• The Muppets: Not for Kids?

    by  • September 23, 2015 • Family Friendly • 19 Comments

    The Muppet Show was never a children’s show,” claims the producer of ABC’s new series The Muppets – and sadly, the new program’s more “adult” take on the beloved characters isn’t, either.

    From their early appearances on Sesame Street to their 1970s series The Muppet Show, and in numerous movies from 1979 to 2013, the Muppets have been among American pop culture’s most beloved characters with children and adults alike. Throughout the years, kids have been captivated by the strange-looking, zany characters, while grown-ups have been able to appreciate the off-kilter – though never before off-color – perspective and often cornball humor of the troupe.

    Thus, when the Disney corporation bought the rights to the Muppets, the company paved the way for its new property with a pair of movies, 2011’s mostly satisfactory The Muppets, and its far less worthy sequel, 2013’s Muppets Most Wanted (a song-and-dance routine set in a Soviet gulag? Really?) Thereafter, it was only a matter of time before the characters made an appearance on the Disney-owned ABC network.

    However, numerous reviewers have raised concerns about the new show’s take on the beloved characters – particularly the more “adult” humor in which the show will indulge. The backgrounds of those running the new version of The Muppets lend credence to such concerns: series co-developer Bill Prady was co-creator (with Chuck Lorre) of The Big Bang Theory, a program which – like all Lorre’s shows – has a heavy sidelight in sexual humor. Executive producer Bob Kushell’s previous work has included the Charlie Sheen’s sexualized FX sitcom Anger Management, while co-executive producer Randall Einhorn’s previous experience is on the raunchy FX comedy It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

    This abundance of experience on decidedly adult comedies likely explains the new, far more cynical concept of The Muppets…and the attitudes of its creators. “The Muppets kind of lost their way over the years when they became strictly a product for children,” claims Kushell. These sentiments are echoed by Prady, who alleges that “The Muppet Show was never a children’s show.”

    This is nonsense. Of course The Muppet Show was a children’s show. Yes, there were in-jokes children didn’t always understand (usually making reference to the human guest star’s past work); but there was never any off-color humor. The entire program was filled with a sweet, innocent quality…one decidedly lacking in the new show, by all press accounts.  

    In his review in the Wall Street Journal, John Jurgensen remarks on “prop glasses of beer, wine and whiskey fill[ing] the tables,” as Miss Piggy “hoists a martini and brags about her morning commute by helicopter,” while Rizzo the Rat exclaims, “Mother Teresa on a stick!” Erik Adams of AV Club mentions “some mature language — a ‘hell’ here, a ‘suck’ there — and the occasional innuendo,” as well as the way the series renders Kermit the Frog, “one of the friendliest and sincerest figures in the pop culture canon, into something of a manipulative prick…In front of the documentary cameras, Kermit is cruel to Piggy, insulting to his guests, and weirdly smug.” The San Francisco Chronicle’s David Wiegand notes that “the puppets in the band are stoned, Pepe the King Prawn has to marry his girlfriend before she gives birth to hundreds of thousands of shrimpettes, Fozzie Bear is dating outside his species, and Miss Piggy is planning a butt lift and teat implants. The Muppets are back in prime time, [but] their spoken material isn’t suitable for 5-year-olds.” And, in the most extensive discussion of the “cynical and bitter” new show, Hitfix’s Alan Sepinwall reports, “When Zoot the spacey saxophone player is told that he’s at a meeting, he starts to introduce himself like he’s at AA. Sam the Eagle is now the network censor assigned to the show, and informs Kermit that he is banning the use of the words ‘crotchety,’ ‘twiddle,’ and ‘gesticulate,’ the last one because gesticulating leads to shaking hands, ‘which is the first step in making babies.’ It’s a bit of a shock to the system, as are later jokes about Fozzie’s personals ad being misinterpreted by people looking to cuddle a different kind of ‘bear,’ or Kermit alluding to the celebrity ‘free pass list’ he had while dating Miss Piggy.”

    In short, from innocent characters children could love, the Muppets and their program have been transformed into just another group of crass, snide, self-absorbed Hollywood pseudo-celebrities, in an industry already obsessed and overwhelmed with them.  

    Co-creator Bill Prady confirmed as much when he stated the cynical, Hollywood-centric premise of the new series: “I always imagined that after they finished doing The Muppet Show, there was a bar across the street from the Muppet Show Theater where they’d go sit down and Kermit would have a drink. And I always wanted to be at that bar.  So that’s where this show is, it’s in as close to the real world and the real personal life…One of the things we’re saying is that in the movies, they were playing versions of themselves.  So we’re seeing them off-screen for the first time.”

