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Tuesday, September 22, 2015

What Really Made The Muppet Show Work

While I am a fan of the Muppets, I didn't bother tuning into the premier episode of ABC's revival. When I read about the concept, it didn't strike me as getting to the heart of what the Muppets are all about.

I've heard some people say the problem with the revived Muppets is that too much of the material is aimed at adults rather than children. I find that interesting because, when I recently bought the first season of The Muppet Show on DVD and watched the episodes, there were actually a lot of jokes that were aimed at adults. So why was it something that the whole family could enjoy?

Because Jim Henson understood how to approach material so that the jokes and gags weren't obviously aimed at adults. To kids, everything looked like puppets being funny and they could laugh along with it without having Mom and Dad explain everything to them. Meanwhile, Mom and Dad could sit back and laugh because they had an idea about the deeper meaning of the jokes.

With Kermit, kids just saw a frog whose face got scrunched every time something went awry or unexpected. Adults, though, could understand the frustration Kermit went through when things didn't go as planned. Or better yet, Mom and Dad saw Kermit as them having to put up with kids who ask too many questions or otherwise drive them crazy.

And the numbers the Muppets performed often carried a deeper meaning. I'll direct you to this blog post about the meaning behind the "Mahna Mahna" number, which explains it was more than just a goofy song that gets stuck in your head. Again, though, kids didn't have to get the deeper meaning to enjoy it. Neither did adults, although I wonder if some of them thought more about the meaning even as they were laughing along with it.

The Muppets are at their best when they are in a variety-show environment, as that allows them to poke fun at the world around them. The Muppet Movie was more of an elaborate expansion of that variety-show environment, with musical numbers spread throughout the adventure describing how these Muppets came to be celebrities.

The Muppets movie released in 2011 got to the heart of that, in which the whole premise was about whether or not the gang should get back together to put on a variety show during a time in which audiences seem more interested in other things. But turning the Muppets into a general sitcom is what I think is the bigger problem than any notions about how the show should be directed at kids.

And when you present humor on the show, you need to style it so that the jokes and premises are more adult in nature, but nobody pays attention because kids are spending more time laughing at how funny those Muppets are. That's the charm the Muppets brought, and from everything I've read, that's what the attempted sitcom may be missing.

Perhaps it's time to revisit the premise of the 2011 movie and find out whether or not the world is ready for a variety show format again?

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