Opinion

Don't believe the hype: The New Muppet Show can still work for kids

"You’re not getting hit over the head with a sledgehammer with sexual innuendo and adult humour."

When I was a kid, The Muppet Show was one of my favourite things on television.

I was born in 1976—the same year The Muppet Show made its debut. So, in many ways, I grew up with that show, watching it for several years when it went into syndication. My parents took me to all their movies in the theatres and bought me a bunch of Muppet-related merchandise—although I never got my hands on the highly-coveted Muppet lunchbox. I have a distinct memory of my dad flipping out on me and my sister in early December of 1981 because we stumbled upon Muppet toys they had bought for us as Christmas gifts.

My wife and I started dating in 1996 and one of the first movies we saw together—at my urging, of course—was Muppet Treasure Island. (She would exact her revenge by forcing me to see a series of Hugh Grant rom-coms in subsequent years).

When word filtered out that the Muppet gang were getting back together for a new weekly, prime-time show this fall, I was pretty excited. Our kids are 11 and seven and they thoroughly enjoyed Muppets Most Wanted a couple of years ago, confirming that sense of humour does in fact come from the father’s side.

But I had been warned that The Muppet Show reboot was perhaps going to be edgy and filled with adult-style humour. There’s even an online petition from a group called “1 Million Moms” in the United States that is trying to get the show banned from television because it’s not suitable for kids. “1MM suspects there are going to be a lot of shocked moms and dads when they discover that the family-friendly Muppets of the 1970s are no more,” the petition reads. “It appears that no subject is off-limits.”

So I decided to watch the pilot episode by myself and, if I deemed it to be suitable for our kids, I would let them watch the second episode with me on Monday night.

Honestly, the first episode didn’t scare me that much. The show is shot in a mockumentary style, similar to what you saw with shows like The Office and Parks & Recreation. So automatically, it has a more adult feel to it right off the hop. And yes, there are some adult-related undertones to the show, but much like you see with clever Disney Pixar films, many of the jokes are way above the kids’ heads.

For example, Fozzy Bear—who is dating a real-life woman on the show—looks into the camera at one point and talks about what it’s like to use an online dating site. “When your online profile says ‘passionate bear looking for love,’ you get a lot of wrong responses,” he says. The joke sits there for a second, but there is no way your kid is going to understand that one.

The only instance where I sort of raised my eyebrows is when Kermit the Frog uses the word “hell” to describe his life as a “bacon-wrapped hell on earth” because of dealing with a temperamental Miss Piggy. But as soon as he says that, Sam the Eagle—who plays the role of censor on the show—walks by and flatly tells Kermit, “You can’t say ‘hell.’ ”

Would the Jim Henson version of Kermit ever casually toss out the word “hell” like he’s Bart Simpson? Probably not. But if your kid is old enough to stay up and watch a show at 8 p.m. on a school night, then chances are they’ve heard the word “hell”—and a lot worse—on the schoolyard. And the fact that Kermit was quickly reprimanded for using that word makes it OK in my opinion.

A quick scan of the commercials that aired during the new Muppet show reveals that advertisers are banking on the fact that kids are watching. There were commercials for LEGO Dimensions, Reese chocolate spread and Robin Hood’s chocolate banana bread—hardly the type of advertising you would see on a solely adult-oriented show like Hannibal.

So last night, I rolled the dice and let our kids watch the second show with me. Our girls thoroughly enjoyed it and laughed several times. Our 11-year-old particularly liked an exchange between Josh Groban and Kermit, which ends up with the frog lunging at the music star. And Fozzy’s plotline in the second episode involved him stealing a candy dish from Jay Leno’s house. I don’t think anyone is going to classify that as too racy.

A lot of the adult stuff went right over my daughters’ heads—like the joke about Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem band eating a bunch of Girl Scout cookies because they were high on marijuana. The drug implication is so subtle that your kid won’t understand it, but the joke about legalization is funny enough for adults.

That’s the main point here: You’re not getting hit over the head with a sledgehammer of sexual innuendo and adult humour. This isn’t a raunchy puppet show like Avenue Q that is explicitly meant for adults.

Instead, this new Muppet reboot has the potential to recapture what the original show did so well in the 1970s and 1980s—entertain multiple generations at the same time. But it may just take a few episodes to get used to what the current version is trying to accomplish.

The New Muppet Show airs on CityTV on Monday nights at 8 p.m. (EST).

Follow along as Ottawa-based sports radio host Ian Mendes gets candid about raising his daughters, Elissa and Lily, with his wife, Sonia. Read all of Ian’s The Good Sport posts and follow him on Twitter @ian_mendes.