It’s no secret that kids no longer care about Muppets. To gather proof of that, I called my cousin Ryan, age ten. This is not a boy who hasn’t been exposed to the Muppets. He has seen The Muppet Show before, and he admits to having had a good time watching it. But he doesn’t think about them when they aren’t around. Our conversation went like this:
Me: Can you name three Muppets? Any three, off the top of your head.
Ryan: Okay. Kermit . . . um, Miss Piggy. Umm . . . . actually, I can only name two.
Now, my cousin Ryan doesn’t represent all American children, but he is pretty typical. Kids are aware that the Muppets exist, but it doesn’t matter to them. With DVDs of The Muppet Show readily available, there should be a new generation of Muppet fans springing up, but it isn’t happening. The Muppets are at best something weird that their parents or older siblings like, or at worst this one thing that looks kind of like Sesame Street, that baby show they used to watch. Whatever the reason, kids just don’t have any interest in the Muppets.
So far, Disney’s response to this problem has been to stuff the Muppets in a drawer and forget about them, focusing all of their energy and money instead on Disney Channel properties like The Suite Life of Zack and Cody and High School Musical. Recently, though, someone got the bright idea to toss the Muppets in with those things, and we got last night’s half-hour TV special Studio DC: Almost Live.
I’m not going to dwell on the quality of the special — it was probably enjoyable enough for the target crowd, but I personally found it soul-crushingly awful. No, what I want to talk about today was the wise decision to use the special to actually introduce The Muppets to a tween-age crowd, using the Disney Channel stars as surrogates for the audience.
In the opening number, “Some Song About Being a Girl and Having Fun,” Hannah Montana star Miley Cyrus is repulsed to learn that Muppets exist. Her face shows complete horror when Pepe and Rizzo start talking at her. She’s baffled that her dad wants her to play with the Electric Mayhem, even after the oddly-accented little talking dolls tell her that they’ve played with “Garth Brooks, Elton John and Prince.” She seems to be thinking “Old people like the weirdest things.” In the end, though, she reluctantly does the song. By the end she’s in love with them. “The Electric Mayhem are great,” she screams. “Especially Animal!”
“Look, kids!” the special is saying. “These creatures might look weird and old and outdated, but they’re awfully wacky and fun!”
The second sketch involves Kermit, Piggy, and Gonzo guest-starring on The Suite Life. Fifteen-year-old twins Cole and Dylan Sprouse, as Zack and Cody, clearly have no idea who Kermit and Gonzo are as the sketch opens. In fact, they have to be introduced to both characters by their tormented father figure, Mr. Moseby. Once they are, though, typical Suite Life nonsense ensues, with Kermit rushing around to please his guests and Gonzo dismantling an air conditioner for some reason.
“You know you like The Suite Life,” Disney is telling the children. “These characters also engage in nonsensical hijinx. Wouldn’t you like to see more of that?”
As the third segment opens, we find High School Musical star Ashley Tisdale telling Kermit that she loves The Muppets and always had a crush on Fozzie Bear. She then enthusiastically does a song number with Kermit. What’s that, you ask, a child who’s familiar with The Muppets? Unfortunately, no. At 23, Tisdale might firmly be in the Muppet Babies generation, but she’s certainly old enough to remember when the Muppets were still popular.
“Ashley Tisdale grew up with these guys!” the Disney Channel is shouting. “And you love her! Why don’t you love them too?!?”
Finally, fabricated pop sensations The Jonas Brothers (the oldest of whom is 20) sing a song with Miss Piggy. Surprisingly, they address her by name before she has to be introduced. By now, the young audience should be familiar enough with The Muppets (Piggy has appeared in the last two sketches before this one) that no introductions are required. There just be hope yet for the younger generation.
“See how quickly the Jonas Brothers became Miss Piggy fans?!” Mickey Mouse is pleading. “Won’t you do the same? Please, for me?!”
We’ll have to wait and see if it works.
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by Anthony Strand