Someone over at ABC is not happy with the direction of the new Muppets TV show. Recent news has seen the current show runner dropped and replaced, with the final 6 episodes of season 1 airing in 2016 to be considered a soft reboot. I am quite surprised. I think this new version of the Muppets was exactly the Muppet show I wanted to see.
The Muppets' new format derives directly from such shows as The Office and Parks and Recreation, both of which have seen unparalleled success. The fake documentary comedy style is honest, raw and a welcome approach to building an audience/character relationship that can safely break the fourth wall. Much like many reality shows, audiences have a voyueristic tendency and despite some fatigue with the format, I think it lends itself to produce more genuine television drama.
Consider The Office finale. For 9 years we felt like we shared in the lives of these everyday office workers, and yet these were unreal, over the top fictional characters. It allows for such beautiful - yet completely ridiculous - moments like the moment the world's worst best boss Michael Scott declares his former employees as like his own children, who all married each other.
With The Muppets taking this approach to story telling, it's actually doing something quite fresh, new and really daring for a primetime TV show. These hand puppets are not hand puppets. They are real people, with real lives and real problems. The show is only further cementing our desperate belief that Kermit the Frog and his band of colourful muppets are in fact real.
Even for many of the famous guest starts who have appeared alongside them, it's been difficult for them to remember they are performing with just puppets. One example was when Tina Fey was filming the last Muppet movie, she was required to feed lines off camera to Kermit. Instinctively she stood in Kermit's eye line. She forgot a puppet doesn't have an eye line!
The show's producers have worked hard to give a sense of life behind the show.
They've broken up Piggy and Kermit, so the show has a ongoing love story to build on. Fozzie Bear has a girlfriend, whose parents are bear racist. Sam the Eagle has a crush on Janice from the band, and he doesn't know how to get her attention. The storylines do not just take place in a studio either. The series has frequently taken filming on location and made this an essential part of the show.
Even in the camera work and puppetry we are constantly given evidence there isn't just a hand up their back sides. We see Muppet's walking in full body shots and are constantly reminded most of them actually have legs and feet. One episode has featured the classic Aaron Sorkin walk and talk dialogue scene, moving characters from one location to another all while talking. The camera doesn't just zoom and in out to give the show a documentary feel, it moves as if these are just normal people getting on with their day.
This sort of detail in the mechanics of the puppets has usually only been reserved for the big screen outings. The technical achievements of TV show are far more innovative than any series of The Office. Each episode so far has looked to explore what new and interesting side of the Muppets life they can bring to life.
So the question stands, why is ABC not happy with the show? The exact answers are not clear as yet, but the ratings have dipped pretty quickly, and that is a big factor of maintaining a prime time network show. The content has been the most adult-orientated the Muppets have produced so far, and likely the Network Executives are concerned alienating a younger audience could be the reason behind the falling viewing numbers.
The current run of episodes concludes in early December and then the show will take a short hiatus to return with a new creative direction in 2016. I hope that when it does return, things are not too different. I hope at least the Office format stays and that we've given a chance to continue an everyday insight into the lives of the Muppets. Though if I had any request, it would for more songs. (The Ed Helms karaoke episode was the best so far.)
Whats your take on the new Muppets TV Show? Dig it? Hate it? Tell us in the comments.
Daniel Sanguineti is a Australian Film Producer and Writer, who tutors film and media at the University of Canberra and the Canberra Institute of Technology. He is on twitter @DanSanguineti.