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Muppets Tonight

Boo, get off the stage!

Nick (5-10-98) - Preview: The Muppets are back on the air waves. With a refined, neater, colorful new look to them, they're back to star in their new show, "Muppets Tonight!" They're back, and to a few people... not necessarily for the better. They've got a newer, hipper, shall we say cooler attempt to revive their previous hit, "The Muppet Show", and to tell you the truth, they missed.

Synopsis: The Muppets have a new television station, KMUP. Their new show to be aired on the station is none other than Muppets Tonight!, where Kermit steps down as the host and Clifford (a hip... human maybe?) comes along to fill in Kermit's shoes... or should I say flippers. He hosts the new show that is filled with enough parodies, puns, and mayhem that any one person can handle.

Costumes and Sets: "The sets are terrific, the costumes are great!" I think Jason Alexander sums it up pretty nicely with this line referring to the theatrical, BATS. The show has a beautiful Tonight Showish back drop. I think the city landscape and the big archway was an awesome touch to give a bit of a tonight show, variety show edge. Also, the sets back stage are just perfect. The walls, doors, and furniture have that rustic, yellowish tint to it, that emphasizes being back stage and makes the colorful Muppets stand out. Again, the,costumes and sets for the different skits are also fantastic.

In the second season however, it seems to go down hill just a bit. They lose the archway and city background. I'm not sure why they did this, but in my book... it was a definite minus. They also use sets (and even scenes in some cases) more than once. Maybe there was a small budget problem, but it starts to lose the realistic touch.

Kermit, Fozzie, and Billy CrystalPlot and Skits: In a word... what skits? If anything, this is where I think the show falls apart. Now don't get me wrong... most of the skits are funny, but what it is, is the lack of them. What made the Muppet Show so successful was that it was a variety show! Where's the variety? I think the show needed a quick, upbeat, format. For example, Paula Abdul's first sketch with Gonzo and his cannon balls, and Jason Alexander's first sketch with Animal's musical interlude. That cracked me up! Now, I'm not saying the whole show should be like that, but it certainly needs that tempo. Their parodies of course are great. You have got to love, Pigs In Space: Deep Dish Nine, Bay of Pigswatch, Tails from the Vet, and EIEIOR. But the show also lacks a bit of creativity. A little bit of the same material is used more than once. Also, in many occasions (especially season 2) it becomes a sitcom with a deep plot and not a variety show. You don't have to make it corny and give a life lesson at the end and make everything perfect and happy. It's a comedy show.  We want laughs not a heart felt story! So please you guys, just make it really funny! To put it simply, I just want to see more Muppets get blown up and eaten.

Characters: Ah, the wonderful Muppets. Those personalities and faces that we all love so much. The question is, where are half of them? I tell you, until Muppets Tonight! came, I never knew how much I had really loved, and now miss, Scooter, Rowlf, The Swedish Chef, Lew Zealand, The Electric Mayhem, and Crazy Harry. With a few exceptions (e.g. Scooter) where are some of those great characters? Sure, there are going to be new ones, but you need a lot of the originals to gradually get the new Muppets recognition and into the scheme of things. So of course, as far as the old Muppets go, I as well as others, all love them, and if there is any problem with them at all; it's the lack of them. Then of course, the new Muppets:

  • Clifford steps in the reigns as the new host, and I think he does a pretty good job. If anything, I think Clifford just needs a few good lines to get him some laughs that he deserves.

  • Then comes Bobo the Bear. I love him. His clueless, sarcastic, almost mellow personality is a great addition to the crew.

  • Then there's Johnny Fiama and Sal. A great comedy team that is welcomed into the Muppet crew with open arms.

  • Yet another comedy team is Seymour and Pepe. First of all, Pepe's voice alone is so funny, it makes you laugh no matter what he says. Then, even though their song followed by an excuse on why it was bad starts to get repetitive, it makes me laugh every time.

  • After that comes Dr. Phil Van Neuter and Mulch--only seen in Tails from the Vet. I find Phil filled with energy and extremely funny. But, Mulch's screaming and tormenting is anything but funny, and becomes extremely annoying and ruins the flow of the show.

  • Then there's Andy and Randy Pig... Miss Piggy, take them back!!... or for that matter, kill them and turn them into bacon. I mean, the idea of the characters could be very funny, but the way they are portrayed becomes annoying and extremely childish.

  • Ah, Spamela Hamderson... a delightful treat. It's about time the Muppet introduced a new girl in town. Besides Janice, there is finally someone to take on a girl's role other than Miss Piggy. Now of course, Spamela is not as developed and interesting as Piggy, but I tell you, seeing her in this year's (1998) Muppet Parody Calendar made me laugh with joy. I'm not really sure why they decided to make the character a pig, but I love her!

  • Carl; highly enjoyable. I personally would have liked to see him eat some stuff and people without being introduced as Carl the Big Mean "whatever", but it provides that quick, funny, variety tempo that works.

  • Nigel... what's the point? Of course, you've got to have someone to yell orders, but give him some dimension. You can only have so much neurotic screaming.

  • Finally, there's Bill the Bubble Guy, Poodle Pants, and Zippedy. Personally, to me, they're not Muppets material, just, I guess... stand-ins. But I did get a kick out of Bill's line,"... first I didn't know, but now everything is going gang bustas!!"

