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ABC's 'The Muppets' Brings The Classic Characters Into Modern Culture


And now it's time to play the music.


It's time to light the lights.

SHAPIRO: It's time to meet the Muppets...

MCEVERS: ...On "The Muppet Show" tonight.

SHAPIRO: Here's NPR TV critic Eric Deggans on the Muppets' return to the small screen.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: For viewers used to seeing Kermit the Frog dish out cheeky one- liners about the letter Q, the Kermit you meet on ABC's "The Muppets" is going to be a little jarring, especially when he talks about his ex-girlfriend, Miss Piggy.


STEVE WHITMIRE: (As Kermit the Frog) You know, when Piggy and I were a couple, I found her unpredictable and spontaneous and quirky, you know? It was kind of sexy. But if you take dating out of the equation, she's just a lunatic.

DEGGANS: Sexy? Dating? Do we really want to hear the most famous Muppet on earth talking like a reject from a bad reality TV dating show? Not that he doesn't have good reasons. Turns out, Kermit is running Miss Piggy's new late-night TV talk show, "Up Late With Miss Piggy," and the star has a few requests for her ex-turned-executive producer.


ERIC JACOBSON: (As Miss Piggy) I'm not happy with the janitor knowing what I throw away. Can you have someone put a layer of generic trash over my private trash?

WHITMIRE: (As Kermit the Frog) OK, generic trash.

JACOBSON: (As Miss Piggy) Oh, and I noticed on tomorrow's rundown that Elizabeth Banks is my first guest?

WHITMIRE: (As Kermit the Frog) Yes.

JACOBSON: (As Miss Piggy) Lose her.

WHITMIRE: (As Kermit the Frog) But - but I can't...

DEGGANS: We learn later Piggy's got a good reason for disliking Ms. Banks. But in the moment, she seems mean, even for a legendary diva.

Kermit and Piggy aren't the only ones struggling with a relationship. Fozzie Bear is dating a woman whose father leaves little doubt about his feelings.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As Fozzie's girlfriend's father) What if you had children? How would you raise them? Where would they go to the bathroom, in the woods?

JACOBSON: (As Fozzie Bear) OK, that is an offensive stereotype.

DEGGANS: If this stuff seems a bit edgy then you're getting the gist of ABC's "The Muppets." Filmed in a mockumentary style like "The Office" or "Modern Family," "The Muppets" features characters who go on dating websites, make sly references to 12-step meetings and stress eat. It's a long way from the Muppets we saw in their most famous primetime program back in the late '70s.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As announcer) It's "The Muppet Show," with our special guest star, Mr. John Cleese.


DEGGANS: Back then, "The Muppet Show" featured Muppets who worked hard to get a hapless variety show on its legs week after week.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As character) Yeah so this is going to be a fantastic show.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #4: (As character) Yeah, it better be - because tonight, we're keeping score.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #5: (As character) Yes, and on a scale of one to 10, here's your score so far.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As character) Two?

DEGGANS: Still, that vaudeville style, let's put on a show attitude? It kind of feels out of place on modern TV. The Muppets' new approach already has its haters. The advocacy group One Million Moms has condemned the new show as not suitable for family viewing, and the way some characters have become less earnest and more cynical can feel unsettling to longtime fans. But those criticisms are overblown. ABC's "The Muppets" brings the classic characters into modern culture in a way that feels fresh, distinctive, even a little dangerous. And that's no small feat for a collection of characters who've been at the center of pop culture for more than 40 years. I'm Eric Deggans.


UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (As characters, singing) It's time to play the music. It's time to light the lights. It's time to meet the Muppets... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eric Deggans is NPR's first full-time TV critic.
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