‘The Muppets’: Appreciating The Muppets’ Experiment in Television One Year Later

Mitchell Stein- It’s kind of hard to believe that one year to this exact day, that many Muppet fans were eagerly sitting at the edge of their couches, anticipating the premiere of The Muppets’ return to television. It was an incredible time for Muppet fans and ABC’s promotional content was practically everywhere to be found, making sure that everyone that wasn’t living under a rock  was well aware that a new Muppet TV series was coming this fall. ABC was thrilled to be hosting it, and they quickly picked up the series only having seen a ten-minute pitch reel. They were so eager to get it on the air for their fall 2015 lineup that they insisted the show be rushed to production out of a series’ standard production development to instead be rushed to development for premiere in the fall, meaning an incredibly short development life, with the show being picked up on May 18th 2015 and fully ready for it’s TV premiere on September 22nd 2015.

And that kids, is the story of why you should never rush a show to air with less than three months of production.

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The rest of the story is history. After a summer of heavy marketing and a brilliant marketing campaign which saw the breakup of Kermit and Piggy, spawning the internet to lose their mind and bring attention to this new series coming that fall on ABC, The Muppets finally made it’s grand debut last year to this day. While Muppet fans celebrated the return of the characters, the show was met with mixed reviews from critics and fans. The show took a new spin on the characters, placing them in a contemporary The Office-style mockumentary format documenting the behind-the-scenes atmosphere as they put on a late-night talk show, Up Late with Miss Piggy.

All that might have been fine if not for the show’s attempt to make The Muppets more adult oriented, which of course, was not well-received by audiences. The Muppets characters became mean and cynical, and the classic Muppet magic was gone. Perhaps it was intended that way, as showrunner Bill Prady and Bob Kushell attempted to capture an entirely new take on the characters.  Clearly the show was looking to capture a new era of experimentation with the characters, and clearly the showrunners had a passion for keeping the Muppets popular and cared for the outcome of the series. But clearly, something was not working and the reception from the critics, and from the downward drop in ratings, was a strong enough indicator of that.

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The rest of the saga is history, and although The Muppets successfully managed to recapture that classic Muppet magic later in the season, and was on a glorious upswing in quality prior to its cancellation. The series may have even brought some of the best Muppet work in years, but the fate of The Muppets was already sealed. ABC officially cancelled the series in May when it was failed to be renewed by the network prior to their Upfront presentation, making the Muppets’ second attempt in a television series since The Muppet Show a failed project, still leaving the future of the show in question. 

Despite The Muppets’ cancellation, there was so much in the series that worked spectacularly. The Muppets are well-known for being experimental in any television frontier that they endure. Their ambition leads them on to exploring new television frontiers and new genres to parody, and there was no exception why the same could not be done in 2015 with their take on the contemporary style of modern television. Taking the series for what it was and how The Muppets implemented into the mockumentary style was flawless. It was an ambitious move, an interesting journey into new frontiers for the characters and maybe even something Jim Henson would have been eager to give a shot at. The greatest thing about The Muppets is their ability to evolve with new technology and pop culture and changing trends, and putting these characters through new technology and genres is what The Muppet Show so popular in the first place. By all indications, giving the characters a contemporary spin would have been something that could have worked with enough planning and pre-production.

What the show amassed to in just sixteen episodes will forever be something that I will be amazed about. The show was a constant stream of creativity, exploring not only new frontiers for The Muppets, but also in broadcast television and in puppetry. It was stunning and impressive, emotionally wrenching, and by the end of it’s first season, became a show that perfectly recaptured that classic Muppet vision. Jim Henson descried himself often as “an experimental filmmaker”. The Muppets was an odd, yet incredible experiment in television that pushed the boundaries of what The Muppets are capable of doing.

On the one year anniversary of the show, it would be inappropriate not to give a big thanks to the entire cast and crew for pouring their heart and soul into making this series work, and despite it’s cancellation, the series will forever live on within Muppet fans and we will continue to consider it a landmark in Muppet achievement. To Bob Kushell, Bill Prady, Kristin Newman, Bill Barretta and the rest of the core crew, thanks for an incredible sixteen episodes.

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