Rebecca May Ristow | A&E Editor
Jim Henson had a long and successful career creating iconic characters on both Sesame Street and The Muppet Show. These characters were all fondly referred to as “Muppets,” a combination of the words “marionette” and “puppet.” In today’s world, the availability of media is abundant and ever changing. Almost anyone can make content and all of it is at the tips of our fingers, making it rare for a series to stick around for several years. So what is it about The Muppets that has prompted decades of popularity and reiterations?
What separates The Muppets Studio from typical production companies is their enthusiasm to embrace absurdity. Perhaps this is attributable to the very small amount of commercial intervention in the original series, and the independence of ITC Entertainment, the British company that originally produced the show. The otherworldly-ness, originally untouched by anyone other than the original creators, prompted the show to become something entirely unique.
The Muppet Show’s original format was quite vaudeville, the show taking place on a proscenium stage rather than on a typical film set. This, in itself, made the show a form of parody, taking the ‘sophisticated’ world of theatre and twisting it to be completely bizarre. It’s a show made for outcasts, thriving on its outlandish characters as well as its unique set and predicaments. People can be goofy, to an extent, but no person could ever be as eccentric and odd as a piano playing dog, or stand-up bear comedian. Puppets offer a whole new world of possibilities, and something about their fantastical personalities actually makes them more relatable.
The Muppets also thrive off of celebrity cameos and guests. However, unlike other talk shows, they don’t have the constraints of formality, allowing the viewers to see their favorite stars having genuine, childlike fun. In today’s age especially, people love to feel connected to their favorite celebrities. Seeing idolized people brought back to their roots, in a space that encourages spontaneity and goofiness, they become entirely more relatable. Late night shows, often criticized for their forced scripting and discomfort, don’t encourage the same whimsy.
Even today, in more current reiterations of The Muppets such as their ABC show (2016) or The Muppet Movie (2011), celebrities are performing scripted content, but it doesn’t feel forced. Puppets are inherently silly, and the inclusion of stars like Amy Adams, Reese Witherspoon, or Neil Patrick Harris dancing amongst them, often parodying their own content, is charming. It makes celebrities seem accessible, and much like how current generations love social media or reality TV, this is a really appealing element of The Muppets Studios.
Even though The Muppet Show started as a way of having puppets interview celebrities, the foam and felt cast soon became celebrities of their own. The Muppets aren’t limited by a human form, which makes them infinitely more expressive, distinct, and recognizable. There are hundreds of famous actors that look almost identical, that could play all the same roles if given the audition, but there’s only one green frog with a Hollywood star! Maybe it’s their recognizability that we can attribute their success to. Because, even as The Muppets are updated for young kids, the core characters remain untouched, unique, and timeless.