    In other words, according to Bill Prady, the sweet and innocent Kermit the Frog, the wacky Fozzie the Bear, the off-the-wall Gonzo, and all the other Muppet characters that  generations of children fell in love with – well, those were all fakes. Now, Prady says, my program will show you who the Muppets REALLY are: shallow, vain, vicious, backbiting denizens of Hollywood, who drink, use drugs, have affairs, and are no different from the celebrities depicted on Keeping Up With The Kardashians or TMZ.

    But in our celebrity-soaked culture, surrounded as we are with the constant tales of the misdeeds of those in Hollywood, do children need (and do adults want) to see the Muppets in “the real world, who get in a car and go to work and shop at Whole Foods and get stuck on the 405 and do the same things we do,” as Prady boasts they will? (And note the Hollywood-centric assumptions behind Prady’s statement. Do Muppet fans in Dubuque, Omaha, or Cincinnati know, or care, about traffic on the 405?)

    Whose idea of entertainment is listening to Kermit the Frog say, “When Piggy and I were a couple I found her unpredictable, spontaneous, and kinda sexy?” What parent wants their little girl to see Miss Piggy gesture at her breasts and rear as she says, “I’ve had these hiked, and I’m getting this thing hiked?” 

    Speaking with TVLine, series producer Bob Kushell said, “Yes, there will be jokes that are pitched that are a little too risque. Part of the excitement of doing this show is to see where we can push the envelope.” The real question is: why do the makers of The Muppets feel they must “push the envelope” at all? Can’t there be one show in prime time that’s entirely safe for children? Is it really asking so much for the Disney-owned ABC network to provide families with one program – just one — on the publicly-owned airwaves, that everyone can watch?  

    Now, THERE’S an idea that “pushes the envelope.”

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    About

    Christopher Gildemeister is the PTC’s Head of Research Operations. He began as an Entertainment Analyst at the PTC in 2005. From 2007-2016, he was Senior Writer/Editor, responsible for communicating the PTC’s message to the public through newsletters, columns, and the PTC Watchdog blog. Dr. Gildemeister holds a Ph.D. from The Catholic University of America.

    19 Responses to The Muppets: Not for Kids?

    1. September 25, 2015 at 4:57 am

      The TV network has taken a program that the majority of people identify as family viewing capable and a long long time as a children’s program. Now you have taken the characters and have perverted it int ok something not fit to view.Oh, I know now! IIt’s all about the dollar bills, right? I thought so. Your network would pervert your grandmother and mother for money. SHAME SHAME SHAME ON YOU!!!!!!

    2. Gretchen
      September 25, 2015 at 5:13 am

      Bravo! I hate the assumtion that some semblance of moral character is outdated , uncool, and not suitable for prime time!

    3. Mary
      September 25, 2015 at 5:21 am

      I have not watched The Muppets yet, but I am so disappointed in reading your review! I was so looking forward to sitting down with my kids to watch it.

    4. Kim
      September 25, 2015 at 5:40 am

      What a disappointment! As a mother of three (ages 11, 9 and 8), we were so excited to hear the Muppets were coming back to TV. We thought we’d finally have a weekly family TV show to watch. That was the first and last time we will be tuning in. My 11 year old walked out of the room out of boredom. My 8 and 9 year olds kept asking us what was going on (especially when they said Elizabeth Banks was on the “wallpaper” during the breakup of Kermit and Piggy). My husband and I only laughed when Tom Bergeron was on. He was the best part of the show! We also cringed during all the sex jokes and adult situations. Leave it to ABC (Adult Broadcasting Company) to ruin another good thing!

    5. Linda Martin
      September 25, 2015 at 6:29 am

      What I have seen of the new Muppets, even I won’t be watching. Nor will my grandkids while at my house!!!

    6. Susan from upnorth
      September 25, 2015 at 6:44 am

      This is shattering news! I’ll have a grandchild soon and what can I let him see on TV when he is with me? Can we purchase the old shows from Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers? These were so wonderful for my children. Everyone was happy! The Industry wants to make us as sick as they are. I search for PG & PG13 movies. I’d pay a lot for the Hallmark Movie Channel if they would remove the offensive ads. The best show on Television is “Signed Sealed & Delivered”. Henson’s Family sold out. I’m very disappointed and I guess a bit angry for I’m all over the page here. Keep up the good work, Christopher.

    7. Ann Macdonald
      September 25, 2015 at 7:28 am

      The Muppets has always been a children’s show—and before this, has been a trusted form of entertainment for our kids. How dare they use these beloved characters to push vulgarity to children.

