Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Muppets - Pig Girls Don't Cry - A Review

The Muppets has been a decisive show since long before the airing of its first episode. And that's ignoring the legions of long-time Muppet-fans who refuse to support any further Muppet projects on the grounds that they "sound wrong" or that Disney is corrupting Jim Henson's vision. There's also a boycott by One Million Moms, who complain that this new Muppet show is "perverted". And then there's the Muppet fans who question whether the core idea of the new show - a 30 Rock-style, behind-the-scenes comedy about the lives of The Muppets when they aren't performing - is the best way to present these classic characters.

Me?  I was somewhere in the middle of all of this.

I think One Million Mom's attempt to hold The Muppets up as pure, wholesome family entertainment is laughable at best. Apart from his creations for Sesame Street, most of Jim Henson's work was firmly aimed at adult audiences. Even his more family friendly projects, while safe for children, contained subversive humor and wink-and-a-smile jokes for the adults, such as Gonzo accidentally uncovering a man's affair and Janice making reference to living on a nude beach in The Great Muppet Caper. 

By the same token, I think some of the more recent Muppet projects have forgotten the wink-and-the-smile, replacing innuendo with blatant crassness in an attempt to convince the Gen-X kids who grew up watching The Muppet Show that The Muppets have grown up with them. No film was more guilty of this than the direct-to-TV Christmas special It's A Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie. If you don't remember it, don't try. Suffice it to say any movie with jokes about Pepe applying for a permit to license the Muppet Theater as a topless nightclub and Scooter working as a cage dancer in a dark reality where Kermit the Frog was never born make you wonder if the fact that Jim Henson's vengeful wraith has not returned from the grave to smite those responsible is definitive proof that there is no afterlife.

Alas, The Muppets is born of the same cynical spirit as that movie.  One can see the desperation in the poster advertising the show, as we see the original fab-four of the classic Muppets line-up, all using their cel-phones. Because what better way to show that The Muppets are still relevant in the 21st Century than by showing them using modern technology?

The problems with The Muppets run far deeper than that. They also run deeper than the "perverted" humor, like Fozzie speaking frankly about how his personal ad reading "Passionate Bear, Looking For Love" got a lot of wrong (for him) responses. Or Animal explaining why he can't go on tour with Imagine Dragons by muttering "Too many towns.  Too many women."

The core problem is that most of the main characters are twisted parodies of their former selves. This is most apparent in the case of Kermit The Frog, who describes Miss Piggy as a lunatic and laments that his life "is a bacon-wrapped Hell-on-Earth". While the occasional four-letter-word has been slipped into previous Muppet movies, there is something just-plain-wrong with Kermit The Frog saying 'hell'!

Something similar happens in the case of Miss Piggy. Granting that Piggy has always been a prima donna, she still cared about her friends even as she tried to steal the spotlight from them. This Piggy can't be bothered to remember the names of the people she's worked with for years and blatantly tells the show's guests that she's been a big fan for as long as they've had them booked.

One scene sums up The Muppets better than any other. At one point, Gonzo presents a sketch he wrote to Kermit - a Dancing With The Stars parody called Dancing With The Czars, with Rizzo as Catherine The Great Dancer and Pepe as Ivan The Terrible Dancer. Kermit declares that he hates everything about it.  A moment later, as his new girlfriend enters the room and tells a lame joke. Kermit tells her that she doesn't have to make jokes every time she comes into the writer's room before looking to Gonzo, Rizzo and Pepe and saying "God knows these guys don't".

Kermit may get exasperated with his friends but he is never mean-spirited.  Jim Henson's work may have been dark and occasionally twisted but there was a heart and a soul to it that is sorely lacking in this production.  The insensitive toad they call Kermit is no version of Kermit The Frog I want to know. And The Muppets is not a show I wish to watch.

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