I just watched Muppets Most Wanted recently and it reminded me why I love these little fuzzy weirdos so much. While binge-watching Muppet videos on YouTube this week, I noticed a lot of comments from people saying “Bring back the Muppet Show!” or words to that effect. And that got me thinking. Y’know, a new Muppet television show could be a great idea! If you want to stick with the variety format of The Muppet Show, it’s a fairly easy set-up to maintain: comedy sketches, musical numbers, celebrity guests, and the Muppets being their usual Muppety selves. The recent Muppet movies have restored Kermit and the gang back to the forefront of the public consciousness; what better way to keep them there than by bringing them back to television, the medium they were created for in the first place?
Well, there are some issues. Namely, the fact that Muppet Show revivals have been attempted twice before and fell flat on their faces both times. First was The Jim Henson Hour in 1989, which got cancelled nine episodes into its first season, then came Muppets Tonight in 1996, which barely made it to a season and a half across two networks. Both these shows, I think, failed to recapture what people love about The Muppet Show. First of all, most of The Jim Henson Hour was shot against a blue screen, which felt cold and sterile compared to the big sweeping backstage set of the Muppet Theater. And second, and probably the biggest issue, both these shows force-fed us a new cast of Muppet day players, with only occasional appearances from the characters everyone knows and loves.
The Jim Henson Hour featured a truly bizarre cast of new Muppets like the chalk-white android Digit and the creepy avian Lindbergh, none of which looked anything like the sorts of Muppets people expected to see on television. Muppets Tonight introduced such unmemorable personalities as Andy and Randy Pig, Dr. Phil Van Neuter, and the much reviled Mr. Poodlepants. Both these shows shunted Kermit, Piggy, Fozzie, Gonzo, and the rest into the background so this so-called “second generation” of Muppets could take center stage. And believe me, I’m not only fine with the introduction of new Muppets, I wholeheartedly encourage it – otherwise we wouldn’t have the cheerful fanboyish Walter and the delightfully smarmy Constantine. But you can’t force these characters on us. Mix them in evenly with the regular cast and see what happens. Because when people hear that there’s a revival of The Muppet Show on the air, they tune in expecting to see Kermit and Fozzie and all them, the characters they recognize. And they were there on these shows, but just barely. There’s a balance that needs to be maintained.
With that in mind, a new Muppet Show is definitely doable. Everyone in Hollywood wants to work with Kermit the Frog at least once, so guest stars would certainly be in no short supply. (Since Disney owns the Muppets, I think any revival would be better suited to ABC than the Disney Channel, since the latter would likely gear the show toward a younger crowd and probably result in a glut of guest stars from the network’s tweenybopper sitcoms.) These characters can still be funny as hell – the new movies proved that. All these guys are in the hands of talented performers and writers these days. So it could be done…but the question now is, should it?
Some Muppet fans say it shouldn’t, that any new iteration of The Muppet Show would be inevitably compared to the original, and wouldn’t hold up under scrutiny. And sure, without Jim Henson, Frank Oz, Jerry Juhl, Jerry Nelson, or Richard Hunt, it wouldn’t be quite the same show. But that doesn’t mean it couldn’t still be good. And again, the Muppets were made for TV. Their roots are on the small screen, returning weekly like old friends. The movies are great, but they only come around once every few years. So what do you think? Would you want a new Muppet Show if you had the chance?