How ‘The Muppets’ Can Improve Going Into The Midseason Premiere

Despite a tried and true premise and a promising start, something just hasn’t been clicking on The Muppets. Between a divided and tumultuous behind-the-scenes environment and plunging ratings, things are not looking good for the ABC show. ABC head Paul Lee himself admitted a bit of defeat, saying at a press tour stop, “We didn’t quite feel it had the joy, the laughter, and the heart we were looking for.” However, instead of throwing in the towel, the show is being retooled in an attempt to recapture some of that old-fashioned Muppets magic. With Kristin Newman, who joined the team for the promising Christmas episode, on board as the new showrunner, hopefully things can get back on track.

As we look forward to the show’s return, here’s a look at five changes we hope to see onscreen.

Make Kermit and Piggy a united front.

While there has always been a push/pull dynamic between the two, the constant bickering and undermining between Kermit and Miss Piggy focuses on an unpleasant aspect of their relationship. These two have been the heart of this felted troupe from day one, so even if they aren’t together, the endless arguments need to stop. All they do is leave an unpleasant taste in viewers’ mouths. And to have Kermit immediately shack up with a younger, “hotter” version of his erstwhile paramour was definitely not the behavior of the noble frog that we’ve known and loved for decades. Speaking of Denise…

Get rid of the new Muppets.

While it makes sense to want to create new Muppets for the new show, Denise and Chip the IT Guy are just not working. Yes, Chip is an obscure Muppet from The Jim Henson Hour, but the mean-spirited treatment of him doesn’t jive with the historic Muppet sweetness and he just isn’t working. Would you rather have Chip get more screen time when they could be focusing on Gonzo or Pepe the Prawn’s hilariously fluid sexuality? We already have a lovable nerd with Scooter who doesn’t bring out the meaner side of the Muppets. Denise, on the other hand, is just a countrified version of a Manic Pixie Dream Pig who pants over Kermit (seriously, girl, act like you’ve been there) and pisses off Piggy. Maybe if she was more of a character, it would be an interesting storyline, but honestly, love triangles went stale five years ago.

Make the celebrity guest appearances count.

The Muppets have a long and illustrious history of celebrity guests, but the influx of new faces on The Muppets has been hit or miss. While some this season have been truly wonderful, like Animal’s drum-off with Dave Grohl, others, like Chelsea Handler’s brief romance with Scooter, are more grating than endearing. Josh Groban and Joseph Gordon-Levitt have enough goofy charisma to blend in, but the karaoke with Ed Helms distracted from the story at hand. Celebrity guests are fun, but not at the expense of furthering the fuzzy relationships at the heart of the show.

Don’t be afraid to get weird. 

While the new format is similar to The Office and Parks and Recreation and the premise reminiscent of 30 Rock, the showrunners seem to have forgotten that they are dealing with puppets, not people. Yes, they are puppets with jobs, romances, and weird hobbies, but they can get away with weirder plots and zanier antics than their human counterparts. So, instead of being so serious, embrace the strange. Translating the Muppet strangeness to the modern world could be a source of fun gags (Gonzo catfishing a woman with a picture of Liam Hemsworth worked as an early B-plot), but not at the expense of the Muppet sensibilities. The show tried with the whole “these aren’t your grandmother’s Muppets,” but they can’t just be edgy. Edgy is overdone.

Sweetness over snark.

The Muppets have always been a shining example that sweetness and hilarity can go hand in hand. This iteration employs the more modern humor sensibilities of snark, making  The Muppets more of the same. By returning to the sunny humor of yesteryear, The Muppets could at once tap into that sweet spot of nostalgia and freshness. The show gave us glimpses of that by having Kermit break out his banjo and strum “Rainbow Connection.” More of that, please. The Muppets often walk the line between saccharine and just the right amount of sweet, which may not be in vogue for most comedy these days, but a return to that could be just the thing to set the show apart.