On the 11th of May, last year, I distinctly remember sitting at a table, outside of a classroom waiting for that week’s Literature tutorial to begin. In between taking notes, I was constantly checking Twitter. As someone who joined the brave and noble #RenewTheMuppetsABC campaign, I had made a habit of keeping track of the renewals and cancellations made by the ABC network. There had been news of ABC announcing the fate of several shows that morning, leading me to have that gut feeling that something was about to go down….and down it did go. With a resounding, sickening crunch.
The Muppets was officially cancelled.
Well, darn. In hindsight, it honestly did not come as much of a surprise. Between the negligible ratings, harsh criticism and the abrupt change-of-hands for the network, the die-hard Muppet fans such as myself were biting our nails in fear. We wanted to believe that it would all work out and a second season of the show would be a no brainer for the executives, but of course, this is The Muppets we’re taking about. Even casual fans were begging for the Muppets to return to TV after so long off air. That’s all fine and dandy, but when people say they want the Muppets back on TV, they mean The Muppet Show, not a brand new concept. Muppets Tonight had also fallen prey to this misconception. There are many discouraging reasons why bringing The Muppet Show back for a hugely belated sixth season is an ill-informed idea. The main conundrum stems from the casual fans, who would likely be so engrossed by the nostalgia, they would stop watching as soon as it wore off. The Muppets ABC was an experiment, a huge departure from anything the characters have ever done before. This was something the Muppet Performers were very interested and excited about trying, so of course the die-hard fans were also willing to jump on-board.
Unfortunately, a significant portion of the world didn’t seem to share our enthusiasm. And in all honesty, I can’t blame them. For everything the show did perfectly right, there were several things it was getting wrong. For now, however, I’d like to review the more positive aspects of a show that managed to divide a usually strong fandom.
The characters got to grow:
One of the show’s biggest strengths was providing the opportunity for several stale personalities to finally shake the dust off. I wouldn’t even know where to begin with Uncle Deadly, easily the best example of a character finding new ground. Matt Vogel worked his magic with an extremely obscure character and turned him into a superstar. Deadly’s dry wit and sarcasm worthy of the title of Sass Queen has made him a recent Muppet fan favourite. Other characters such as Sam Eagle, Statler, Waldorf, The Electric Mayhem, Yolanda, Bobo and Chip all had a chance to finally have their time in the limelight.
And then of course, we have what I like to call the ‘Main Muppet Eight’- Kermit, Piggy, Fozzie, Gonzo, Scooter, Rizzo, Pepe and Animal. Sadly, there wasn’t much growth for the latter five, other than further establishing their personal lives. I’ve always had a bone of contention when it comes to Miss Piggy. Maybe it’s the fact that she reminds me of just about everyone who bullied me in school, but her impulsive, narrow-minded, condescending, vain boorishness has always left a bad taste in my mouth. It’s not uncommon for me to skip over her songs and sketches while watching The Muppet Show. I am aware that underneath her shallowness, there is a vulnerable woman who just wants to be liked, but there has never been enough of it. This show completely flipped that around. Watching Miss Piggy slowly open her eyes to the Muppets around her and soften up was one of the best character-redeeming arcs I had ever had the pleasure to watch. For the first time, I could relate to her. I know what it’s like to realise that you have no friends, or to feel like you must take on the world to be respected by it. Piggy’s friendship with Uncle Deadly meant everything to a Muppet fan like me who just wanted her to look a little closer at what she could have if she’d just loosen up. It would be such a shame if she would revert to who she was before this show was conceived.
Kermit was an interesting case. A lot of fans took issue with Kermit having a snide, scheming and manipulative side we didn’t know he was capable of. On a certain level, I can see where they were coming from. Kermit was constantly pulling the strings to make sure everything went exactly how he wanted it to. His treatment of Miss Piggy in the first few episodes was questionable. Personally, I loved this new component of Kermit’s personality and I’d love to see what could be done with it in the future. It was refreshing to see that the frog wasn’t slowly turning into an amphibian Mickey Mouse, forever nice and friendly. Kermit had backbone in this show. Even during The Muppet Show, Kermit hardly ever showed off his intelligence and the skills necessary to lead one of the craziest troupes of entertainers ever conceived. Why there was backlash over Kermit using his knowledge about Piggy to keep her in line is beyond me. He was merely protecting the show that was propelling her career forward. Everything he did, he did to protect the career of his peers even if a few involuntary sacrifices had to be made. Kermit is a lot more than just the cheerleader for The Muppets franchise and this show proved that without a doubt.
The puppetry was astounding:
The only thing better than watching the characters grow, was witnessing the Muppet Performers shine. There are a million compliments I could pay to all of them. Steve Whitmire and Eric Jacobson proved beyond anything, that the characters they’ve adopted are well and truly theirs. Eric took Piggy, Fozzie and Sam and flew to new heights, especially Piggy who had been floundering for a while. It was such a delight to watch Steve push his own talent to the limits with Kermit, giving him new expressions and quirks Jim Henson had never considered. Of course, those two weren’t the only ones. Matt Vogel dominated the fan-base with Uncle Deadly and I was impressed with Bill Barretta’s performance of Rowlf, as sad as it was that the piano playing hound received minimal screen-time.
As wonderful as the Performers were all individually, the puppetry was never better than when they worked as a team. Every time there was a full-body shot, Gonzo was doing something insane, or someone was playing an instrument, it looked flawless in the way that only a Muppet production can. When Gonzo was flying around the roof of the studio in Going, Going, Gonzo, I genuinely believed for one stupid second that it had been done in CGI. Moments like that simply solidify my argument further; the Muppet Performers are just about the most talented, coordinated and professional cast in entertainment today and have been so since the original team was first established over 40 years ago.
And most importantly- Lips finally found his voice!
Hey! It was a monumental moment in Muppet history for me! Let me have this!
So yes, while the cancellation of a show that clearly needed more time to grow (DID THEY EVEN CONSIDER THE SECOND SEASON!?!?!?!), let me tell you exactly what I told my fellow members of the Muppet Central Forum after I broke the news to them:
Yes, it’s sad, but you know what? We gave our all. The Muppeteers, the crew, the writers, the producers and we fans all believed we could do it. And for a short while, we did and it was wonderful. I don’t regret a thing.
The Comic Con panel, the debut, the rise and fall of the ratings- I would go back and experience it all again, the good and the bad. We became one huge family unit when we realised the show was at risk and it is times like these that remind me why I chose to join this fandom in the first place.
The show was full of laughter. It gave characters like Chip the chance to be creepy, Scooter to be a nerd, Sam to fall in love and Uncle Deadly to become a legend. It gave as Gloria Estefan. It gave Piggy a chance to grow and Kermit a chance to realise why he loved her the way he did. It reminded us to be silly and not to be ashamed to let our pig tails be shown to the world.
Keep your chin up and be proud of our little fandom for what it accomplished in 16 episodes. The Muppets have pulled themselves up and dusted themselves down after several crashes and burns.
And so will we!