ABC's 'The Muppets' Was Missing One Key Element

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Disclaimer: I won't bury my thoughts in this article. I absolutely loved the premiere episode and cannot wait for more. However, I understand that many people weren't happy with it and feel there was something missing. So I'm attempting to take an objective look at THE MUPPETS, to find out what prevented many fans from enjoying the show. With that out of the way...

It's time to get things started.

The Muppets have endured the test of time throughout the years. Singing and dancing their way into our hearts through their variety show and teaching us lessons about mental and personal growth through Sesame Street. Their movies have delighted fans with memorable moments of Hollywood’s finest. At one point or another, in our lives, we have been touched by the magical puppets created by Jim Henson.

Then Disney swooped in and purchased their rights.

Disney, the once great company that produced family-friendly media for all to enjoy. Delivering movies that created laughter, songs and emotions that allow us to reflect on what's truly important in life. But that's not the Disney we know anymore. At least not when you dig under the surface. It seems that in today’s media, Disney has become an evil empire. Determined to buy up popular IP’s so they can profit off the success of the previous owners. And, in spite of the general public letting out a collective groan with each purchase, Disney has thrived off of this strategy.

Now, Disney sits on coffers so full, it would make Scrooge McDuck feel inadequate.

Throughout history, The Muppets have been satirical in nature. Always poking fun at society. So it comes as no surprise that they would use a familiar format for their new show. Following their lives in a ‘documentary’ style, using a single-camera, in the vein of THE OFFICE, 30 ROCK and MODERN FAMILY. Ironically, many people feel as though the ‘single-cam’ comedy has been overused lately. That could simply be, because the formula has proven successful over the years. So it’s a natural fit that THE MUPPETS would use a style of filming that almost seems to mock it’s own success.

Not to mention, they’re working with complicated puppets. Having the ability to stop the camera, reset the actors and deliver the next line of dialogue allows them to make sure everything is right behind the scenes. Many of the puppeteers are working off of a monitor below the set, so they can see their performance as it happens. While the original MUPPET SHOW was a multi-camera setup, it was also a different kind of show. The single-cam setup offers a better experience when doing a documentary style show.

All-in-all, it actually enhances the comedy. But why?

The Muppets have always been a strange mix of animals and creatures that mimic the behaviors and actions of humans. So to watch a ‘documentary’ on the lives of a frog, bear, pig and a ‘weirdo’ is comedic in and of itself. The classic slapstick comedy is there when Scooter is thrown from a golf cart, and then miraculously jumps back on, only to get tossed a second time. It’s hilarious because we know nobody gets hurt. He’s just a muppet. How many times did we laugh when Jim Henson blew something up on THE MUPPET SHOW? Or had one of them flung off-stage into the air? The biggest difference is the lack of variety show. And while people may complain that they aren’t a fan of watching the muppets interact in real-world situations...isn’t that what they did in their highly successful movies?

The writer’s have done an excellent job delivering the same witty humor, in the dialogue, as we’re used to. Some of it was clever and smart. Other lines were crude. Almost all of it worked, for anyone open-minded enough to realize that they are parallel to what we used to enjoy 30 years ago. Some people have allowed nostalgia to blind them from seeing the old formula wrapped up in new jokes. Even the characters themselves continue to stay true to their personas. Miss Piggy remains stuck on herself and her fame and beauty, while still maintaining a mean streak. Yet when pushed she has as sensitive side. Kermit continues to be stressed out as he tries to keep it all together, trying as hard as he can to put on a cohesive show surrounded by a ragtag bunch of crazies. He gets frazzled, mutters one-liners under his breath and even has a moment of clarity.

The core of the muppets, who they are and how they interact is still there. Critics however will feel that there’s still something missing.

THE MUPPETS premiere introduced us to a new age of Disney owned Muppets on television. Gone are the days of half-hour variety shows. There was no song and dance number or showtune to speak of, although Imagine Dragons performance at the end was a half-hearted attempt. So while there wasn’t an upbeat song that’ll have us all humming a tune the next day, or a heartwarming melody that will bring a tear to our eye; there was music to be had. Music that will appeal to a new generation of viewers. A new generation of adults. So, once again there’s a parallel to the formula that has always worked in the past.

A modified version anyways.

Over the years the muppets have always been the most sensational, inspirational, celebrational cast of characters. They’ve had fun, conflict and provided enjoyment in their resolution. So what is the thing that’s missing? What is it about these muppets that isn’t working for many fans, that are now their biggest critics? Everything we grew up with exists within the format delivered on ABC’s newest sitcom.

Everything but our childhood. And some people just aren’t willing to let that go.