Don’t Make “The Muppet Show” Again, Make This Show Instead

Published: May 10, 2021
Categories: Commentary, Feature

Since The Muppet Show made its crash-landing onto Disney Plus, it’s become an all-ages hit all over again. Thousands (millions?) of viewers have made an amazing discovery, whether for the first time in years or the first time ever: The Muppet Show is really, really good!

The Muppets’ newfound popularity has to inspire Disney to make new Muppet stuff, right? The upcoming special Muppets Haunted Mansion that was just announced sounds like a great start, but obviously us greedy fans aren’t going to be content with one measly special. In the past few months, a familiar refrain has often been seen on social media: “They should bring back The Muppet Show!”

It seems like a whole lot of fans want Disney to essentially produce a sixth season of the old 1976-1981 Muppet Show, set in the Muppet Theater with the Muppets putting on a variety show just like the one they did for five years. You may think me a skeptical skunk, but I’ve long been doubtful as to whether this would actually work. I just keep thinking: The Muppet Show came along when the general audience was actually familiar with variety shows, it was the product of a brilliant team of creators who were in the right place at the right time, and the guy in charge decided five seasons of that exact television program was as much as the world needed.

New Muppet projects are already judged harshly against the near-perfection of the classic era. A straightforward Additional Muppet Show series would spend its entire run in the Thog-sized shadow of the original. And while we live in a time when every TV show ever made gets rebooted or revived or reheated, the track record for highly-anticipated returns of beloved shows is spotty at best.

That’s why, IF there’s ever another Muppet TV series, I don’t think it should be The Muppet Show. But I do think it should draw inspiration from The Muppet Show, and from all the other Muppet shows. For example…

The Next Show Should… resemble a variety show

In the Tradition of… The Muppet Show, The Jim Henson Hour, Muppets Tonight, and Muppets Now

The Muppet characters tend to do well in a format that allows them to star in comedy sketches, musical numbers, and assorted short bits of wackiness. Probably because that’s the format they were created for! It doesn’t have to take place in a vaudeville theater with a red curtain, and there can still be plenty of room for “backstage” storylines, but whatever the basic premise is, there should be a place for the cast to do the kinds of concise, funny acts they’re great at – whether it’s on a stage, in a TV studio, or… on Scooter’s laptop, I guess?

And speaking of the Muppets doing sketches…

The Next Show Should… include brand-new recurring sketches

In the Tradition of… The Muppet Show, The Jim Henson Hour, Muppets Tonight, and Muppets Now

Everyone loves “Pigs in Space,” but I’d love to see the Muppet writers of the 2020s come up with their own ideas for sketches. They should avoid retreads of classic bits like The Jim Henson Hour’s “Merlin” (which was “Veterinarian’s Hospital” in medieval times) and Muppets Tonight’s “Pigs in Space: Deep Dish Nine – The Next Generation of Pigs in Space” (which was “Pigs in Space” but not as fun and with way too many words in the name).

A new twist on an old concept could be fun, like the Mup Close and Personal bits on Muppets Now, which recalled the talk spots on The Muppet Show. But I’d love to see the writers invent something less predictable and more weird, along the lines of the “Thor, God of Thunder” sketches on Muppets Tonight.

Which reminds me…

The Next Show Should… feature weird and funny segments starring Muppets from the ensemble

In the Tradition of… The Muppet Show and The Jim Henson Hour

Almost forty-five years after the franchise debuted, audiences expect to see the core cast of Muppets in everything. And with Muppet productions being pretty few and far between, that’s what they have to give us. When there’s something new, whether it’s a movie or a social media video, chances are it’s going to star one of the characters everybody knows. You know, the frog, the pig, the chef, the weirdo, the prawn. Maybe the blue lizardy man if we’re lucky.

But some of the most creative and memorable moments in Muppet history didn’t feature any of the main characters at all. Think of all the Muppet Show numbers showcasing random Whatnots, monsters, Frackles, penguins, and pigs. Think of The Jim Henson Hour’s strange and hilarious bits like the intergalactic beauty pageant and the nature documentary that turns into a war movie.

Let’s see some surprising interpretations of recent hit songs! A Google search tells me that one of the biggest songs of 2020 was something called “Dance Monkey.” What if that song were sung by an energetic Muppet monkey in a fancy ballroom full of stuff dancers? I realize that exact example wouldn’t be especially entertaining, but let’s see more Muppets whose names aren’t Kermit or Animal or Beaker!

And as long as we’re giving screen time to a wide range of characters…

The Next Show Should… include brand-new characters

In the Tradition of… The Muppet Show, The Jim Henson Hour, Muppets Tonight, and Muppets Now

When or if the Muppets get a new series, they shouldn’t be afraid to introduce new Muppets to the cast. It’s a good way to get up-and-coming puppeteers their very own characters, and it’s really the only way they’re going to solve the problem of the dearth of female characters and performers.

For every Pepe- or Bobo-style success story there are going to be many forgotten Lindberghs and Bills the Bubble Guy. But much like okra casserole, the audience has to try them to know we like them. Muppets Now’s Joe the Legal is proof that a new Muppet with a funny hook can click with viewers. (See also: Beverly Plume, if she gets something to do other than react to people making food!)

Not that they should neglect to write good material for the most famous characters. In fact…

The Next Show Should… Let Kermit be both a straight man and comic

In the Tradition of… The Muppets Show, The Muppets, Muppets Now

Kermit is one of comedy’s all-time great straight men. (Should we have a better term for that, by the way?) As the anchor preventing the show from floating off to sea, he’s essential to The Muppet Show’s success. And of course, his straight-man reactions to wackier characters often get a lot of laughs.

But before he was a straight man, he was a funny guy, and it’s always terrific when the writers remember that he can also do jokes and be silly. One of the absolute highlights of Muppets Now was the “Muppet Masters” segment where he demonstrated his photobombing skills for Walter. It was a great reminder that, as wonderful as Kermit is when he’s either Mr. Nice Guy or Mr. Exasperated Guy, he’s just as wonderful when he’s being irreverent and enjoying himself.

And to make sure Kermit has plenty of potential locations to be funny…

The Next Show Should… follow the Muppets outside the studio

In the Tradition of… Muppets Tonight and The Muppets

Here’s where I think a new show should differ greatly from the classic Muppet Show. That show regularly featured backstage storylines, but a new show should absolutely take the Muppets outside the studio or theater. The second season of Muppets Tonight was starting to strike the right balance before it got cancelled, with Beaker’s Star Trek cruise and Kermit’s date with Gilbert Gottfried, and it opened up a world of comic possibilities. The entire world, in fact.

The Muppets (2015) perhaps erred too much in that direction, giving us lots of outside-world drama and very little of the show within a show. But a good modern Muppet Show should never be limited to the confines of one location. I know it would cost more money. But Disney can afford it!

Disney can also afford music rights. Which brings me to…

The Next Show Should… include musical numbers

In the Tradition of… just about everything except Muppets Now

This should be obvious, but yeah. Muppets gotta sing!

So that’s what I want to see from a future Muppet series: not a rehash of The Muppet Show, but a blend of the best elements from The Muppet Show, The Jim Henson Hour, Muppets Tonight, The Muppets, and even Muppets Now. Sure, all of these shows except The Muppet Show were quickly cancelled, but if you only take the best parts of all them, you’re guaranteed to have a hit! I think.

Unfortunately, there’s currently no word of any new Muppet series for all we know there may never be one again. But you better believe this is the Muppet series I’m gonna see tonight when I fall asleep.

Click here to remember Lindbergh and Bill the Bubble Guy on the Tough Pigs forum!

by Ryan Roe –

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