Disney and its network television counterpart, ABC, have brought the Muppets back to the small screen. “The Muppets” is the newest iteration of the popular puppet program. As the official trailer for the show states, “They’re all back as you’ve never seen them before.” However, for many this change in direction is seen as terrible.
“ABC’s ‘The Muppets’ is a betrayal of Jim Henson’s tender, optimistic vision,” says Julie Gunlock of the New York Post. “[Its] a pointless prostitution of a children’s entertainment franchise.” Reactions in news and social media have been mixed with many people on Twitter and Facebook expressing similar sentiments to Ms. Gunlock.
“The Muppets” forgoes the traditional variety show format of the previous Muppet television shows and adopts a more modern sitcom style. It attempts to amalgamate every award-winning sitcom of the past decade.
The premise of the show is behind-the-scenes of the Muppet-run late night show Up Late with Miss Piggy. The show’s mockumentary style resembles “Modern Family,” complete with cutaway interviews, camera glances, and hand-held cinematography. When the Muppets are in the writer’s room or back stage during taping of their late show, the vibe is uncannily similar to “30 Rock.” When the characters are out and about, the style jumps to something like “The Office.”
Some of the old soul of the Muppets remains in the form of special guest star cameos, from Elizabeth Banks and Laurence Fishburne, as well as a few awkwardly shoehorned musical performances.
However, the real dissenting element of the new show is the change in writing. The traditional, joyous tone of the Muppets is traded in for jokes that are more adult-oriented. Relationship drama and tropes substitute the zany, quirky humor that the Muppets are known for, but the classic “meta” humor remains. Because the comedy is less kid-friendly, some viewers may find this interpretation of the Muppets to be off-putting.
The show’s production team is small but filled with familiar faces. Randall Einhorn, who worked on “The Office,” “Parks and Recreation,” and “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” directs the first three episodes. But more telling is that Bill Prady, who is partially responsible for “The Big Bang Theory” and other classic prime-time sitcoms, is producing “The Muppets.” This helps explain the mockumentary style, as well as the paradigm shift in tone.
ABC released a 10-minute preview of the “The Muppets” on July 21, 2015 from their YouTube channel. The preview is essentially a condensed version of the first full episode, with most of the same jokes and beats in both. Reactions to the preview are typically a good gauge for whether viewers will like this new spin on the old classic.
“The Muppets” has been met with a lukewarm reception. It stands at a 64% on Rotten Tomatoes, a website that compiles critical reviews. Comments on social media have also been diverse about the return of the beloved characters. “The Muppets” did dominate in the ratings for that evening, but the lack of positive buzz around the premiere is uncharacteristic for this franchise that usually instigates fanfare.
“The Muppets” airs Tuesday nights at 9/8 central on ABC, with episodes available to watch on Hulu and abc.go.com afterward.