I don’t have traditional television, neither network nor cable, and so any shows we watch must come via the internet or amazon prime. This means that we are usually at least one season behind everyone else in the world when it comes to new hit series, and there are many that we don’t even bother with. It seems however, that the first episode of the new Muppets TV show is available for free on abc.go.com. Being a long time Muppet fan, despite my trepidation at the teaser trailers, I decided to give it a shot.
Like most of my generation, those born in the mid to late 70s, I remember watching the original Muppet show each week with my parents. I loved the Muppets as a child, and my biggest dream growing up was to one day be a guest star on their show. I recall with fondness a stuffed Scooter doll that had painful rubber shoes and I remember seeing all of the movies and subsequent TV shows as a child. I collected the happy meal toys from McDonalds in the 80s and the newer action figure style toys in the 2000s. The Muppets Christmas Carol is still a part of our family holiday traditions, and the Muppets CDs (both new and old) are the most requested music from my kids on long car rides.
I still remember finding out that Jim Henson had died, and how I cried over the Time magazine article in my room when I came home from school that day. I still get teary eyed when I stumble across the tribute show for him on youtube, and some small part of me still wants to be a guest star on his show one day. I was actually very hopeful that this new TV show might be able to capture a bit of that old magic again.
I was wrong.
Perhaps this new TV show is not meant for viewers like me. Maybe it is not intended for those who grew up in the 80s and witnessed the magic of Jim Henson and company first hand. But then, that begs the question, just who is it for?
It is certainly a show geared towards adults. In a sense, it seems to be a muppetized version of the Office (which I did find quite entertaining), and it does have some witty one liners. It seems to be rated, by whomever rates these things, as a PG show, which should mean it is acceptable for family viewing. But I don’t see my family watching this, even if we did have easy access to network TV.
Already I hear people protest, “But the original Muppet show had adult humor too!” And they are right. It did. It had all sorts of amazing guest stars, and it was those guests who brought in the adult viewers and kept the show from being just another silly kids program. But it presented these guests with a wacky, zany, out of control sense of style. It allowed them to have fun, and poke fun, at their own expense. Jim Henson fostered an atmosphere where is was acceptable, and expected, for every character to try and upstage everyone else. Everyone was important, everyone was invested, and everyone was crazy. And that made for an awesome half hour of entertainment.
By contrast, the first episode of the new Muppets show was downright boring. At the end of the 22 minute program, both my wife and I said, “Huh. That was it?”
It lacked the heart of everything that has come before. The musical guests were an afterthought. The comedy was pandering. There was no sense of investment on the part of the characters, just a begrudging drudgery to do their jobs. These wild, zany, frantic creatures that we have loved over the years were reduced to dull soulless seeming folks in a network studio, and all the witty one liners in the world could not lift them up above that.
In the end, it felt sad. Regretful. Full of remorse. Like an aged athlete that looks back on his glory days, sighs, and takes another drink. And I almost think that Kermit knew it. He closes the opening with a shrug, his breakfast and his coffee stolen away, and he simply says, “Hmmn… Time to get things started.” But what he really seems to mean is, “I’m sorry kids. I have no choice. I am just a puppet whose spirit died a long long time ago. Might as well get this over with.”
So my suggestion, skip this depressing shadow of a former genius. Pick up the DVDs of the original series instead. Somehow, they still seem relevant, witty, and awesome, even today. If you want to share a bit of your childhood with the new generation, that is the way to go. My kids love them and I found all sorts of new things to laugh about as an adult. This is the rainbow connection you were wishing for, and it hasn’t faded one bit.