June 12, 2021

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The Muppets Didn’t Deserve This

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Statler and Waldorf getting beat up by security guards.
Screenshot: NBC

When Kermit the Frog was revealed to be one of The Masked Singer’s contestants this past season, it was meant to be a delightful surprise twist in an already ridiculous show in which well-known celebrities dress up as unlicensed mascots. But instead, Kermit’s unmasking only underscored how far the Muppets have fallen from their former glory, something that’s tough to see at a time when the original Muppet Show’s just become available to stream online in its entirety.

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Similar to the Muppets, Saturday Night Live’s star has been something other than ascendant as of late, and the long-running program has recently resorted to pulling disappointing and irresponsible stunts meant to goose numbers. After forcibly laughing its way to an artificial ratings boost, SNL brought things back down this past weekend. A sketch that seemingly attempted to capitalize on the Muppets being on the outs first felt like it might have been another synergetic crossover (that, admittedly, got in one good Hawkeye joke). However, “The Muppet Show” sketch quickly devolved into a weird bit about security guards beating the crap out of the franchise’s hecklers, Statler and Waldorf, for talking trash at Kermit and Lily Tomlin (played by Melissa Villaseñor).

Though everyone’s impersonations were pretty all right, and the fake Muppets’ likeness were on point, the sketch largely fell flat because of the bad syncing between the puppets’ spoken lines and the puppeteers’ movements. All of the pieces of a proper Muppet parody were present, but they couldn’t fit together, and the end result was a disappointing five minutes of a pot calling a kettle a hack. Both The Muppet Show and SNL established themselves long ago as comedic institutions whose best parodies were able to capture the essence of things by heightening and deconstructing what they were poking fun at. Disney+’s recent Muppets Now shifted away from that approach and was a big part of what made the series feel more like a late-to-the-game attempt at inserting itself into modern streaming culture rather than clever lampooning, and something similar is true of SNL’s Muppets sketch.

There is something quite funny about the fact that we’re living through the Muppets’ flop era despite the fact that, at least online, people are still quite nostalgic about them and excited for any new projects announced. It would have been interesting to see SNL dig into the fact that Kermit’s an overexposed stage manager who needs to stop dating his employees, or how the Muppets ended up being conscripted into a deranged culture war they probably wanted no part of. As self-aware and self-deprecating as the Muppets are, being bound to Disney means that there are certain things the brand can’t say about itself. Presumably, SNL could if it wanted, and with tighter execution, it’d likely end up being the sort of sketch that people would actually tune in to see on the regular.

SNL isn’t new to missing the mark, and the Muppet sketch is far from being the show’s most egregious misfire in recent history, but it did highlight how the present-day incarnations of both classic variety acts haven’t exactly been holding up in recent years. It’s a shame because they’ve traditionally been such fertile grounds for much stronger, actually funny comedy.

The Muppet Show is now streaming on Disney+.


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