By now we’ve well established that I am a huge fan of The Muppets.
So the fact that I had to force myself through most of the episodes of the new Muppet Show with a considerable amount of boredom mixed with the occasional dash of agonizing pain? Well, that’s quite a feat. It seems that my initial trepidations over the direction of the show were more correct than my 180 degree turn into total faith after their concept pitch at Comic Con.
I hate it when I’m right and then wrong and then right again.
But I am holding out hope. Why? Because they’ve chucked out Bob Kushell as showrunner and brought in Kristen Newman. Who seems to understand that we do indeed want our grandmother’s muppets.
But, I have been burnt by Muppety promises before.
Promises to bring back Camilla, Lew Zealand, and Robin, as well as write Miss Piggy as less of a misogynistic nightmare, do give me hope. And the setup of this show really does have incredible potential, as I’ve said before. Potential that, thus far, has not been tapped into. So here are the things that need to happen in the second half of this season to make that untapped faucet spring forth golden Muppet water.
- Turn Denise into Bacon.
I am all for having more girl muppets, believe me. And I actually like how they’re using Yolanda now. But there is nothing enjoyable, watchable, or, most importantly, remotely funny about Denise. And Kermit making sex jokes? Yeah. I’m gonna make like my grandparents and throw that non-kosher blasphemy outta my house.
2. Give Kermit Some Zoloft
When you think of Kermit, what’s the image that pops into your head?
Okay, besides that brilliant meme that is necessary for everyday life?
That’s right, happy Kermit flailing his arms and screaming “yaaaaaay!” because he is so excited to make tonight’s show. Yes, everything is going to go wrong, and he’s going to cower at Miss Piggy’s demands and Fozzie’s terrible jokes, but he’s still going to love what he does and have a lot of fun doing it. That’s part of what makes us have so much fun watching him.
But when the theme song for this show is literally Kermit shrugging apathetically while he stands alone at the snack table and commiserates, “Time to get things started,” you have a serious tonal problem.
Kermit’s primary emotion is supposed to be love. Love for what he does and who he does it with. And yes, we see him care about Fozzie this season, but even when he’s doing so, his primary emotion is annoyance. Which can get, well, really annoying. The straight man/anchor character is never going to be the audience favorite, but you have to at least enjoy following their lives. I don’t enjoy following around pessimistic, cynical, downtrodden Kermit. It’s like watching a grad student during finals week. Yes, there is a time and place for sad sack characters (Eeyore, I love you). But Kermit, as the anchor of this show? Not the time, the place, or the character. It’s just not who he is, and trying to make him that way is a crime so egregious it’s akin to writing a Gonzo who is afraid of doing his trademark stunts of insanity and nonsense.
Yeah, Gonzo is my fav, so that one really hurt. But we’ll get to that later. Bottom line, perk up Kermit. Your life’s not that horrible.
3. Show the Muppets Actually Making and Performing the Show
For a show that takes place mostly backstage at a talk show, they sure do a lot of ignoring the talk show. I cannot tell you how aggressively I don’t care about the Muppets’ dating lives. Not only have we seen every iteration of the “dating sitcom” imaginable, it’s just not a great source for the kind of humor the Muppets excel at. The Muppets are performers. They are incompetent performers. They are trying their best and almost always failing, and that’s why we love them so much. We laugh as they flounder to hilarious degrees, and smile in those wonderful, somewhat rare moments where they do succeed. And we keep watching them because, despite their failures, they don’t hate their job, which is something this TV show has clearly forgotten while Bobo was trying to sell his daughter’s girl scout cookies. The Muppets love what they do and they want to succeed. They just all have very different ideas of what successful entertainment looks like. And that’s where we get the funny.
And what’s funnier or more entertaining than an absurd Muppets sketch? Nothing. That’s what.
According to the interview with the new showrunner, there will be more sketches and backstage antics under Lady Newman’s rule. But again,
4. Keep Deadly and Big Mean Carl Exactly as They Are
These two are just killin’ it.
But most importantly:
5. Let the Muppets be Muppets
Muppets are bizarre, unique, quirky, fun, and absurd. They are their own brand of humor. Trying to normalize them, as the show has done thus far, is death to Muppets. When Gonzo went on a dating site, only to have his human-muppet date stolen by Liam Hemsworth, Big Bro and I both asked the same question. “Why wasn’t she a chicken?!” Think how much funnier it would have been to see Liam Hemsworth become quite taken with a muppet chicken and then take her home with him. Not to mention much more fitting for Gonzo’s character.
Why has this show been so quick to rationalize the Muppets? The Muppets should never be rational or sane. That’s locking away all the fun toys you get to play with when you write for the Muppets. They can get away with the sort of jokes and corny schtick that no one else can. That is not something to run away from. That is your ace in the hole. I saw tiny glimpses of it here and there this season, like when Sweetums replaced Patrick Dempsey with a giant block of butter (I laughed hard at that one), but it’s not the dominating tone that it needs to be.
The Muppets aren’t normal. They’re better than that. The Muppets succeed most when they’re earnestly attempting the wacky things that only a child or drunk person would think of as a good idea. Yes, this show desperately needs to remember how much heart the Muppets have. But more than that, they also need to remember the zany.
No more Sam Eagle trying to date Janice using a mistle-toe, no more Kermit asking Miss Piggy for dating advice, no more Gonzo being insecure about online dating. I want Gonzo to love flying out of a canon and breaking all of his bones again. I want Sam Eagle to be indignant about American ideals again. I want Statler and Waldorf to have the most creative and vitriolic zingers again (remember when they joked about infanticide? Those were the days). I want Dr. Honeydew and Beaker to make the stage explode with Lew’s boomerang fish as Beauregard desperately tries to catch them all in a trash bag with a giant hole in it.
No more normal stuff. Please. Let the Muppets be Muppets.