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First Thoughts: 'The Muppets'

We pontificate on the return of an American classic to the small screen.

Review by Matt Cummings

The Muppets have experienced as of late what one might call an identity crisis. Filled with the glory of the 2012 movie, our hearts were nearly broken by the immense critical and financial disappointment of Muppets Most Wanted. It was as if a great sports athlete, bound for certain glory, was suddenly laid up by injury and unavailable to fulfill their destiny. But as in sports, entertainment always seems to get a second chance, and that's exactly what has happened for The Muppets. Ever since we reported on Tuesday that they would be returning to ABC Television in the Fall, our hopes for success have grown with the trailer that was released during the network's Upfront event. If you haven't see it yet, check out the extended trailer and see if your thoughts align with ours:

From the getgo, it's clear that the new show has a familiar flavor: zany Muppet characters misbehaving in a world that seems to accept felt creatures with iPads. That's always been the Muppet charm - to place their existence and ours smack-dab in the middle of each other. Another strength lies in the way they can take modern themes and effortlessly merge them into their superstructure. Mixing elements of Modern Family, 30 Rock, The Office, and Community, The Muppets looks like it will tackle the characters' personal lives, as well as various romances, break-ups, etc.

But ABC needs to be careful. Most Wanted failed because it strayed from the zaniness and warmth of past hits like The Muppet Movie or Muppets from Space, which relied less on cheap jokes and more on character development. Those instant classics represent the best of the Muppets, and hopefully Writer Bill Prady can bring his Big Bang Theory/Darma and Greg sensibilities without limiting himself to typical tropes. ABC's 1996 Muppets Tonight has stood the test of time, introducing many new characters like Bobo the Bear, Pepe, and Andy & Randy Pig, which Prady would be shortsighted not to use. Of course, the original Muppet Show 'adulted' all of the Sesame Street characters for prime time, mixing a special guest star each week. From the trailers, it looks like Prady will be utilizing the skit comedy routine which has made him such a success. However, this is Prady's baby, so any success/failure will be on his shoulders.

For those of you who loved the variety-show element of previous incarnations is missing here, don't. This 'docu-comedy' format doesn't mean we won't get some music or performances, as the plot does involve the development of a Jimmy Kimmel/David Letterman style for Miss Piggy. So, it's likely we'll see something. But that won't serve front and center here: this series will look to gently satirize popular culture, as The Office and Community did so well. The new format doesn’t mean there won’t be guest stars, musical numbers, and other variety elements. Prady mentioned in a recent interview just how many places this new format can take the Muppets: we can see them backstage, on-stage, at home, at the grocery store. And while they don't have guest stars lined up (yet), look for that to change soon. Prady is already fielding requests from interested parties.

Based on all of this, we're even more excited about the possibilities for this show. It sounds like Prady understands what the Muppets are and can be as commenters of popular culture, and that with his deep background and love for the franchise, it sounds like the series is in good hands. Does this mean we'll get more movies soon? Unlikely, because the Muppets are better on television right now. That doesn't mean we wouldn't get excited if Prady or Jason Segel - who directed the 2012 movie - announced something at the end of season one.

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.


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