“The Muppets” brings with it name recognition, and the initial kick — in this new “The Office”-like faux-documentary approach — of seeing the laughs played on a more adult level, such as having fun with misunderstandings that can occur when one advertises being a “bear” online. Yet just as the 2011 Muppets movie featuring Jason Segel yielded a sequel that largely fizzled, the real question is how well this moderately amusing concept will wear, before those fuzzy costumes, and the related gags, begin to feel a tad threadbare.
Certainly, ABC has cause for hope that it found the right people to reinvigorate this Disney franchise, inasmuch as producer Bill Prady, co-creator of CBS’ mega-hit “The Big Bang Theory,” cut his professional teeth working on the Muppet show at Disneyland. Teaming up with Bob Kushell and “The Office” alum Randall Einhorn, Prady has sought to give the characters a 21st-century spin, playing with sitcom conventions as well as double entendres aimed at adults, not kids.
The result is pleasant enough, but something of a mixed bag. Cleverly, the documentary crew is chronicling a late-night TV show within the show, “Up Late With Miss Piggy,” whose mercurial star runs roughshod over her producer/ex-boyfriend, Kermit the Frog. The venue not only allows for inside-Hollywood jokes, but creates a convenient excuse to bring in guest stars like (in the premiere) Elizabeth Banks and Tom Bergeron, playing themselves, a la a felt-covered “Entourage.”
“My life is a bacon-wrapped hell on Earth,” Kermit groans, in the midst of one of Miss Piggy’s fits, later admitting, after introducing his new porcine girlfriend, “What can I say? I’m attracted to pigs.” Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
What does feel a trifle off, in the opener, is Fozzie Bear — Piggy’s announcer and warm-up comic — having a relationship with a woman (guest Riki Lindhome), and trying to explain to her disapproving dad (Jere Burns) that, no, when nature calls, he does not intend to visit the woods. Despite a spate of planned star cameos, including Piggy cozying up to Josh Groban and Fozzie receiving an invite from Jay Leno in the second episode, the main challenge facing “The Muppets” is finding that sweet spot between injecting such irreverence into this venerable franchise and pushing too far or besmirching it in the eyes of more traditional fans.
Competitively speaking, the series should engender some curiosity (not surprisingly, its awareness levels top most new shows), and Disney has a multifaceted array of logical outlets on which to promote it. That said, running “Muppets” into “Fresh Off the Boat” into “Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD” won’t win many prizes in the scheduling-flow department.
So while many will no doubt enjoy a nostalgic tingle in having this opportunity to play the music and light the lights again, will viewers roll out the red carpet for “The Muppets” — and more important, stay for the long haul? That, frankly, is a bacon-wrapped enigma.