You know what really gets my goat? When some asshole badmouths the most beloved children's franchise of all time. It's like, come on, guy. Have you ever seen the Muppets? The guys who are always walking around all wonky with their bulging eyeballs and collaborating with the best musicians in the world? You sure we're talking about the same puppets here?
Before I go any further, I should mention that I don't particularly care for kids. They are loud, emotionally unstable, and their sense of humor is too slapsticky for my taste. So it makes sense that I usually hate children's TV shows, because they cater to a demographic that I do not like. That said, I love the Muppets, and I'll tell you why.
I love the Muppets because they are not retarded. One of Jim Henson's great achievements in kids' television was his ability to communicate with children without talking down to them (which is easy to do, because children are very stupid). The show bridged the gigantic gap between popular culture and kid culture. Steve Martin, Elton John, Peter Sellers… these are the caliber of performers regularly seen holding conversations and playing music with anthropomorphic puppets on The Muppet Show in its heyday. The bits were actually funny, too. Decades before The Cute Show!, Don Knotts was hosting its antithesis, "Beast of the Week," a sketch that presented "the most hideous, repulsive, and disgusting animals in the world, just to amuse [you] sweet little kiddies."
Another thing I love about the Muppets is that they actually exist. If you were a guest star on an episode of The Muppets, you could punch Gonzo in his fucked up nose or shave Swedish Chef's eyebrows if you felt so inclined. Now, kids' cinema is more or less dominated by Pixar, and while I enjoyed Finding Nemo as much as the next 11-year-old, for all their advancements in graphics and design, at the end of the day I find a talking frog that actually exists much more relatable than a digitized fish saved on some hairy guy's computer.
And while we're talking about relatability, did you know that (according to Michael Davis via Wikipedia (sorry, I'm not going to buy his book for this blog post)) the puppeteers developed the Muppets' personalities over long periods of time and as new Muppets were created, they were "test-driven, passed around from one Henson troupe member to another in the hope of finding the perfect human-Muppet match." How freaking awesome is that?
All that said, I'll admit to being a bit worried when I heard the jock from Freaks and Geeks was starring in and co-writing the new film. But, after reading numerous interviews (including one with Rolling Stone where he says his house is "literally packed" with puppets), I'm willing to give the goofy bastard the benefit of the doubt. Despite Frank Oz's reservations (the guy who played Fozzy, Animal, and Miss Piggy, among other classic characters), Jason Segel might be the perfect guy to introduce the Muppets to a new generation. If the Muppets are going to stay relevant, they're going to need someone who is well-versed in contemporary culture but also a Muppet freak mindful of Henson's unique approach to kids (pretending they aren't stupid).
Jason, if you're reading this, I'll be sitting in the theater with 200 children and parents tomorrow. You better not have Forgetting Sarah Marshalled this one.
For the other point in this pointless debate, click here.