Critique: Now, overall the show is pretty decent. But, of course, there are several problems with it. For starters... the time slot. What was ABC thinking? I'm a strong believer (with a few nicks and changes) that the show could have been strong in Late Night, and then they go and put it in TGIF! Usually I don't think the time slot really changes the show, but the time of the day really makes what kind of mood your in. Jim Henson always wanted to make it clear to everyone that the Muppets were also for adults... and then they go and put it on TGIF. That limits the show right there and frankly, I think ABC is half to blame for the ratings.

Anyway, as far as the show goes, it misses being as successful as "The Muppet Show" by a long shot. Now, I know, "Muppets Tonight!" isn't supposed to be a complete replica of the Muppet Show, but it misses that special something. It doesn't have the quick tempo, from one sketch to another. It might sound weird, but the problem is it has a plot! Decide if it's going to be a sitcom or a variety show! There's just way too much backstage mayhem verses on-stage comedy. Then, of course, the other problem is that it just lacks the wildness, creativeness, and comedy the Muppets are well known for. But, of course, it's the Muppets! Basically, if you're a Muppet fan, you are just happy they're back!

  • Of course with a few exceptions and episodes:

    • The first season: B-

    • The second season: C+

    • It's got the amount of laughs as a good show's rerun.

David C. Beukema (8-14-98) For the longest time, I, a Muppet fan for 13 of my 16 years on this earth, could not put my finger on what exactly disturbed me about The Jim Henson Company's latest television offering, Muppets Tonight.  Something was unnerving, but it could never be identified.  I was never totally satisfied after watching an episode.  Then, about two weeks ago, it hit me.  I was watching the Dyan Cannon episode of The Muppet Show (my favorite) and remarking that this show had it all.  Great guest star talent, wonderful supporting characters, sly humor, the list went on and on.  These areas, I realized were Muppets Tonight's downfall.

Sandra Bullock, Johny Fiama, Andy, Sal, and RandyI'll begin with the guest star issue.  You could fill a swimming pool with all the awards garnered by TMS's guests.  Think of all the Oscars, Emmys, Tonys, Grammys, Golden Globes and Lifetime Achievement Awards won by the likes of Julie Andrews, Rita Moreno, John Denver, Paul Simon, Zero Mostel, Liza Minnelli, George Burns, Ethel Merman, Bob Hope, and Carol Burnett.  These people are (or were, in some cases) living legends.  Their charisma blended perfectly with The Muppets and they were truly talented.  They could sing, dance, do it all.  And perhaps the most important part, they were not the center of the show. True, people turned in to see what Rudolf Nureyev or Gene Kelly would do with the Muppets, but they weren't the center of the plot.  For instance, the plot of the episode that Loretta Swit guested in was not "Loretta Swit is our guest."   Compare that to the Billy Crystal episode of MT, where the plot basically WAS "Billy Crystal is our guest."  John Goodman, Pierce Brosnan, Michelle Pfeiffer.  All those episodes somehow revolved around the guest.  On TMS, that wasn't the case.  The guest stayed out of the way for the most part and the characters were allowed to take center stage.  Do we really KNOW all that much about Seymour and Pepe, or Nigel, or Clifford, for that matter?  On TMS, we knew all of Piggy, Fozzie or Rowlf's quirks, hopes and fears.  We were able to grow close to them.  Also, today's "stars", frankly, don't have the class, the wit or the driving talent that a lot of yesterday's stars did.  Dennis Quaid or Tony Randall?   Coolio or Steve Martin?  I think the choices are obvious.

Another example of MT's lack of polish is the supporting characters.   Sure, we gained a lot of great new friends, like Bobo, Johnny Fiamma, Sal, etc., but they were all so forced upon us.  On TMS, the Muppet characters grew on us.   Piggy was hardly a huge character at all, Gonzo was a dopey, depressed masochist and Fozzie looked moldy and was a bit annoying at times.  But they evolved.   Piggy became a glamorous superstar, Gonzo became an excitable, wide-eyed daredevil and Fozzie became the lovable golden bear we loved to pity.  Other characters were pure background and yet, still very likable. Crazy Harry, Beauregard, Sweetums, Annie Sue.   All were characters who rarely had huge screen time and we loved them for it.   Seeing Crazy Harry was a treat, something that occurred so infrequently that when it did, we ate it up.  Compare that to Andy and Randy blubbering all the time, or Nigel flipping left and right.  Ack, too much!!  These characters would be much more tolerable, and likable, if we had time to warm-up to them and time to take them in small doses.  Basically, on MT, there was too much, too fast.  It comes down to, in my mind, a quality versus quantity issue.  MT tried to distract us with shiny things and hoped it would cover up for what it lacked.  TMS didn't have to.  It was so original and blatantly entertaining and funny!  It didn't have to worry about being "hip" or "appealing" to whoever.  It didn't have to fit into the sitcom-type humor.  Many of the jokes on MT were just so stupid!  They were so predictable.  When old or predictable jokes were used on TMS, they were funny because The Muppets knew they were trite and did them with felt tongue firmly planted in foam cheek.

Now, don't get me wrong, Muppets Tonight had a lot of good, but it tried too hard.  It tried too hard to appeal to so-and-so or be hip and be this and that.   Of course, falling under The Muppet Show's shadow was inevitable, but they certainly could have done it better.


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