The Writer’s Room – It’s Time to Get Things Started

It’s Time to Play the Music, It’s Time to Light the Lights

 

I love the Muppets. In general, there are very few things of the Muppets that I haven’t seen. I own the majority of the Muppet movies (I’m only missing Christmas Carol and Most Wanted), I’ve seen most of the original Muppet Show, I watched all of Muppets Tonight – though I’m not happy about that – and my Saturday mornings started with the Muppet Babies.

Needless to say, when I heard the Muppets were coming back to TV, fan girl scream ensued.

And then they were on the TV on Tuesdays and…screaming stopped.

There’s a lot of discussion on the Muppet boards on where exactly this show went wrong, how it could have been fixed, how Jim Henson is rolling in his grave, you get the picture. But first, let’s start with what makes the Muppets great.

The Characters

Do I really need to list what makes the Muppets great? I mean, you all do know who the Muppets are, right? If you don’t, you need to leave. No, wait. Come back. Alright, let’s tell you about the most sensational, inpirational…blah, you don’t get it.

Go back to your childhood and remember the days you learned about colors, numbers, friendship, and the alphabet with a show called Sesame Street. Unless you live under a rock, you pretty much grew up on this show; this was your primer before elementary school. Sesame Street is THE classic children’s educational show that began in the 1960s.

Yep, that means your parents also grew up on this show and maybe even your grandparents.

Set in a neighborhood called ‘Sesame Street’ children spent an hour with Muppet characters like Big Bird – the protagonist – Snuffy, Telly, Harry, Grover, Bert and Ernie, Prairie Dawn, Forgetful Sam (if any of these characters don’t ring a bell or you’re waiting for me to list Elmo, then get out. Get out right now, you are no longer allowed here), etc.

One of these characters was a little reporter by the name of Kermit the Frog. He was the action news reporter that brought us important news flashes, such as Humpty Dumpty falling off the wall, Pinocchio, Sleepy Beauty…why am I talking? View the awesomeness below –

He was a reporter that kids understood, reporting on issues that we cared about. Look, we were six. If you were six and you were wondering about the middle east, then there’s something wrong with you. Hold on, I’m kidding. You obviously wanted to know about the world and that’s fine and okay. I’m not judging you. (I’m judging you a little)

Anyway, Kermit left his reporting job for Sesame Street and decided that to keep with the zaniness and craziness of the news, he would head up a theater troupe comprised of an unfunny comic, a weirdo stuntman, a lusty leading lady, a mad scientist and his assistant, a far out rock band, and an audience who would rather kill them than watch the show.

And folks, you have the recipe that made the Muppet Show. Probably the best line that summed up Kermit’s job was this (I can no longer find the good video of it. I’m as equally sad as you are) –

Lesley Ann Warren: You know, Kermit, I thought you were the only person on this show who wasn’t crazy.

Kermit: Me, not crazy? I hired the others.

Kermit was/is the perfect sane man in a sea of insanity. What makes him great, however, is the fact that he’s just as crazy as they are.

But, as we all know, the Muppets aren’t just about crazy antics; they’re also about heart, friendship, and family. If there was one group of people that epitomizes the concept of ‘love one another’, it’s them. Interspecies relationships aside, the Muppets are tolerant to everyone, even the villains they face who wanna tear them down.

So you would think, in a time where we need a little of that Rainbow Connection, that the return to TV would have us embracing good ole fashioned Muppet logic or lack thereof. What we got was…what the heck did we get?

The Writing

Welp. Let’s start here, with the writing.

Actually, I’m going to make a statement that I feel deeply in my heart – the generations below me are ruining everything good in this world. There. I said it. Why? Because meddling kids…er…executives think that every reboot of something needs to be ‘edgy’ because apparently millennials are edgy or something. Actually, I blame my generation because we are the parents and you people have led them astray. For shame.

Anyway, what does this have to do with The Muppets? Well, instead of going back to what makes the Muppets awesome, the writers went to what the kids want and they want smartphones and edginess; they want a long standing couple to break up to media hype only to waste away what could have actually been an interesting storyline. Kids today want their interspecies couples, regards if these couples make sense. They want blatant adult themes and situations that aren’t remotely subtle in anyway. Oh and language. We gotta have some Game of Thrones up in these puppets.

Okay, so the last part is a bit much, but if you read the reviews from fans and critics alike, you would forgiven if you thought the show was literally Game of Thrones done by the Muppets (a scary, yet honestly intriguing concept). It wasn’t, but the writing didn’t really work.

For starters, let’s take the huge publicity stunt of breaking up Kermit and Piggy. Considering that, about a few months to a year before the frog finally manned up to admit he was, without a doubt, dating the pig, out of nowhere, the two called it quits. This also doesn’t take into account that the reboot movie done by Muppets number one fan Jason Segal, not only had them broken up, but they got back together at the end of the film (because, hello! Strongest couple ever!)

With that in mind, we then get a show where Kermit is the executive producer of his ex-girlfriend’s late night talk show. Oh, and apparently after like two weeks apart, he’d already had another pig girlfriend.

