Let’s take a look at the few main options, shall we?
The news about The Muppets performing live at the Hollywood Bowl this coming September was certainly welcome (even if I’ll never be able to enjoy it myself). Ever since the San Diego Comic Con panel back in 2015, Disney seems to be loosening the binds on their precious illusion. Before then, the company seemed determined to ‘keep the magic alive’ by keeping the Muppet Performers hidden in almost all appearances. There have been some great events since that time, including a panel at the D23 Expo called The Magic Behind the Muppets, An interview with Steve Whitmire and Eric Jacobson at last year’s Vulture Fest in New York and the incredibly performed live appearance by the Electric Mayhem at Outside Lands in San Francisco.
The Hollywood Bowl performances will likely be conducted similarly to the way The Muppets were performed at their Just For Laughs Gala in Montreal a few years ago. There will be a mix of the audience seeing the puppeteers and the Muppets “standing” behind props and sets. I can imagine it will be a very raw, off the cuff type of performance with plenty of guest stars to interact with. Hopefully it will be the beginning of many live performances to come, not only in America, but around the world (please?).
While some people may not be comfortable with seeing the Muppets in such an illusion-cracking way, so many others, such as myself, would love the opportunity to see the Muppet Performers work, while still enjoying the characters as we know and love them. Personally, I’m more a fan for the art and the performers of the Muppets then I am the actual characters. To state the obvious, the characters certainly wouldn’t be who they are without the talents and skill of their puppeteers. Any recognition they receive through these type of appearances is always welcome.
Whether it’s a television appearance, stage appearance or even a convention panel, you can bet that I’ll watch and laugh, while inwardly hoping I can catch a glimpse of the performers. If there is any direction Disney is taking the franchise in that I approve of, you can bet that this is the one.
With the new Pigs in Space skits now being released (if my information is correct, we should be expecting at least two more), there has been discussion on what other Muppet Show sketches could come back for a very brief cameo. Veterinarians Hospital returned during the two-part finale of The Muppets (2015), confirming that Bill Barretta, David Rudman and Eric Jacobson would do a fine job with Rowlf, Janice and Piggy if more sketches were to be produced in the future. There are other classics like At The Dance and Bear On Patrol, which may make for great videos, but probably wouldn’t get the same popular reaction that the former two sketches have already received.
Some of the best content we’ve seen from the Muppets for the past 10 years has been on YouTube. And by best, I generally mean that the characters stay ‘true to themselves’ and are able to return to their roots. The Muppet Show consisted of short sketches and songs, something which can be easily replicated on a video-oriented platform. Whether they are doing their own thing or collaborating with YouTube stars, it’s not difficult to recognise that there is potential in The Muppets putting content on a platform that is so attached to social media. There will always be more opportunities online, especially with the cost to produce videos being substantially lower than a TV show or even a stage show.
If there is anything I’d really like to see in the future, it would be 5 to 10 minute mini-episodes with The Electric Mayhem trying to get a gig as the opening act for different touring bands and failing miserably. Not only would the featured bands get to promote their stuff, but we could see a lot more of the Mayhem and discover what makes them tick as a group. Unlike other secondary Muppets, the Mayhem don’t seem to need Kermit or Piggy present for casual fans to recognise them as Muppets (of course, Animal probably has a lot to do with that), they can just be their own little branch of the franchise. Boy, do I wish this would become a reality!
Lately, I’ve been thinking about The Muppets influence in popular culture and what they might be able to accomplish with that kind of power. Sure, they can use it to promote and produce more Muppet content, there’s certainly nothing wrong with that, but what about the wider world? With so much negativity in the world, the Muppets have what it takes to follow Sesame Street and become a powerhouse in promoting a mentally and physically healthy lifestyle while being tolerant and understanding of others, among other things. The Muppets certainly have taken part in charity drives and welfare campaigns in the past, but there is always the need for more.
One particular idea I’ve concocted is for Miss Piggy to become an ambassador for an organisation along the lines of I Am B.E.A.U.T.I.F.U.L where she promotes a healthy sense of self-esteem for women of all ages. Piggy could do funny videos with celebrities or interview women who have battled with their internal struggles in the past. To have a feminist icon like Piggy approaching such a touchy and heavy-handed subject in a way that is both entertaining and educational could be beneficial for those who may be too scared or confused to confront their own issues.
