It's time to Dim The Lights...For Now
It looks like the most recent incarnation of "The Muppets" on has bitten the dust. I admit, I'm a little surprised. Upon its debut last fall, while receiving mixed reviews from the fans (and from right wing mothers), was pretty well received by the "average consumer". Ratings were good. But apparently, they weren't good enough, and, so they dismissed their show runner and hired a replacemtn to steer the show in a new direction. I, unfortunately, never saw what happened with the new show runner, if the new direction was better than the original, because I didn't make it that far in the series.
When I saw the preview, I was pretty excited. It was fresh, it was different, and it was modern. The muppets take on "The office comedy of manners" genre? I'm in. And yet, when I saw the first episode, I didn't feel that it quite lived up to its potential. It was just another "The Office", but with versions of the muppets, slightly altered to fit into this format. It was like an animated series that had no need to be animated. The muppets were not needed here. By the second and third episodes I was watching to support the company, to make sure it was as successful as it could be so that more projects with the muppets would be greenlit. I was not watching for my own enjoymen. Watching the show had become a duty, a fan's obligation. I became lax in my viewing, and lagged way behind, never quite catching up.
Why didn't it work? A lot of friends that I'd talked to mentioned "how mean the muppets were to each other", and it's true. They are dismissive of each other, they mock each other, and the sitcoms writers expect the audience to laugh at their failures. Fozzie and Scooter got particularly rough treatment, being written as "losers" in a way they never had before. In a way, the muppets at their core, ALL of them, were underdogs. But they had also always been optimists, dreamers who didn't let their current circumstances get them down. And news flash- the muppets have always been kind of mean to each other. There were "hamhock" jokes tossed about, blatant name calling, karate chops, upstaging, heckling. Loads of it. They were part of the slings and arrows that the characters faced. But what they had also always had, was a gigantic overwhelming larger than life love of "SHOWBIZ". All of them loved what they did, in spite of what it cost them emotionally. And Kermit, because he felt responsible for all of these misfits, struggled and corralled to make that dream come true for them. The muppets always reflected ourselves, our struggles to find purpose, and we commiserated. And the product of their struggles was what we got to cheer, and enjoy. This kooky, off-beat nostalgia. I mean the show wasn't desperately grabbing for relevence. It was a vaudeville show, in the seventies, highlighting novelty songs from the turn of the century, for chrissake.
And then, something happened, and it happened before the death of Jim Henson. The muppets realized their own success. They became products, they became "cute", and they capitalized on it. And they have struggled ever since. And recently, in a desperate attempt to keep the relevance they won in the new films (which incidentally was a huge hit because it appealed to the Gen X Nostalgia for them) they mutated themselves into this genre.
And Miss Piggy??? At heart, she, like Fonzie and Kermit and the rest, had always been an underdog. She was never "on top", but always fighting for the recognition she felt she deserved. Sure she was angry, but it came from a place of resentment. It was resentment at being under appreciated and misunderstood- unrecognized for being the star she thought she should be. It was that very essence, what Frank Oz was eluding to when he said that Miss Piggy was "A truck driver who thought he was a woman". She was a fish out of water. And then, sometime in the eighties, Miss Piggy, the character who played the television persona (how's that for meta?) realized that America appreciated her. And the grande dame act started to come from a different place. It was now coming from a place of privilege. But she never lost her heart, until the most recent Muppet Movie, and this new show. Which have taken the "Actress behind the character" and made her, the character.
This show needed to make her an underdog again, and aware of that. Losing her frog, seeing her leap through hoops trying to win him back would have been very satisfying, and if she hadnt done it with such a sense of entitlement, she would have. If she had lost her job at the talk show, been demoted, and then had to fight her way back up, she would have seemed quite so mean -spirited and smarmy as she came to be perceived. Yes, she could be bitchy, but that was the frosting on the cake. It had never really been "the cake".
And now the show has been cancelled. And, while I'm always sad when the Muppets aren't a rousing success, I now have hope that they will go back to the drawing board and try again, and maybe next time ( and there WILL be a next time) they will get a little bit closer to what it was that made us all love them.