Television

'The Muppets' Returns This Fall on ABC

Rob Owen
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (TNS)

In a fall TV season characterized by remakes, reboots and other forms of regurgitation, ABC’s The Muppets looks to be one of the better viewing options among a familiar, mostly disappointing lot.

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — In a fall TV season characterized by remakes, reboots and other forms of regurgitation, ABC’s “The Muppets” looks to be one of the better viewing options among a familiar, mostly disappointing lot.

Yes, you can also charge ABC with pop culture rehash, but at least “The Muppets” is an ever-evolving franchise, not an opportunistic attempt to wring one more dime out of a flash in the pan (yes, that means you, “Heroes Reborn” on NBC). Because, really, who doesn’t love the Muppets?

Credit “Muppets” co-writers Bill Prady (co-creator of “The Big Bang Theory”) and Bob Kushell (“Samantha Who?”) with finding a new way to invigorate a franchise that’s had a difficult time evolving in the years since creator Jim Henson’s death in 1990.

There was already one failed attempt to revive the 1970s “Muppet Show” in the short-lived “Muppets Tonight” (1996-98). While 2011’s “The Muppets” was a hit, the 2014 sequel, “Muppets Most Wanted,” disappointed at the box office.

The new ABC comedy is set behind the scenes of a late-night Miss Piggy-hosted talk show. The program also features mockumentary-style interviews with cast members (a la “The Office”) — essentially making the entire gang reality TV show stars — and it goes home with the characters. (In a pilot presentation available for viewing with the online version of this story, Fozzie meets his human girlfriend’s parents, who express concern about their cross-species relationship.)

Producers said they chose to reset some of the relationships to give the show somewhere to build to. At an ABC press conference Tuesday morning, Kermit announced he and Piggy have split and he has a new pig girlfriend, which is sure to provide fodder for future plots on the series.

“Piggy and I have gone our separate ways romantically,” Kermit said, seated behind a cloth-draped table and occasionally sipping from a coffee cup. “People change. So do frogs and pigs.”

The series will include snippets from “Up Late With Miss Piggy” a la “The Larry Sanders Show.” Guests booked include Reese Witherspoon and the band Imagine Dragons.

“The goal here is to be exactly the same and completely different,” said Mr. Prady, who worked on Henson projects early in his career, including writing for the animated “Fraggle Rock” and the Disney Studios theme park attraction “MuppetVision 3-D.” “What we are trying to do is very much honor more rigorously than has been done to stay with ‘The Muppet Show’ thing but at the same time do something that is contemporary and works on television now. It’s sort of an origin story that started in the past.”

Kushell said the series is designed to appeal to newcomers to the Muppets and lifelong fans.

“Anybody who hasn’t seen the Muppets in the past will see a whole new world that has a feel that’s original and new,” Kushell said, “and anybody who’s grown up with it will have that nostalgic feel and have their minds blown by the new way we’re doing the show.”

STILL ‘FRESH OFF THE BOAT’?

ABC’s critically acclaimed, winning family sitcom “Fresh Off the Boat” returns for its second season Sept. 22, but will narrator Eddie Huang, who wrote the memoir the series is based on, be back?

Huang, a renowned chef/?restaurateur and one-time University of Pittsburgh student, was critical of the show because it took liberties with his story, which is pretty much what filmed entertainment always does (it’s a sitcom, not a documentary).

“He’s as involved as he’s ever been,” said showrunner Nahnatchka Khan. “He’s provided the source material, so he’s always been involved in terms of that.”

Huang also narrated some episodes in season one, including the pilot. Khan said that won’t change.

“If there is a narrator, it would be Eddie,” Khan said. “It won’t be suddenly (white neighbor) Honey narrating or somebody else.”

Huang criticized the sitcom before its premiere, much to the dismay of the show’s production company, and then ripped it again in April, tweeting that he did not watch the series.

“I’m happy people of color are able to see a reflection of themselves through #FreshOffTheBoat [email protected] but I don’t recognize it,” he tweeted. “My only goal was to represent my Taiwanese-Chinese-American experience & I did that. We also proved viewers want diverse content so make it!”

“I had to say something because I stood by the pilot,” he continued. “After that it got so far from the truth that I don’t recognize my own life. I don’t think it is helping us to perpetuate an artificial representation of Asian-American lives, and we should address it. I’m sorry if anyone feels let down. I sincerely did my best and will keep doing. The matrix is strong but the Jedi will return ... #BasedFOB.”

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