You would think this would be a regular, classic TV troupe, where we try to see Kermit juggle the current and ex, all the while knowing he still loves Piggy…basically the Muppet version of How I Met Your Mother.

We got…nothing. Kermit’s new girlfriend, Denise, was in a total of…three, maybe four episodes before she called it quits with Kermit. No reason, stated by the way, though it was clear why. But you know, a reason would have been nice.

And then there’s Fozzie Bear, our loveable, always trying his best, completely not funny best bear friend. He’s in a relationship with Becky, a human. Not out of the realm of the Muppets, however his meeting Becky’s parents was…really awkward and not funny awkward like you would expect, just…why are you showing us this?

No couple was left untouched – Gonzo and Camilla? Over (at least until later in the season). Floyd and Janice? Done for. Beaker and Bunsen? Apparently closer than we ever realized. Even Robin, Kermit’s nephew, wasn’t left untouched. His big return was because his parents were getting a divorce, with a high touch that his dad was having an affair. Honestly?

What was the point of all these break ups? Because millennials use Tinder? I don’t even know.

Overall, the new tone was…depressing. The hope of love and togetherness was gone – even the intro had everyone just take everything from Kermit until he was like, *sigh* It’s time to get things started, sounding more like Eeyore than himself.

Where They Went Wrong

As if the above wasn’t complete, let’s discuss the showrunner switch in the middle of the first season. Obviously, fans were not happy about the show. Again, depressing as hell, with funny moments sprinkled in. So, tying back to my HIMYM reference, they pulled in that show’s showrunner.

At the midpoint of the show, after the holiday season break, we returned with a happier intro and retooled Muppets that…was actually good. Towards the end of the first half, the writing was getting better and the second half actually managed to bring back the feel of what a Muppets show was and should’ve been.

Gonzo and Camilla? Back in business baby! Kermit and Piggy? On the mend. Floyd and Janice? Still on the outs, with Sam the Eagle of all people trying to make his move. And many favorites returned – as mentioned, Robin returned after years of not being in the movies (aside from his short cameo in Most Wanted).

The backstage and onstage antics that made the original Muppet Show and even Muppets Tonight funny came back and we even got callbacks and heartwarming stuff.

Sadly…it was too little too late. In past TV history, no first season has ever really been great (the Simpsons and South Park aside) and in many cases, some of the best and beloved sitcoms have gone on to TV history, even with their crappy first seasons. But The Muppets is not one of those cases. In today’s TV, you either grab the audience immediately or you cut loose.

Of course, some shows that only get worse still manage to hang on for some reason (insert unhappy TV fans shows here)

 

Today’s Lesson

If there was ever a case of writers and executives not doing the research and looking back, it’s the Muppets.

Unless you’re working on something that was critically and commercially panned and has in no way found even a cult following, you need to look at what made that show, book, movie good in the first place.

What’s really sad is, the voice actors that have done such a great job of taking over from our staples, were also some of the writers. That’s just mind blown. You would think, after all the time they’ve been working together and with these characters, they would remember their dynamic. That’s what’s disappointing, to be honest.

The 2011 movie, done by a fan, did the greatest thing possible – as Jason Segal pointed, this new generation hadn’t grown up with the Muppets and it was important that they enjoyed it as much as our generation did. The sequel, while decent in some places, didn’t really live up to what the original was and the TV show was an even worse example. It was…it was kinda like the Star Wars prequels – so much hype and what we got failed in comparison to the original trilogy.

The original Muppet Trilogy – the Muppet Movie, Great Muppet Caper, and Muppets Take Manhattan – got better each movie; this time around, we didn’t even get a third movie (unless you want to count the show into that)

Look, no matter what you’re writing, if you’re going to even remotely touch on a beloved franchise, do your damn homework. We live in the age of the Internet – Google is your friend. Most shows/movies/books have their own Wikis, done by fans who know the ins and outs of the characters, the plots, etc. We have YouTube, so most likely, the episode you need is there. Or you can pay for it on Amazon. Or even better, it’s probably on Netflix. DO THE DAMN RESEARCH! If you’re going to spend months writing, you can take the week to go back to the roots.

As sad as it is, I don’t think this generation or the next will ever know the Muppets like we the fans do. Unless smart parents are showing them the previous movies and shows, they won’t ever know about the time the Muppets tried to put on a show at a train station or that one time Fozzie was in charge and the theater nearly burned down. Or the time the theater literally lost its roof.

I would love any new iteration to NOT be on TV, but on Netflix. At least, the writers could take the time to actually craft a story and a season to be fully realized. Heck, even Hulu and Amazon could handle it (though I’m more behind Amazon than Hulu), but the Muppets are wasted on TV. Even another movie I think would be better on Netflix than the theaters at this point.

Will that ever happen? Probably not. The Muppets had potential and it was wasted and something like this is most definitely not gonna come around again sadly.

What do you think? Where did The Muppets go wrong for you? Do you see them coming back? Let me know in the comments below!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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