Neither Muppets Most Wanted nor 2011's The Muppets set the box office afire, but they reminded audiences that Jim Henson's beloved creations still matter. If there's a problem with these movies, then, it might be the format. So ABC's recent announcement regarding the new Muppet series they have in development made a good deal of sense. What better home for Kermit and the gang than television?
At the time, reports indicated that ABC's The Muppets revival would follow the same "variety show" blueprint of The Muppet Show. This, too, made sense in light of where The Muppets and Muppets Most Wanted left off with these characters - back on the road to fame and notoriety. However, it turns out that the network has other ideas, which manage to be both new and well-worn all at the same time.
According to EW, the ABC series will examine the lives of the Muppets behind the scene, adopting a mockumentary approach as they endeavor to kick off a brand new Muppet production. From the sounds of things, the as-yet-untitled project will lean on a standard Muppet plot trope - the launch of a show within the show - while delving into personal details about each member of the troupe. What's more, ABC may even make a straight-to-series order for the show.
Here's the official logline:
“The Muppets return to prime time with a contemporary, documentary-style show that—for the first time ever—will explore the Muppets’ personal lives and relationships, both at home and at work, as well as romances, break-ups, achievements, disappointments, wants and desires; a more adult Muppet show, for kids of all ages.”
All of this info stems from the pilot presentation Bill Prady (The Big Bang Theory) made alongside his co-writer and producer, Bob Kushell. They're drawing on a lot of influences here, and they're not disguising any of them; Arrested Development, The Office, and 30 Rock are named specifically, as well as soapy melodramas like Grey's Anatomy and Scandal.
How will all of these aesthetics fit together? Imagining Muppets giving talking-head interviews backstage as they bumble, fumble, stumble, and grumble through the process of making television fits well within their established meta-milieu. It's fitting, as beginning with The Muppet Show and going on through to the recent films, the Muppets have often (if not always) dissected the artifice of showbiz with tongue firmly in cheek.
The faux-realism of The Office is still very much in vogue today (see: FX's The Comedians). On the page, it fits the Muppets nicely. However, blending that with the swing-for-the-fences spectacle of Shonda Rhimes fare feels like a risk. Granted, any show where the principal cast is composed of felt-swaddled puppets, it's probably best to assume that any soap opera elements will generally be played more for laughs than tears.
Clearly, this is where the "more adult" part comes in. Will this actually be palatable for kids at all? None of the shows Pardy and Kushell mention as inspirations work for children, though they're likely speaking to form rather than content. But hey, at least we have an idea of what The Muppets will look like once it comes back to TV. Bring on the celebrity cameos.
We'll keep you update to speed on Muppet-related news as more is made available.