Of Monsters and Muppets: Cynicism and kids

After “Miss Piggy,” always a satire of feminism, proclaimed herself “pro-choice” in a promotional appearance for ABC’s new _Muppets_, I was ready to completely boycott it, but having seen such conflicting responses, I decided to watch and review it myself.

First, I’d like to recommend this review, the best I’ve seen:

What were previously sly winks to a grownup audience are now grotesque full-body grimaces, delivered with depressing sledgehammer brutality. In one scene, Animal laments his consequence-free promiscuity. In another, Zoot from The Electric Mayhem is outed as an alcoholic. And then, most heartbreakingly of all, there’s Kermit.

This version of Kermit is absolutely unrecognisable from anything that’s ever come before. This Kermit badmouths fellow celebrities, openly discusses his sex life and, at one point, describes his life as “a living hell”. That’s not who Kermit is. Kermit is the perennial wide-eyed optimist, the figure who grounds the chaos around him in sincerity. Kermit is the dreamer who believes in the power of people. He’s the one who sings The Rainbow Connection. He is most definitely not the stress-eating, coffee-drinking executive that The Muppets paints him as. It physically hurts to see what ABC have done to him.

As Steven D. Graydanus put it on Facebook, “they’ve given us the Moopets, ‘A hard, cynical act for a hard, cynical world.'”

On the other hand, many viewers are saying there is not much of a difference, and the “Million Moms” group and others who complain are confusing The Muppet Show with Sesame Street.

To an extent, I’m surprised to say I agree with the latter group.

Superficially, the humor is the same, and I laughed quite a bit.  If the reality-show-parody sitcom is outdated now, what about the Vaudeville format of _The Muppet Show_?

The reference to Animal being a womanizer?


And, speaking of Sam the American Eagle, it always amuses me how the same basic situation will be praised or condemned by the same people.  Age of Ultron depicts everyone teasing Captain America for calling people on their profanity, and people say, “It’s great seeing a character do that.”  Sam does it on The Muppets, and people are focusing on the language itself.

Nevertheless, there is something missing.  The examples above are cynical, but playful.  The new show is just kind of nasty.  It embodies so much of what’s wrong in most comedy of the past quarter century or so, the world of Comedy Central, of Letterman, Stewart and Colbert, where cynicism and satire are confused, and pure bullying nastiness is seen as humor.

One of the funniest moments in 1987’s Muppet Family Christmas is when Kermit says, “The heck you say.” Anyone who was watching was aware he was euphemizing, but that’s what makes it funny.  The attempt to “make Kermit edgy” by saying “bacon-wrapped hell on earth” was not nearly as funny as “bacon-wrapped heck” would have been.

In  Monsters, Inc., (2001), “today’s” kids are too cynical to be scared by monsters in their closets, so the monsters turn to comedy.  The new Muppets tells us that our society is too cynical to appreciate whimsy and fun.


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