    8. Stephen Rust
      September 25, 2015 at 7:31 am

      I watched the premiere, and I agree with your assessment. I will NOT be letting my kids watch the Muppets TV show, which is a real shame since the original Muppet Show was one of my most favored memories from my childhood.

    9. Dale
      September 25, 2015 at 8:52 am

      I for one will not watch the new Muppets show as it currently is. It is ridiculous to me that we need to see the “real life” version of the characters. The whole appeal of the past shows and movies was their quirkiness and their innocence. These are “puppets” for goodness sake, their “real life” doesn’t exist. In other words, let them be quirky and funny and let them be that way in a clean way. Not everything has to have negative connotations and innuendo.

    10. TJ
      September 25, 2015 at 8:55 am

      Disgusting. Jim Henson is rolling in his grave. Thanks for smearing his legacy, you sleazebags.

    11. Sharon Pike
      September 25, 2015 at 11:24 am

      By use of children characters, like the Muppets, it is by design, meant to attract children. I am quite sure this was ABC original intent. Attract children and then have them follow a program designed for “adults”. Why do adults need to watch Muppet figures anyway. Adults should be into other programming. How many unsuspecting parents will just flip on the channel because it’s Muppets and then walk away while small children are exposed to “more adult geared programming?”

    12. Barbara
      September 25, 2015 at 8:47 pm

      No! Not suitable for children! Another major disappointment.

    13. Dan
      September 25, 2015 at 8:59 pm

      Can’t we keep ANYTHING half-way wholesome for our children?
      There are already DOZENS of places to watch puppets talk dirty. (“Sexy …. Hell ….. Sexy …. I’m attracted to pigs.”)
      Do Kermy & Piggy REALLY have to be just another dysfunctional couple? Especially after DECADES together???
      Mr. Prady, please don’t force parents to tell their children they can’t watch the Muppets.
      Kids are still up at 8. Either put it on Adult Swim, or tone it down. A LOT.
      And if you choose Adult Swim, create a new set of characters. Leave the Muppets for the kids. And their grandparents.
      Thank you.

    14. dan
      September 25, 2015 at 9:03 pm

      Please don’t “push the envelope” –
      over a cliff!

    15. Kevin
      September 28, 2015 at 10:50 am

      [QUOTE}Co-creator Bill Prady confirmed as much when he stated the cynical, Hollywood-centric premise of the new series: “I always imagined that after they finished doing The Muppet Show, there was a bar across the street from the Muppet Show Theater where they’d go sit down and Kermit would have a drink. And I always wanted to be at that bar. So that’s where this show is, it’s in as close to the real world and the real personal life…One of the things we’re saying is that in the movies, they were playing versions of themselves. So we’re seeing them off-screen for the first time.”[/QUOTE]

      While I never thought of the original Muppet show as a kids show — it was a FAMILY-FRIENDLY show where kids got the humor on one level and adults on another, like the original Warner Brothers Looney Tunes cartoons — I take exception to co-creator Bill Prady’s comment, quoted above. After watching the first episode, I am choosing to believe that the Muppets have been kidnapped and evil impostors have taken their place in order to ruin the reputations of the originals. As with most “reality TV” programming, I believe that the reality as seen by the viewer is far different from the reality when the cameras aren’t rolling.

      • Christopher Gildemeister
        September 30, 2015 at 3:46 pm

        Hi Kevin,

        Ironically, the idea of the Muppets’ place being taken by an evil/cynical “cover band”-version of themselves was actually used in the 2011 movie The Muppets.

        Pity that what they laughed off in 2012 has become the reality four years later.

    16. Paul Fitzpatrick
      September 30, 2015 at 8:33 am

      Bill Prady thinks he is being ground-breaking by showing the “offscreen” Muppets. But THE MUPPET SHOW had a show-within-a-show framework as well, and the Muppets’ personalities were funny and real without being off-color. The Muppets should be suitable for ALL audiences, as they once were.

    17. Celi
      December 2, 2015 at 7:04 am

      I have to say that I was very disappointed with this “new” version of the muppets. We were looking forward to a family friendly show we could all watch together and were short changed. Even my 16 yo daughter was not impressed saying “these aren’t the muppets that I know or grew up with. What a jip!”. Sadly in this day and age too much emphasis is placed on sexual inuendos and profanity. We don’t need it and definitely don’t want it.

    18. May 6, 2016 at 10:21 am

      Tarnishing what everyone knows the Muppets were all about… sad and disappointing.

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