I find people’s reaction to the new Muppet show to be more interesting than the show itself. (Though I did like the show.)
There’s something fascinating about seeing the multiple and varying interpretations these characters can create. Perhaps because the Muppets have been around so long and have such a special place in many people’s perceptions, it’s only natural that everyone has their own unique idea of what the Muppets are.
Strangely, I find all those interpretations to be universally wrong. Just as when someone tries to tell me about the “Best” version of Batman. There honestly isn’t a best version. There’s a version you prefer over other versions.
So it is that people want something different from the Muppets depending on why they like them. For some, they’ll always be silly puppet characters. For others, subversive slapstick. For still others, clever wordplay and all-ages innocence.
(It doesn’t help any that the Muppets are actually two brands, the educational Sesame Street group and the comedic Muppet Show group with almost no crossover outside of Kermit. There are jokes that work for the Comedic Muppets that would never fly with the Sesame Street Muppets and vice versa.)
Even more interesting is the arrival of our own personal politics and relationship dynamics as best embodied by the varied reactions to Miss Piggy and Kermit’s “break up”. Some see it as Kermit being a jerk and leaving Miss Piggy for a younger woman. Some see it as Miss Piggy being an abuser and Kermit making the healthy decision to leave her. There’s accusations of fat shaming and shallowness, etc. It’s strange stuff when we’re talking about a frog and a pig dating.
My own thoughts: The Muppets is both NOT The Muppet Show and still very much related to it. It takes the basic premise, Muppets running a show, and updates it. It takes a popular formula (and let’s be honest, the original Muppet Show was tweaking an established formula) and tries to do its own thing with it.
Yet it feels very Muppets to me because in the end, it’s largely about the relationships the characters have with each other. Kermit and Miss Piggy have always had a contentious relationship. Fozzy has always been a bad comic, eager to please. Scooter is the clueless gopher. Rizzo is the schemer. Dr. Teeth and The Electric Mayhem are a bunch of spacey musicians. And the dynamics at play are what makes the Muppets what they are.
Is it immune to criticism? No. And after only one episode, it’s difficult to know if the show will be able to establish its own identity. But the pieces are there, and the update’s only crime as far I’m concerned is that the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia will always make the past versions seem somehow more pure, more perfect.
But one thing is for certain. The Muppets endure because, somehow, they have more personality than most fictional characters can ever hope to have. Somehow, they feel like people we know who matter to us. We debate these things because they have life.
And that’s pretty amazing for a bunch of forty year old puppets.