Today the world got a little bit merrier with the announcement that ABC had picked up a new Muppet series, set to premiere this fall on the network. Anytime the television landscape gets a fresh transfusion of anarchic Muppet madness is a good thing, but having seen the pilot presentation, we can firmly attest that this is a Muppet project worth getting really, really, ridiculously excited for.
The last time the beloved characters appeared on a prime time television series was almost 20 years ago with Muppets Tonight. It also aired on ABC and shared a vaguely Muppet Show-y premise involving the crew running a cable network called KMUP. Since then the Muppets have starred in a handful of television specials (like the gleefully bizarre 2013 Lady Gaga & the Muppets’ Holiday Spectacular) and TV movies (most notably the Muppet Wizard of Oz), but it was challenging to capture that loose, barely contained energy that made The Muppet Show so special. If you ask us, the last truly groundbreaking Muppet-related television series, in fact, was The Jim Henson Hour, an experimental series that was split between a crazy, Muppet Show-esque half hour and new episodes of Henson’s hauntingly beautiful The Storyteller, and was one of the last projects completed before Henson died. (Additionally, entire episodes would be devoted to a single story or a behind-the-scenes documentary.) This was a series that genuinely pushed the characters forward, playing with both form and content, while also retaining that charming essence that made the Muppets so powerful to begin with.
And that’s really why this new Muppet series has us so excited. The new show is captured in the faux documentary aesthetic of something like the Christopher Guest movies (Best in Show, A Mighty Wind), but overlaid on a classic Muppet let’s-put-on-a-show narrative. The creative team behind the series is also aces, with Big Bang Theory vets Bill Prady and Bob Kushnell serving as show-runners and executive producers alongside Muppet performer Bill Barretta and Randall Einhorn. Einhorn’s appointment seems particularly appropriate since he directed more episodes of the American Office than any other director, and whose sensibilities mesh perfectly with the feel and stylization of this new Muppet series. This new series captures the lives of the Muppets at work, as well their behind-the-scenes drama (in the pilot presentation we saw, you get to see some of the Muppets in some … unexpected relationships). What’s more is that everything you love about the Muppets—the self-referential quality, delightful imagery and general Muppet-y fun—are all present and accounted for. It takes the best elements of the original Muppet Show, combines it with some of the modernity of Muppets Tonight and the gutsy experimentalism of The Jim Henson Hour, and whips it into a wonderfully wacky new creation. It’s a scream. And it might be enough to put the Muppets back on the television map, recapturing the zeitgeist in a big, bold, off-the-wall way.