Maybe It's Time To Just Stop With The Muppets
Hey, here’s a terrible idea -- let’s resurrect the Muppets!
The Muppets Mayhem, a Disney+ series that follows the Electric Mayhem Band’s attempt to record their first studio album, is the latest of several recent stabs at resurrecting a supposedly beloved franchise that no one wants to watch.
What, you don’t remember all of the Muppet re-dos? Our point exactly.
Nostalgic Gen Xers and Millennials have tried again and again to make the Muppets happen over the past ten years. Since 2010, we count at least seven other attempts at a Muppet reboot, almost all forgotten.
The most successful was 2011’s The Muppets, Jason Segel’s feature-length love letter to his childhood buddies. That one performed well enough to spawn a critically and commercially disappointing sequel, 2014’s Muppets Most Wanted. Experts predicted that second movie would take in more than $20 million on its opening weekend -- it made less than five. An AP critic wrote, “Muppets Most Wanted fails to whip up the kind of furry frenzy that makes the Muppets special.”
Next comes the 2015 TV series The Muppets -- geez, Henson-ites, how do you keep coming up with these titles? This mockumentary parody of shows like The Office and Modern Family follows the backstage antics of late-night talk show Up Late with Miss Piggy. Before the show even aired, ad buyers were dismissing The Muppets -- “it doesn’t feel like a show that you have to watch every week.”
Viewers agreed. Ratings tanked hard and the show was canceled after a single season.
So let’s try it again! If you’re in preschool, you might know about the Muppet Babies 2018 reboot. (It’s been canceled.) In 2019, Disney+ got to work on Muppets Live Another Day, a series set in the 1980s immediately after the events of Muppets Take Manhattan. Remember the plot of that one? Execs figured you might not -- the series never saw the light of day.
So let’s try it again! In 2020, Disney+ gave us Muppets Now. What was intended as a series of shorts became six cobbled-together episodes that quietly came and went. In 2021, the streamer dropped Muppets Haunted Mansion, a movie you likely didn’t know existed. Neither show had disastrous reviews, neither made a cultural dent.
So let’s try it again! It’s 2022, so of course, Muppets Mayhem is on the way -- the fifth series in five years At what point are we going to ask: Why?
The easy answer is nostalgia -- all of those creatives who are dreaming up new Muppet iterations grew up on Sesame Street and reruns of the 1970s version of The Muppet Show. But there are lots of things we loved as kids that don’t hold up as adult entertainment.
Ironically, Jim Henson always intended his minions to have a grown-up sensibility. The title of the original show’s pilot was The Muppet Show: Sex and Violence. But while the 70s series obviously had adult fans, did most grown-ups really find the furry puppets all that funny?
They sure didn’t on Saturday Night Live, where Henson’s creations were semi-officially part of the original cast. Belushi, Chase, and the gang had lots of differences, but they all agreed on one thing: They hated the Muppets.
“Whoever drew the short straw that week had to write the Muppet sketch,” remembers SNL writer Alan Zweibel. Writer Michael O’Donoghue outright refused, strangling a Big Bird doll with a window blind while stating “I won’t write for felt.”
Which brings us to what will undoubtedly be an unpopular opinion: Maybe the Muppets aren’t for grown-ups after all.
Bill Prady, a veteran of Big Bang Theory and producer of 2015’s The Muppets, was sure he knew how to keep older fans happy while bringing in new ones. Turns out, he couldn’t do either. “Who are the Muppets?” asked branding executive David Srere after Prady’s 2015 series failed. “It’s hard to say at this point.”
So give them a rest already. Let’s leave the Muppets where they belong -- delighting pre-schoolers with enough mild wit to entertain laundry-folding parents. There are far worse comedy legacies than that.
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Top image: The Muppets Studio