‘The Muppets’ Review: Let’s Talk About Sex

The newest TV incarnation of Jim Henson’s beloved creations works, but skews too adult

Just the simple presence of the Muppets back on primetime television is cause for joy, but that doesn’t mean Jim Henson‘s beloved creations can do no wrong. And grownups rife with nostalgia for the old “The Muppet Show” — carefully stoked by corporate parent Disney with two recent films — might find their latest TV exploits, simply titled “The Muppets,” more than a little disconcerting.

While the original show and movies managed to artfully offer humor for both kids and adults, the new outing puts the felt favorites in a distinctly grownup playground. Of course, a lot of the more adult humor might be expected to fly right over younger viewers’ heads, but there’s just so much of it that they’ll certainly be asking a few awkward questions.

Simply put, it’s jarring to see just how much the Muppets reference their sex lives. Even with years of will-they-or-won’t-they romance between Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy, I never really thought about whether Muppets got down. This series not only asks you to think about it, but builds whole plotlines around it.

The show takes place behind the scenes at a “Tonight Show”-style talk show hosted by Miss Piggy — and the joke isn’t lost on the writers that this is the closest we currently have to a woman in late night, at least aside from Samantha Bee. The show-within-a-show is presented documentary style, shot almost identically to “The Office” or its network-mate “Modern Family,” but the clashing egos, zany characters and beleaguered producer at the center (Kermit) make it feel much more indebted to “30 Rock.” Of course, the original “Muppet Show” was built around the characters’ backstage world, so maybe this is just what that kind of concept looks like 40 years later.

And some of the best jokes are in fact the bawdiest, like Fozzie lamenting about declaring yourself a bear in the online dating world and the kind of attention that can attract — complete with a “not that there’s anything wrong with that” panicked punchline — or Animal wistfully lamenting why he doesn’t tour anymore: “So many women, so many towns.”

For the most part the show works, and the parts that don’t may just be growing pains from anyone familiar with the old stuff. But one major concern keeps bubbling up: The original series had a lovingly dusty vaudevillian style, an affectionate throwback to a show business world from decades earlier, while this just feels like stuff from five years ago. Maybe it’s time we started asking our documentary-style comedies to justify why they’re being presented that way.

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