Of all the reboots, continuations and film-to-TV adaptations currently airing and in development, few make more sense than a new Muppets series, since these long-lasting felt-faced creations have already existed in just about every form of media imaginable. And while everyone’s mileage may have varied on the two feature films that came out in recent years, I’m outrageously happy to say that ABC’s The Muppets is not only a thoughtfully crafted slice of Muppetdom, but it’s also one of the funniest network comedies I’ve seen in ages.
Developed by The Big Bang Theory creator Bill Prady and Anger Management writer/producer Bob Kushell, The Muppets immediately sets its feet within the world of modern TV by embracing a mockumentary style, a more adult sense of humor, and a show-within-a-show narrative. If 30 Rock and The Office were accidentally thrown together in a blender on the setting “Henson,” then The Muppets would pour out of it.
Miss Piggy is the star of her own TV show, Up Late with Miss Piggy, and she epitomizes every aspect of haute celebrity culture, while also always balanced on a razor thin wire of moodiness. Kermit the Frog is the show’s executive producer and is in charge of booking the guest stars and keeping the writers’ room churning out jokes. (Something easier said than done, of course.) Gonzo is the show’s head writer, and he works with Rizzo the rat and Pepe the King Prawn. Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem is obviously the house band, and Fozzie serves as the on-air sidekick and warm-up comedian. As you can imagine, everyone else is here, too, from Swedish Chef to Bunsen and Beaker to Sam the Eagle. And yes, Statler and Waldorf are in the studio audience, and no, they have nothing good to say about Miss Piggy’s show.
As was advertised all over the place in the last month or so, Kermit and Miss Piggy are no longer an item, and their post-break-up relationship is part of what the show revolves around, as they’re not quite comfortable around one another yet, although they’d be quick to say otherwise. Kermit is dating a new pig, Denise, and Miss Piggy is on the prowl for new men, and Josh Groban may or may not be one of her new flings. I’m waiting for the episode where Piggy gets trashed and spends the night with Gonzo and then hates herself for it, because that just seems inevitable.
Beyond that duo’s back-and-forth and the internal goings-on of putting a talk show on the air, The Muppets admittedly doesn’t bring too much initial plot points to the table. We get to see Fozzie having his own relationship problems – complete with cameos from Riki Lindhome and Jere Burns – and we see Bobo the Bear’s frustrations with selling cookies. But even though the Muppets are capable of pulling off larger storylines, these guys are at their most enjoyable in smaller comedic moments, and this show has plenty.
The humor on display here can quite easily be enjoyed by anyone from grade schoolers, who will like the sight gags and goofy puns, to viewers far older, who will chuckle at some sex-related jokes and more than a few references to Dr. Teeth and Electric Mayhem being stoners. Lest anyone start freaking out, the latter jokes are delivered in ways that never feel gratuitously risqué, so it all feels faithful to the mostly wholesome brand. There’s also something refreshing about watching Muppets walk through hallways Aaron Sorkin-style and being seen more in full-body mode that makes it feel slightly different from everything that’s come before it, even though it’s basically the same set-up we’ve loved for decades.
And of course it couldn’t be the Muppets without an abundance of celebrities hovering around every scene. There are many to be found here, and as seen in the hilarious and heavy promo campaign over the past few weeks, The Muppets takes full advantage of network synergy by bringing in a ton of other ABC stars for appearances both fleeting and fruitful. But there are also musical stars and a few other surprises that never feel out of place.
Having been a Muppets fan for all of my life, my expectations for this show were probably larger than most, and consequently my enjoyment of it may also scale higher than other viewers. But even though I was only able to watch a handful of episodes for this review, I can safely say I enjoyed it more than anything Muppets-related (beyond the awesome YouTube videos in recent years) since the heyday of the 1980s, where we got stellar output like The Jim Henson Hour, The Muppets Take Manhattan and Muppet Babies. The gang is all together here, guys, and it’s altogether amazing.
Get ready for the most sensational, inspirational, celebrational, Muppetational comedy on TV when The Muppets hits ABC for its series premiere on Tuesday, September 22.