As a young child in the late seventies, some of my earliest memories of laughter were watching the original Muppet Show with my father; the jokes were cornball and silly, straight out of Vaudeville — or more likely the Catskills — and full of great puns. Sketches like “Veterinarian’s Hospital” or “Pigs in Space” were packed to the gills with classic jokes both groanworthy and clever, and the program existed as the original example of family programming parents could enjoy as well as children — a gimmick Pixar and other outlets have mastered in the new millennium.
2011’s film reboot of the Muppet universe under Disney’s watch was a fair success; self-referential and funny and, above all, still at its core very a children’s movie. The film focused on Kermit’s efforts to save the Muppet Theater from a corrupt oil baron, and it did a nice job of returning the franchise to its roots as a variety show. The follow up sequel was perhaps even funnier and, once again, further cemented the Muppets’ return as a cavalcade of sketch performers and singers.
Having effectively returned the Muppets to their right places, then, it was exciting news a few months back when ABC announced it would be returning the Muppet Show to primetime. After all, the meta-ness of the original Muppet Show would still hold up today; a return to that winking comedy is ripe for the picking in 2015.
Then the trailer arrived yesterday.
ABC has recreated The Muppet Show for adults. No no, that’s not just me evaluation what it looks like; Kermit himself says in the trailer that they’re doing a “Muppet Show for adults.”
Here’s the problem with that: The Muppet Show doesn’t need to be for adults. It needs to be for kids. It doesn’t need to be for a bunch of 30-to-40 year-olds. What’s bizarre is that Disney spent all this time carefully rebuilding the Muppet brand for families and now they’re going to just toss that all to Modern Family-ize the entire franchise. Fozzie Bear is having trouble with his relationship with a human woman! A frustrated Kermit, sitting in traffic, exclaims “I hate the 405!” Ha, ha! Priceless! It’s funny because it’s true, and also because he’s a frog that you loved when you were six.
But watching this trailer really denotes a bigger problem in American entertainment these days — adults who feel such a need to have children’s programming be something hip they can enjoy that they’re legitimately ruining these things for children. A “Muppet Show for adults?” Great! Now what can my 5 year old son, a child who loves the Muppets, watch on television? Back to the toothless Henry Hugglemonster or Sheriff Callie’s Wild West, junior. You can watch the Muppets when you’re an adult, like the rest of the desperate thirtysomethings who demand a movie about the Incredible Hulk be accurate and mature and just exactly like it is in the comic books.
Congratulations, everyone. Hope you enjoy Curb Your Enthusiasm starring Miss Piggy. Me, I’ll stick with “Veterinarian’s Hospital” re-runs, thanks.