new girlfriend putting the moves on him in his office. On the other hand Fozzie Bear’s subplot about meeting his human girlfriend’s parents is part of an episode that gave the most consistent laughs. So as far as the adult humor on the show goes, I hope they get better at picking and choosing when to insert it. 

“The Muppets” borrows heavily from Tina Fey’s “30 Rock.” Playing out as a backstage drama, the central conflict revolves around the shenanigans of Miss Piggy’s diva talk show, with Kermit filling Liz Lemon’s shoes as the exasperated producer trying to wrangle the maddeningly disorganized talent. The characters all find a niche and there’s plenty of room for celebrity cameos on the studio backlot.

The show’s use of the mockumentary style popularized by “The Office” and “Modern Family” unfortunately feels somewhat tired, and a less comfortable fit than the “30 Rock” template, but the interaction of Muppet and human feels like it has the potential to keep things fresh. Let’s hope that the cutaway interviews do not become a crutch for the writers that keeps them from coming up with the creative vaudevillian wordplay and slapstick that’s been The Muppet’s bread and butter for decades.

The new “Muppets” stumbles out of the gate with an uneven pilot marred by unoriginal formatting. But the good news is that I was laughing more often than not. With a property as bankable as The Muppets, the writers will surely have at least a full season to work out the kinks in the new formula. Let’s hope they make good on that potential.