Beyond The TV Grave: The Muppets

This is the 'Beyond The TV Grave' series where we shell out our thoughts on shows that were canceled after airing no less than 5 episodes and no more than 50. I will go through the good and bad and give a final verdict on whether or not I would have liked to see more. 

photo: muppet wikia 
It goes without saying that the Muppets are an iconic cast of characters. Their origins date back to 1955 when Jim Henson created a five-minute puppet show, 'Sam and Friends', for a local television station. Henson and his characters soon rose through the ranks with 'Sesame Street' in 1969, 'The Muppet Show' in 1976, and countless other television specials and feature films. The Muppets continue to make shows, movies, and viral videos to this day and have cemented their place in the pop culture universe. But, that doesn't mean that everything these furry creatures have made has resulted in critical and commercial success. 1999's 'Muppets From Space' bombed at the box office while two muppet television shows, 'Muppets Tonight' & 'The Jim Henson Hour', only lasted two seasons and a season respectively. This leads us to 2015's 'The Muppets'. The ABC series came just under 20 years after the premiere of 'Muppets Tonight'. While it had initial commercial success, ratings collapsed and the series was canceled after one short season of 16 episodes. So, without further ado, let's take a look at how this series holds up over a year after its demise.

'The Muppets' focused on the mayhem that unfolded behind-the-scenes of a late-night talk show, Up Late With Miss Piggy. This is strikingly similar to past muppet programs like 'Muppets Tonight' and the original 1970s series. But, unlike those shows, this series did not use a laugh track and used a mockumentary style similar to 'The Office' and 'Parks & Recreation'. Just like how the 1970's Muppet show was a satire of variety shows, the 2015 series acted as a satire of the mockumentary/office sitcom. It's tough to explain if the series did justice to the Henson creations, but it did manage to add some new character dynamics and explore some fresh new ideas.

Sure, there was some uncomfortable stuff. Scooter pushing Elizabeth Banks off a go-cart in the pilot was out-of-character and bizarre. The same goes for Sam the Eagle's ongoing crush on Janice. But, despite absurd moments like the ones mentioned, the heart was still there. "Bear Left Then Bear Write" focused on Kermit & Fozzie's friendship and it definitely showcased the true spirit of the Muppets. "Going, Going, Gonzo" was all about Gonzo trying to go back to his roots as an extreme daredevil and building up the courage to shoot himself out of a cannon like the good old days. Episodes like these showed that the writers knew what they were doing with these characters.

Speaking of the characters, the show reintroduced and reinvented many of the Muppets and it mostly worked in its favor. The second episode had a subplot where the Muppet Newsman and Bobo the Bear were competing to see who could see the most girl scout cookies. The Muppet Newsman is a character that is known for his one-off joke, so it was incredible to see him doing something outside of reporting the news and getting injured in the process. The show expanded on other background characters like Yolanda, Chip, and Uncle Deadly. While the general public might not see any significance, I really loved how much the writers tried to incorporate everyone in the cast and add something new to them.

Despite including more Muppets, the series struggled to capture who the Muppets really are. There were no dancing penguins, crazy explosions, or any other sort of madcap comedy. At times, the series felt stiff and tedious, especially in the back half of the season. Also, the clever jokes about the mockumentary filming method drifted away and the series became what it was attempting to make fun of. And while many praised the final six "rebooted" episodes of the season, I felt that they took a wrong turn.

The last couple episodes before the reboot were really starting to get things together. The seventh episode, "Pig's in a Blackout", felt like something straight-out-of the original series. The Christmas episode was also exceptional. Unfortunately, the episodes following it lacked the greatness that was beginning to form. The writers decided to add some recurring human characters as well as make the show feature more segments of 'Up Late with Miss Piggy'. Both of these ideas did not work well. The segments were forced, unfunny, and felt like a weak attempt to mimic the ones on the original Muppet Show. The human characters also added nothing. The following episodes toned down on the comedy of the past episodes and decided to focus a lot more on Miss Piggy as well as her relationship with Kermit. And while the finale was a decent closer, it seemed like the show had broken what had already begun to be fixed.

The Verdict

Ultimately, 'The Muppets' was a good show for the first half and then a mediocre one for the second half. The show got a lot of things right that were undone with the soft reboot, but the series was far from perfect. Nevertheless, I would still be open for a second season. Sure, the back-half didn't really work for me, but shows need time to find their groove. The original Muppet show was a mess until the second season. So, while it had its problems, I'd still love to see more. 

Grade: B

What did you think of the 'The Muppets'? Leave your thoughts in the comments below. 

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