Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Pilot watch: ABC's THE MUPPETS

Wednesday, 23 September 2015


What's the premise? This is a mockumentary going behind-the-scenes of late night talk show 'Up Late with Miss Piggy', where the famous Muppets are backstage crew trying to make the show and keep it running smoothly.

Who's in it? The Muppets. Of course. Kermit, Miss Piggy, Gonzo, Fozzie, uhhh… all those others. Guest stars for this premiere were actress/director Elizabeth Banks, Tracy Anderson (a wellness entrepreneur), and musical guests Imagine Dragons. There was also a cameo from U.S gameshow host Tom Bergeron. I'm hoping future celebrity appearances won't go over my head as badly!

What are your first impressions? I wasn't expecting much from ABC's The Muppets, but was pleasantly surprised. I enjoyed this first episode and giggled at some of its postmodern jokes; although the show is perhaps too skewed towards middle-aged fans and won't attract too many children. And while I liked it, I wouldn't say it was a laugh-out-loud funny experience or as clever as it thinks it is. The mockumentary filming style peaked almost a decade ago now, so it feels slightly old-hat.

Beyond the filming style, it did feel very natural and fitting for The Muppets to be involved in a television chat show instead of a theatre show. Of course, it's actually not a new idea to put the characters to work on television: their 1996-98 comeback Muppets Tonight also saw them in charge of a TV talk show, although that one was hosted by a new character called Clifford.

The Muppets fit into their new showbiz roles incredibly well: Kermit's the executive producer keeping the ship afloat, Miss Piggy's the diva star of the show making unreasonable demands, Gonzo's the head of the writers' room struggling to come up with material (helped by Rizzo the Rat), Fozzie's the warm-up comedian before the show goes live, Statler and Waldorf heckle from the front row of the studio audience, Animal's the drummer for the house band, Bunsen Honeydew's in charge of special effects and props, and Sam Eagle's the network's broadcast standards and practises official, etc.

There are a few weird aspects to the show—like Fozzie dating a woman whose parents (played by Justified's Jere Burns and Meagan Fay) aren't happy their daughter's in a relationship with a hairy bear. Having always found it strange The Muppets share a world with humans, who never mention their obvious differences, the situation with Fozzie is clearly a way for the writers to poke fun at what usually goes unsaid. It also means the characters are seen having a life outside of the show, so it doesn't get too claustrophobic.

What's the prognosis? The Muppets is built to last. There's an endless line of celebrities happy and willing to appear on this show (whether to please their kids and grandkids, or just amuse themselves if they grew up on The Muppets), while the concept is flexible enough to run and run. The breakup of Miss Piggy and Kermit (already reported in the press as part of the show's marketing) will undoubtedly fuel a lot of 'will-they-get-back-together?' subplots, too. Kermit and Piggy are the new Tim and Dawn from The Office. Or Jim and Pam, if you prefer.

However, modern audiences seem to have a certain level of patience with The Muppets, before they get bored and move on. Muppets Tonight only lasted two seasons before the plug was pulled in 1998, and 2014's Muppets Most Wanted movie only made $80m at the global box-office (compared to the £165m its predecessor made just two years earlier). I have a feeling this new show will be a hit for ABC... but only for awhile, and mostly with grownups... before people move on because the joke's run its course.

When did it premiere? Last night on ABC. Sky 1 have the UK rights, and it should be broadcast this autumn.