On Monday, I noted that The Muppets, which by any scale has been a serious disappointment, had been green lit through the end of the season, but for a 16 episode run instead of a full 22 episode order. A vote of confidence, but not a full one. or perhaps the ABC brass not wanting to admit failure so prominently.
Turns out the answer to that was neither. As reported by Deadline yesterday, those back six episodes are going to serve as a reboot to the reboot. Yes, we’re rebooting The Muppets (Again.) They’ve fired Bob Kushell, the Big Bang co-creator who served as showrunner, and are bringing aboard Kristin Newman, who was the brains behind last season’s mini-run of Galavant.
Deadline notes that ABC is now allowing that The Muppets was “rushed” to air: “filming a last-minute presentation in April and getting a slot on the fall schedule just a couple of weeks later — before its concept, style and tone had been fully formed.” Sounds like a tacit admission of failure to me. There are also rumors of behind the scenes tension, and a decision that one of the two minds behind the show had to go, with full-time Kushell taking the fall over part-time co-creator Bill Prady.
The tapping of Kristin Newman is a promising sign of the ABC brass recognizing what is missing from The Muppets relaunch. The word I use for the show is “soulless.” This is a show that could star anyone, and make the same lame jokes and be just as unfunny as it is with the Muppets doing it–not all that surprising a turn of events, since we’re talking about the men who created the soulless nerdface, empty 22 minutes of space on CBS known as The Big Bang Theory. The thing that makes the Muppets the Muppets–the off the wall, zany, just this side of subversive stuff, is completely missing. Moreover, there is a mean streak to the series. Kermit comes off as a hardened industry type, which is a far cry from the beautiful optimism that was “the lovers, the dreamers and you.”
I don’t think the premise is wrong, for the record. Setting the Muppets as creating a “Late Show” is actually the correct update to the vaudeville roots. But for some reason Miss Piggy’s Late Show is stuck in the 1980s. If you look at current Late Night, it’s actually more vaudeville than it used to be. (See also: SNL alum Fallon, Jimmy, who isn’t a great interviewer, but has viral musical numbers flow from his show with alarming regularity.) There is no reason “Up Late with Miss Piggy” couldn’t logically be producing full of musical numbers with surprise guests as part of the show, instead of forcing us to sit through badly done versions of “uncomfortable humor” interviews. Newman has shown a flair for that with Galavant. Let’s hope she brings it along to The Muppets.
One more point, and it seems like a small thing, but I want to point it out. One of the major turn offs from this new The Muppets series is the near constant pig pun titles of episodes. One or two might have been funny. But with the exception of “Bear Left, then Bear Write” all of them have sneered references to ham, bacon, and the like. But the show isn’t starring Miss Piggy. The lead protagonist is Kermit. These titles come off as the cruel thing he’s thinking having suffered through another day with her, and the resulting sensation is that the show is taking a mean and sexist attitude towards Miss Piggy. (Piggist, perhaps?) It’s anti the spirit of what the Muppets stand for, and to me a microcosm of the tone-deaf nature of the series so far. It’s not lost on me that Kristin Newman, as a woman, might solve that rather ugly trope that’s taken hold as standing in for humor, instead of actual jokes.