Sep. 24th, 2015

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The Muppets returned to the televisions this week.

I didn’t watch it, because I don’t live in the USA. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned as an American citizen, it’s this: just because you haven't actually seen a TV show or a film doesn’t mean you can’t criticize the content.

Sure. That’s what Franklin Graham and One Million Moms do.

Apparently they’re expecting lots of sex, drugs and full frontal nudity. I have a feeling it’s going to fall short of that mark – after all, this is ABC, not HBO.

On the other hand, if the promo material is anything to go by (and that is what these people are going by), The Muppets ain’t exactly a kids show, either. Even the producers have promoted it as a more “adult” show, which means edgy realism humor, uncomfortable relationship situations, double entendres and Grindr jokes, evidently.

None of which is a reason for ABC to cancel the show as Graham and 1MM are demanding. They generally demand the same of 85% of any given prime-time line-up, so it’s hard to take them seriously even before you factor in the fact they haven’t even watched the shows they want taken off the air.

Probably a more pertinent question is: is this really the Muppet show we want? (And by “we” I mean “me”, of course.)

Some of the more sober commentary I’ve read suggests that while the new show is clever and probably what the franchise needs to succeed in 2015, fans of the original show may find it jarring, if not sacrilege, or at least depressing.

For myself, I can tell you from the promo material that I’m not that enthralled with the new direction for a couple of reasons.

1. The mockumentary concept has been done to death (and just because they’re mocking the mocumentary concept doesn’t mean we need more of it). Even the idea of a mockumentary of a late night TV show isn't that original – The Larry Sanders Show covered this ground in the early 90s.

2. I don’t really want a Muppet show that goes for edgy realism or delves into their personal relationships. The Kermit/Miss Piggy angle of the original show was fun and made sense because it played to Piggy’s stage-diva character. Turning it into an ugly public tabloid drama with new girlfriend/ex-girlfriend tension doesn’t really entertain me or make me laugh.

Maybe all of this gels in the current jaded TV landscape. I don’t really watch much TV anyway, so that’s at least one reason for the disconnect here, I admit. Maybe Muppet fans who do watch lots of TV will get more out of the new show, or see the humor in it. Or maybe they’re just glad that the Muppets will be relevant to new generations of fans.

The thing is, they’re not the same Muppets I grew up with. The same characters, yes – but portrayed and presented in a much different way. Let me put it this way: as far as I know, the Muppets were always an all-ages proposition – that doesn’t mean it was just for kids, but that everyone who watched would get something out of it. Making it more “adult” alters that equation. Which might be fine except that the Muppets have always been marketed as being appropriate for kids. To suddenly bump them up to PG levels is inevitably going to confuse people.

It’s also fair to ask: is this what Jim Henson would have wanted? Lisa Henson thinks so, at least in terms of the Muppets being back on prime time and being popular again. But while Jim Henson always had something of a subversive streak to his work, he also understood the importance of subtlety.

Anyway, I'll be the first to admit my reservations don’t mean anything – as I say, I haven't seen the show, so I’m just kind of riffing and dithering here via a promo and second-hand info. And to be clear: even if it’s as bad as I imagine, I wouldn’t support a boycott like what Graham and 1MM are demanding.

Also, it’s not fair to judge a whole show on one episode. By some accounts, Episode 2 is a lot better than the premiere. So it could still grow into something that’s worthy of the Muppet legacy.

In any case, it does sound like one of those cases where parents should be given fair warning. If you already let yr kids watch (say) South Park, it’s probably a non-issue. If you keep them at the level of Pixar films or Frozen, you might want to dial up some parental supervision. Maybe a lot of the “adult” stuff will fly right over their little heads and they’ll just laugh at the silly bits. Still, I have my misgivings.

This is because I am old and decrepit, I know. Fair enough. I can’t say this is the Muppet show we need, but given the state of TV in 2015 – and the general culture of Fear, Hate and Cynicism that pretty much defines social media – maybe it’s the Muppet show we deserve.

It’s not easy being green,

This is dF


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