TV Review: The Muppets Pilot (2015)

The Muppets have finally returned to TV, with a show that’s new and funny and not at all like The Muppet Show from yesteryear. 

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ABC’s announcement of a new Muppets show has had me excited for some time now. I tuned in to watch the Pilot “Pig Girls Don’t Cry” with high expectations and nostalgia for childhood memories, and was met with a Muppets show that was different from what I expected.

Ever since The Muppets released in 2011, I have been among the throng clamoring for the Muppets to return to syndicated television. The movie was spectacularly funny and took us all back to characters we had loved when we were younger. Disney would have been fools not to capitalize on the popularity of this movie and its characters (just like Disney have been fools not to capitalize more on the popularity of Big Hero Six – but now is not the time for that). For a while, I was worried that the far inferior The Muppets: Most Wanted had uprooted the foundation for a return that The Muppets had laid down. It may be four years after their return to the silver screen, but I am so glad that Disney and ABC have finally brought The Muppets back to TV.

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Years ago, the Muppets entertained us from the stage of The Muppet Show, which was more or less a comedy sketch show chock-full of guest stars, parodying shows like Saturday Night Live and In Living Color, which were immensely popular at the time. In recent years, late night TV shows have risen in popularity, with hosts such as Jimmy Fallon and Conan breathing new life into the genre (as it were) and drawing a new, younger crowd into their viewership. Not ones to miss the chance to satirize popular culture, the Muppets have returned with a show parodying such late night shows.

The Muppets follows our favorite, furry, fervent Muppets as they labor behind the scenes on a new late night show titled Up Late With Miss Piggy. The style of the show is a mockumentary, akin to The Office or Parks and Recreation. This style highlights the characters’ reactions and experiences to the outlandish situations they find themselves in. And of course, The Muppets makes full use of the comedic possibilities of the one-on-one interview trope featured in many documentaries/mockumetaries.

It’s The Same/Different

The characters are the same. Honeydew stills conducts dangerous experiments on the hapless Beaker, the Swedish Chef is still all but unintelligible,  Electric Mayhem’s sanity and “extra curricular activities” are still questionable, and Kermit is still Kermit. But The Muppets itself is so different from The Muppet Show. Of course, the very premise of the show requires a different type of storytelling simply because of the change in subject matter.

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The transition from a sketch show to a mockumentary shows the flexibility of the Muppets as entertainers and storytellers in a big way. The Muppets holds its own by incorporating new technology, trending humor, and popular guest stars to bring relevance to a show featuring the (sadly) outdated art of puppetry. Maybe this show will revive an interest in puppets.

The two shows are so different, yet they feel familiar and not just for the characters contained therein. Both shows are about Muppets trying to make their way in the world with the rest of us, and being hilarious while doing it. The Muppets does still continue the tradition of having guest stars on the show, featuring Elizabeth Banks, Tom Bergeron, and Imagine Dragons on the first episode. I personally cannot wait for the Star Wars-themed episode and guest stars from the cast of the new (and old) Star Wars movies. C’mon, you know it’s going to have to happen! (The Star Wars episode of The Muppet Show was one of my favorites as a kid.)

I also can’t fail to appreciate the little homages to The Muppet Show in the opening credits, with Kermit saying “Time to get things started” and the familiar The Muppet Show theme jingle.

It’s Racy

This may be my least favorite part of The Muppets. The show features a lot of adult humor. The show isn’t Avenue Q, by any means, but the humor is very different even from the recent The Muppets movie. Let’s be honest, children are going to see that there is a TV show about the Muppets and they are going to want to watch it. They saw The Muppets in 2011 and that is their quintessential version of the Muppets (even if they don’t understand what quintessential means).

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Innuendos abound. I realize it is the writers making the Muppets more human and fitting them inside the mockumentary theme of the show, but there is just something unsettling about Fozzy making a joke about Miss Piggy’s waxing appointment… Or Kermit’s new girlfriend asking Kermit to tell her “what he really wants” in a low, sultry voice (and those are only two of many).

I don’t mind the new racy humor, I find some of it humorous (the rest I find just really, really bizarre). The reason I mention it here is because it is almost uncharacteristic of the Muppets, and I certainly don’t want the Muppets to return to stardom and popularity just to lose their identities and become something they are not.

The Kids

As was said above, this show may not be appropriate for kids. The pilot certainly isn’t, but maybe as the show progresses it will find its stride in regards to its characterization and humor. The kids will of course be drawn to a show featuring puppets, but even if they do tune in and you don’t mind the innuendos, a lot of the humor may go well over their head. The Muppets have always had an edge of sophisticated humor for its adult viewers, and this show capitalizes on that fully.

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Welcome back, guys. We’ve missed you.

The Grade

The Muppets have returned and while it may not have been the show I expected, I am happy they are back. The Pilot episode for The Muppets was funny and left me excited for the series (as any good pilot should) but there is definite room for improvement.

I give The Muppets’ Pilot episode a…

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So, what do you think? Are you excited the Muppets are back? Or are you disappointed in the new direction they are going with this new show? Let me know in the comments!

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