Jarrod Fairclough – A year ago tonight, ABC aired the final first season episode of The Muppets, the mockumentary series about life backstage at ‘Up Late with Miss Piggy’. The show ended with a risky cliffhanger, Miss Piggy passing out before she could pour her heart out to Kermit, them stuck on a plane to Thailand, Pepe there for some reason (because, love). It was a daring move that, at the time, I said probably shouldn’t have happened, considering the show only had a 50/50 chance of returning. Of course, the show didn’t return, and we were never able to get the resolution we craved. So, with hindsight being 20/20, a slew of appearances since the cancellation, and some fun stuff in the future, let’s take a look at the Muppet franchise a year on from their cancellation.
When the show was cancelled, there was some really concerning thoughts swimming around the heads of Muppet fans. Though we adored it, Muppets Most Wanted was not nearly as successful as its 2011 predecessor, and we knew going in to the ABC series that it would be touch and go. With its demise, fans (myself included) became worried that Disney would lose faith in the franchise, and we’d be left back in the Dark Ages of the mid 2000’s when the characters didn’t really do much of anything. There are a hundred reasons why Disney might not have picked up the show. The first few episodes weren’t indicative of what the show became towards the end, but the jokes about ‘cross promoting’, ‘bear looking for love’ and whatever Denise was perceived doing to that straw didn’t appeal to the same crowd of people who just 6 months earlier were watching cute short clips of these characters on Disney Junior.
It seems that Disney hasn’t always known what to do with these characters, and it seems that we’re told with every Disney Executive changeover ‘Oh, these guys have the right idea. The last guys were hopeless’. In the space of a year (2015) they went from being marketed directly to small children, to a show that even we thought occasionally lapsed in to too inappropriate (and I love that bear joke). We know The Muppets aren’t kids characters, and we know that Jim Henson never wanted to be seen only as a childrens entertainer. But with mixed messages coming from the most iconic film studio in the world, it’s easy to understand just why the general population aren’t always clear on who exactly this franchise is for.
The truth is, it’s for everyone, and I think with the recent successes of a lot of family friendly entertainment, it will help The Muppets appeal to a broader audience as people continue to realize that ‘family friendly entertainment’ actually means for the whole family. I say this as a 27 year old guy who watched Dreamworks’ Trolls last week with my nieces, and I think I laughed more in that movie than I have in many recent comedies. It’s hopeful that with whatever Disney decides to do with these guys moving on, the modern family might be more willing to accept a frog and a pig into their homes.
There were a few moments last year where I thought ‘We’re going to be okay here’ after months of feeling unnerved. The first was the announcement of the Diamond Select Muppet figures. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t privy to the information long before it was announced, but actually seeing the figures in the flesh, and the incredible reaction they got made me think ‘If adults are willing to spend good money on Muppet merchandise, there’s hope for the future yet’. Some argue that it’s based on nostalgia, but I say who cares? If nostalgia means I get more Gonzo and Rizzo in my life, then sign me up.
Second was the Muppets getting their own show at Walt Disney World. Not only is Great Moments In History (But Just The American Parts) a hilarious show, but it’s well performed with puppeteers lip syncing so well to the prerecorded track, that some actually believed it was the real Muppet performers below the windowsills. It’s great to see Disney willing to put that much effort in to the show and use real puppets, rather than those giant walk around characters that just don’t quite work when applied to Muppets.
The third was The Muppets opening the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. That Disney was willing to open a show watched by well over 20 million people with a song and dance number by The Muppets gave me that sweet relief I’d been looking for for a long time. It was nice to see the franchise front and center on television again, even just for a few moments.
Fourth, and arguably the greatest moment since their cancellation, was last years live Electric Mayhem concert at the Outside Lands music festival. There were a million reasons why Disney could have said no to that idea, and yet they had enough faith in the franchise and the Electric Mayhem Band to spend the money to build custom made sets, funny shorts, music videos and music rights to put on a full half hour live concert that was actually live. It wasn’t prerecorded with the performers lip syncing – Bill Barretta, Matt Vogel, Dave Goelz, Eric Jacobson, David Rudman and Steve Whitmire actually sang a multitude of songs in front of thousands of spectators. And with the success of that appearance, we’re soon getting a full live show at The Hollywood Bowl in September (that I’m super bummed I’ll have to miss) featuring the entire ensemble of Muppet characters.
So what can we expect in the future? Besides the Hollywood Bowl and Muppet Babies (which I don’t necessarily consider to be a part of the franchise), the situation seems pretty quiet at the moment, leading me to wonder about the possibilities. I don’t know if there is anything else planned, I certainly haven’t heard about it if it is. So indulge me for a moment and allow me to speculate, and give you an idea of what I’d like to see in the future…
Personally, I think the relationship between The Muppets and network television is dead. Besides the occasional appearance, I can’t see Kermit and the gang ever teaming up with ABC again, which I think is best for both parties. I see the future of the troupe being the internet, specifically Netflix. I’d like to see a few specials throughout the year, perhaps even a one off version of The Muppet Show with a multitude of guests. I’d love to see perhaps a Year In Review show where they take off the events and pop culture that were popular throughout the year.
I assume we’ll get more content via YouTube and the Muppets social media accounts, like the Pigs In Space videos and the Muppet Thought of the Week.
I wouldn’t be surprised if this Hollywood Bowl show is a test run for a possible live show tour, which has been discussed in the past. I think getting the chance to have masses see these characters live and in person would invigorate not only the audience, but the Muppet performers as well.
I don’t think we’ll get another movie for a long time yet. I don’t think we’ll ever see the release of seasons 4 and 5 of The Muppet Show, which I’ve just learned to accept at this point, and I think you should too. I think the Muppets will fall in to that niche section of fandom, and I think that’s absolutely okay.
It all leads me to one suggestion. Put the performers in charge. Even just once, give Bill, Matt, Eric, Steve, Dave, David and Peter the keys to the car and see what happens. Bill and Matt have proven themselves to be excellent directors, and not only are they all hilarious, but all the performers know their characters better than anyone. Chuck the seven of them in a room with Kirk Thatcher and Jim Lewis, and then make whatever they come up with. I’m 100% sure it’d be worth it.
So, a year on from the cancellation of The Muppets, we’ve seen the faith in the franchise restored, even if it means nothing big is happening yet. For the moment though we can rest assured that something will come, and we’ll be right here reporting on all of it…