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TV Series Review

It's been about 40 years since the original Muppet Show first aired back in the 1970s. The original was ostensibly a variety show, where the day's biggest celebrities rubbed fuzzy elbows with Fozzie, Gonzo, Miss Piggy and the rest—with each episode coming off as being just a step away from disaster. Kermit the Frog doggedly held each production together through force of sheer will, aimiability and green goodness.

But show business ain't all magic and rainbows. It can be a tough, bitter, soulless way to make a living, and many a bright-eyed star has fallen victim to jaded cynicism.

Now, even the Muppets aren't immune.

ABC's The Muppets, like the original, is a show within a show—this one centered around Miss Piggy's TV talker Up Late With Miss Piggy. Kermit's again running things behind the scenes, but he and Piggy are no longer in puppet love. Fittingly in this age of celebrity and paparazzi, their breakup went viral. And, naturally, chaos reigns behind Piggy's shimmering set.

Bunsen Honeydew still looks for any opportunity to blow things up. Fozzie the Bear fights prejudice over having a relationship with his human girlfriend. And Sam the Eagle—now apparently head of "broadcast standards and practices" for the network—lays down the firm hand of censorship wherever he can. In explaining why he will not allow the word gesticulate to air, Sam says it's only a short walk from hand gestures to hand shaking, "which is the first step to making babies."

Yeah, if only overly zealous censors were a problem for television in 2015. If only.

It's Time to Play the Music

Sam, of course, doesn't have much real say in what goes into The Muppets. And so the dialogue exchanged by these beloved characters—presented in the mockumentary format popularized by The Office—strays into crude or winkingly salacious territory at times. There are veiled allusions to sexual relations between Muppets, for instance.

It seems that over the decades the Muppets have grown jaded, too. Looking a tad tired, Kermit's everyman goodness is not the heart of this program: Miss Piggy—she of the boar-sized ego and unpredictable insecurity—is. The rest of the cast, and the show itself, take their cues from her.

On a certain satirical level, maybe this works. If we look at The Muppets less as a family show and more as a social commentary, we find some witheringly cogent messages in play. Perhaps in 21st-century society, filled as it is with Kardashian selfies and Cyrus self-promotion, there really isn't a realistic place for a guy like Kermit. Piggy is the ethos of the age. Loud is good. Brash is better. And Kermit, having never been either, is a 21st-century nothing.

It's Like a Kind of Torture

This new, more cynical Muppet show fits within, it seems, ABC's larger entertainment strategy. The network pitched The Muppets, tongue in cheek, as the first "network TV show with full frontal nudity" (since Kermit is, y'know, shows so much green). And the U.K.'s Daily Mail reports that going forward, "No subject is off limits. … This new show is aimed firmly at a mature, modern audience and addresses subjects that would have been taboo in the past."

That's not very promising when you're coming at things from Plugged In's perspective, of course. But in fairness even the original lark had its issues. In addition to the often groan-worthy one-liners, the backstage shenanigans back then were surprisingly subversive. We sometimes remember the Muppets as some sort of untouched bastion of innocence, but in truth they've always had a few rough edges. They're fuzzy fabric-covered edges. But edges nonetheless.


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Episode Reviews

The Muppets - September 22, 2015 "Pig Girls Don't Cry"



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Voices of Steve Whitmire as Kermit the Frog, Rizzo the Rat, Beaker, Statler and Lips; Eric Jacobson as Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Animal and Sam Eagle; Bill Barretta as Pepe the King Prawn, Rowlf the Dog, Dr. Teeth, The Swedish Chef and Bobo the Bear; Dave Goetz as Gonzo, Bunsen Honeydew, Zoot, Waldorf and Chip; David Rudman as Scooter and Janice; Matt Vogel as Floyd Pepper, Uncle Deadly and Sweetums






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Paul Asay

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