When the new Muppet Show was announced for ABC, it made it clear early on that this would be a different kind of Muppet Show. It would go “behind the scenes,” as it were, for a show within the show, done in a documentary style. The weeks leading up to the premier started setting the Muppet canon up for it, including Kermit and Miss Piggy breaking up, building anticipation and expectations for the show.
The Muppets focuses on mostly the familiar characters from The Muppet Show – Kermit, Piggy, Gonzo, Scooter, and so on. Notably absent (or at least with a reduced role so far) is Walter, who was a central character in previous Muppet movies, but with his absence we see a returned focus on more minor characters, like Pepe and Rizzo (who even noted in Muppets Most Wanted that his presence took time away from them).
However, the show the Muppets are working on this time is not another iteration of The Muppet Show, but rather a late night talk show called “Up Late With Miss Piggy.” The characters do maintain their typical roles, with a few variations; Kermit is still the one trying to keep things under control behind the scenes, Scooter is still the gofer, and Piggy is now the headliner she always imagined she was. The show-within-the-show even still has sketches, with Gonzo pitching most of them (to Kermit’s dismay).
Of course, the characters themselves are true to their personalities, even when shown in different contexts. And while the format may be a little different from previous shows, it’s more of a modern upgrade to the classic format. After all, the old Muppet Show episodes would always show us what’s going on behind the scenes with the special guests and the various Muppets between sketches; they’ve simply changed the style a little. Changing from a show focusing on sketches and various talents to a talk show is more akin to the show adapting to today’s popular entertainment, while still providing the same type of entertainment. Celebrity guest stars and musical numbers are still most certainly a thing here, although the first episode had the performance by Imagine Dragons limited to the end credits.
As the show is done in a documentary style (even the title card makes it clear that this is the muppet equivalent of The Office), the focus on Miss Piggy’s show is pretty minimal. The episode is mostly split between the behind-the-scenes shenanigans and the Muppets in their own personal lives, mostly involving Kermit’s breakup with Miss Piggy and subsequent rebound to Denise (another Muppet pig), and Fozzie’s own romantic struggles as he meets his girlfriend’s parents.
As far as the comedy goes, well, it’s a Muppet show, after all, so the usual staples are there. Statler and Waldorf continue to mock everything, Fozzie’s jokes flop, and the various Muppets bring their own styles of randomness and eccentricity.
One particularly entertaining moment was when Miss Piggy called Fozzie a “worthless piece of fur” in front of his girlfriend’s parents, which he tried to pass off as an inside joke… by calling the biggest, surliest Muppet monster nearby just that, and getting knocked across the stage for it. That same Muppet was later seen explaining to the camera how his father used to call him that.
And seeing Scooter get tossed out of a moving cart by Elizabeth Banks is pretty entertaining too.
One interesting note is that being on ABC means the broadcasting standards are slightly more lax than they would be on The Disney Channel. Though the show didn’t do too much with that, we did get a moment where Kermit described his life as “a bacon-wrapped Hell on Earth” (though Sam the Eagle was quick to remind him that they “can’t say ‘Hell.’”).
While the changes to the format, upheaval in the Muppet status quo, and documentary-style moments may be hit or miss with classic Muppet fans, I found the first episode to be satisfactory. It had some great comedic moments, sets up some storylines that we’ll see play out over the season, and brought the Muppets back to top form. Though I found myself mostly chuckling more than laughing uncontrollably, it was still entertaining enough to keep me watching and optimistically awaiting the next episode.
Final score: 8/10