Tonight the series premiere of the new ABC television show the muppets aired and unsurprisingly to anyone with even a general familiarity with me or this blog I was monumentally excited.
This new show is the first ongoing, prime time program to feature the Muppets since Muppets Tonight finished on The Disney Channel in 1998. That's 17 years without Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, and the rest of the gang appearing regularly on network television.
After the success of their 2011 motion picture, also called The Muppets, and the relative success of its sequel Muppets Most Wanted (it made significantly less than its predecessor, though on Hollywood terms it was far from a flop), the possibility that the Muppets would return to television was simultaneously a big question mark and practically a given, at least in the minds of the throngs of Muppets fans.
So here we are in September of 2015 looking at a brand new Muppets TV show. My hearting was beating in my throat as I got ready to watch.
Now the moment of truth...Did I like it? Was it any good?
I usually do my reviews by looking at The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly of a given product and while this time will be no exception, I want to say a little something first.
It is really hard to review something like this. It was the first episode of a series I really want to like, because I want it to do well, and I want them to make more. I love the Muppets. I just love them. They speak to me on a creative level that is hard to put into words.
What do I do or say if I end up not liking this show? Can I really say that I don't? Isn't that counter to my goal of keeping the Muppets in the public eye?
At the same time, they've always been honest with me (so to speak), so they deserve nothing less than me being honest with them.
Whew. Here goes...
The Muppets are back on TV! See, just that very fact is good. It's hard to be unhappy with that as your universal truth at the get go.
The puppets themselves looked great, especially in the environments they appeared in, which were in many ways not normal for them. It was sort of like the safeties were off and the net was gone.
Fozzie is seen full body numerous times. Scooter, well, I don't want to spoil that part. While I had some issues with the delivery of the scenes humor, the scene with him, and guest Elizabeth Banks was probably the cleverest bit of classic puppetry tricks I've ever seen, all in an outdoor environment on a moving vehicle (or that's how it appeared). Brilliant technically for certain.
Lots of characters appeared and more of them had speaking lines than I would have thought. Uncle Deadly, Bobo the Bear, and Big Mean Carl all had nice little moments, brief though they were.
Kermit was...I don't know how to put this other than...extremely Human. I can't honestly say we've seen this level of character depth out of Kermit (or Fozzie for that matter), in a long, long time. Unfortunately it's a bit of a double-edged sword as I'll explain below.
Piggy looked great. I love her current design.
Denise, Kermit's new girlfriend, is...What's that? You didn't know?! Well, I did put up a spoiler warning didn't I? Yes, Kermit, and Piggy have officially called it quits, as you learn in the first episode in a very definitive way. That part was, wow, the feels. It touched my emotion. Seriously. The one. Now what'll I do? I don't have anymore and I can't guarantee it'll recharge by the weekend. The cool down time on that bad boy is a pain in the keister.
Where was I? Oh yeah, so Kermit is dating this new female pig (he's got a type for sure) named Denise who is...I can't help it...adorable. I really like her. I almost instantly found her sweet, charming, and kind of cute in a geek girl kind of way due to her very modern aesthetic design. I hope we learn more about her.
The band! The band was cool and it was awesome to have character moments with Animal and Zoot. ZOOT! One of my favorite lines in the first episode comes from the Z-man. Awesome.
OK, I have a number of minor nitpicks, but those I can easily dismiss as this is the first episode. A few things could have been crisper, like the set of Miss Piggy's late night talk show, 'Up Late with Miss Piggy' (which sometimes looked spot on for a show of that type and sometimes looked like a high school stage drama trying hard to look like talk show set). There were some camera angles and such that could've been better but that might well be the idea. It's supposed to be a mockumentory, a parody of the single camera set-up seen in shows like 'the office'.
That's not what got me. What got me was...it just wasn't Muppet-y enough. There wasn't enough wacky off-the-wall humor or ideas. Not even close actually.
The humor is somewhat clever when it appears but there really wasn't much of it. The interpersonal drama of their lives was far more prevalent and as such, although there were some funny moments, the episode is largely a downer. It's sad Muppets. I don't want the Muppets to be sad. The Muppets are there to make me happy. Did the makers of this show not see the original Muppet Movie? The Muppets entire goal was to sing, dance, and make people happy. How am I supposed to get happy if the characters who are meant to cheer me up are so sad?
Gonzo provides one of the few truly Muppet-like moments but it's small and over in a blink.
A brief insight into Big Mean Carl of all characters is just...well...depressing.
I loved the character moments and the depth they gave to the various Muppets in the 2011 Muppet film, especially the melancholy nature of Kermit. This show however, at least in the first episode, doesn't back that up with enough levity. The movie had pathos and humor. The TV series has pathos and sadness.
The episode also felt really short. After it was over, I kept thinking that if they had had a longer runtime they could have gotten to more jokes and more screen time for some of the characters.
Bottom line, there is one major league weakness to the show and it isn't bad so much as, well, just really irksome in the extreme.
Yes, she's a diva. Yes, she's obsessed with her own fame. But...but...she is also likeable, vulnerable, strong, and...like Kermit...Human.
In this she is rude, crass, full of herself, and just so unlikable. At one point Kermit, during one of those one-on-one character interviews, says that he once thought her quirks made her attractive but without the romantic interest it just makes her a lunatic.
Sadly, he's right. We never get a one-on-one interview with her. We never see her in the first episode as anything other than obnoxious. When her vulnerable side is finally revealed at a key point, because of something Kermit did that was insensitive, you end up feeling bad for Kermit. Why? Because by that point in the episode he is our likable everyman, just trying to do his best with a bad situation while Piggy is just a shrew.
I didn't like that at all. It was unfair to the character of Miss Piggy and to fans of hers as well.
On that note...
One more thing that didn't work was the fat jokes. I get that it's always been a part of Piggy's tropes as a member of the porcine species but really? That's the best you've got for the Muppets prime time television return in the 21st century?
Muppets Studios, ABC Studios, and Disney, I have a recommendation; Do better.
It is my hope that the second episode, the third, and so on, get a better feel for the format, the Muppets sense of humor, and the way these things can merge with the show's premise.
Well, that's all the time I have for this, as I am feeling uncharacteristically tired lately. I need to get some sleep and recharge.