Of course, you could also have a male Muppet do the same for an organisation supporting men’s welfare. What better way to get the Muppets out there then to have them be a symbol of positive change in the world? Get Kermit fighting for the environment, have Rowlf support the adoption of animals from shelters. Heck, even have Gonzo endorsing different types of arts, even in its oddest forms! The Muppets can be great teachers and it would be a shame to not use them to their full potential.
Another TV Show?
Ever since The Muppets (2015) flopped its sorry way to cancellation, there have been many attempts to pin point what exactly went wrong with the series. It seemed to be heading in a very promising direction, which may have improved if it had been given a second season to grow. Was it the premise? The adult humour? The lack of Muppet music? The characters being pushed a little further than what the audience was comfortable with?
I’m going to keep it simple and suggest that it was all of the above. While there were many plotlines, bits of dialogue and moments that had fans tugging at their collars and wincing, there were still a few stand out episodes that made the show worth watching. Episode nine, Going, Going Gonzo was an excellent example of what could be achieved if the writing was of great Muppety quality. The idea behind having the series be a mockumentary was the opportunity to explore the characters in our ‘reality’, while still having that same irreverence and quirkiness the Muppets are renowned for. Not only was Gonzo able to explore that crazy side of himself and figure out why exactly he loved his stunts, but the episode’s humour brought out the best in (most) of the characters.
So, if a mockumentary format isn’t right for The Muppets, then what is? I constantly see online comments from fans suggesting they bring The Muppet Show back for a hugely belated sixth season. While I would love to watch a small series of reunion specials, bringing back such an iconic show isn’t necessarily a foolproof idea. People would certainly watch it for the nostalgia, but once that wore off, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the popularity quickly drop off, or even cause complaints that the current Muppet team has run out of original ideas. I’m certainly not suggesting that the current Muppet Performers and writers couldn’t pull it off, in fact, they’ve proven to match up to the old guard on multiple occasions. I just think that The Muppet Show should be left where it is: in the past with Jim Henson, Jerry Juhl and the old team where it can stay an untouched classic.
If the executives of The Muppets Studio were to drag me to their headquarters, stick a laptop in-front of me and demand that I come up with a concept for a new show (If only they would!), I’d start by looking at the best and worst attributes of The Muppet Show, Muppets Tonight and The Muppets (2015). I’d then examine current entertainment/comedy shows and try to gain a general consensus of what Muppet fans (both obsessive and casual) want from their beloved characters. Perhaps I’d even delve into Muppet history and see if there were any promising projects that never came to fruition.
Even without doing all of that, I do have a concept for a Muppet show based on what I’d personally like to see. The show would consist of both live and pre-recorded segments. Basically The Tonight Show with the humour of The Muppet Show and a structure similar to Hey, Hey, It’s Saturday. Scooter and/or Pops could run the cold openings and Kermit could attempt to try to get through the opening monologue without some Muppet mayhem ruining it. The celebrity guest stars would be encouraged to try and do things they usually aren’t allowed to do. As you can imagine, this would lead to songs and sketches. There could be at least one interview per episode, conducted by any Muppet the interviewee requests. They could even showcase newcomers to the entertainment scene (including puppeteers)
You may be thinking this is just like The Muppet Show with a couple of small changes, but this concept, which I’m calling Muppets Up Late for a working title, is just as much about showing the world how to interconnect as it is about making people laugh. How many real-world dramas have been created due to a lack of communication and understanding? How many people need to learn how to laugh at themselves and appreciate the quirks and flaws they have? My concept includes segments where various Muppets venture into the world to experience different cultures, events and learning new ideas. Among the usual chaos and hilarity, why not make the audience think that little bit deeper?
Perhaps this could be an option in the near future, but considering how Muppets Most Wanted fared, and then the cancellation of The Muppets (2015) a year later, I think it would be wise to rebuild everything from the ground up. With all the other options I have discussed in this article, a feature film doesn’t seem to be a top priority. Would it be great to see The Muppets in the cinema again? Yes, certainly. But Disney doesn’t seem to be interested in throwing money at a franchise that barely made a profit from its last film. I’d suggest sitting back and enjoying the smaller projects as they come. When a new film is on the horizon, The Muppets will hopefully be in a much better place.