'The Muppets': Is the new TV show a faithful portrayal of the beloved characters?

The new ABC show is presented in a mockumentary format and follows the Muppet characters as they work on a new ABC late-night program, 'Up Late with Miss Piggy.'

Eric McCandless/ABC/AP
'The Muppets' stars Kermit the Frog (l.) and Gonzo the Great (r.).

The premiere episode of the new show “The Muppets” debuted on ABC on Sept. 22.

The new show featuring the Muppets is presented in a mockumentary style and follows the characters as they produce a new late-night show for ABC titled “Up Late with Miss Piggy." The program also portrays the characters' lives backstage. 

The Muppets were created by Jim Henson and include Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Fozzie the Bear, and Gonzo.

The return of the Muppets to television follows the release of two new movies, 2011's “The Muppets” and 2014's “Muppets Most Wanted.” 

Reviews for the new TV show are mixed so far. The consensus seems to be that there are glimpses of the old Muppets humor and the potential for an entertaining show but that the first episodes need some work. The Washington Post's Hank Stuever called the program “smart and often witty” and The Wrap's Ned Ehrbar wrote that “for the most part, the show works.” On the other hand, others found that “the fun is limited,” that the show is “still finding itself… more potential than achievement” and is “disappointing… not hopeless.”

Some reviewers also took issue with how the show is presenting Miss Piggy. She’s at the center of the show, serving as host for the fictional “Up Late,” and “Muppets” fans know she can be a little temperamental. But Jeff Jenson of Entertainment Weekly wrote that on the new show, “Miss Piggy is a lunatic, and it’s not enjoyable. The pricklier aspects of her personality are dialed up to 11… while all of her mitigating characteristics… are muted… Characters mock Miss Piggy behind her back for her weight.” Meanwhile, Slate's Willa Paskin wrote, “It’s hard to get past this iteration of Miss Piggy’s unpleasantness because that’s all there is: She’s not a fully developed moi, just a set of high-maintenance tics.”

By continuing to make new films and TV shows, the Muppets have maintained a presence in pop culture for decades. Following “The Muppet Show,” which ran from 1976 to 1981, the Muppets starred in their own films, including “The Muppet Movie” and “The Muppets Take Manhattan.” Their movies continued into the 1990s with films such as “The Muppet Christmas Carol” and “Muppet Treasure Island,” but after the 1999 movie “Muppets from Space” failed at the box office, new movies like “The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz” premiered on TV instead. They finally returned to the multiplex in 2011.

The Muppets are now familiar to multiple generations, and their influence can be felt in other newer forms of entertainment like the Pixar movies. Films by Pixar, from “Toy Story” to “Inside Out,” all embrace the idea of having smart, fun humor that will appeal to children and adults alike, as the Muppets projects do.

The Muppets’ influence also extended into a certain galaxy far, far away. The Jedi Master Yoda was performed by Frank Oz, a frequent Henson collaborator who was behind such characters as Miss Piggy and Fozzie Bear. Interviews with those behind the upcoming “Star Wars” film, “Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens,” have suggested the new film will return to the practice of using practical effects, like the original Yoda puppet, rather than creating space creatures out of CGI. “Looking at all the ‘Star Wars’ movies and getting a feel for what even some of the early films did, combining real locations and special effects – that's something we're looking very seriously at,” Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy said of the new movie.

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