One thing shines: it’s polarizing.
That was my big concern going into last night — are they relevant enough to pull this off anymore? Can today’s adults who grew up on exchanges like, “I’m Gladys Knight!” “Me too! Sure was a scorcher all day today!” find a new life in old characters, even knowing some of the voices are distinctly different and the hands in their felted cavities belong to someone else?
Indeed, the internet replied, The Muppets still matter. They matter enough for a million (really bored?) moms’ voices to suddenly cry out in terror as though something terrible has happened. They matter enough for this guy to indict our entire culture over the matter.
We’ll disregard the opinions of the former wingnut faction — the Muppets have ALWAYS been subversive. The ’70s-era show was steeped in broth of drug culture references and innuendo. That the re-launch last night poked fun of Internet dating and cross-species relationships is a simple, natural evolution.
More concerning to me is the drum writer Alex Pappademas beats in that latter article I mentioned above — “Three decades later, we have universalized this approach and rebooted nearly everything there is to reboot. We have burned all the furniture for fuel and we’re starting to chop away at the deck. We are a terrible, dispirited society and we finally have the terrible, dispirited Muppets we deserve.”
(He’s right in a lot of ways. Lord knows NO ONE NEEDS ANOTHER FUCKING SPIDER-MAN REBOOT.)
The “approach” he refers to is a shot at the “gritty reboot” Frank Miller gave us with his The Dark Knight Returns saga three decades ago, and the legion of like-minded fictional retreads-in-moody-lighting it inspired. He charges that more than just new stories with familiar characters set against a backdrop of a changing world, these reboots are reflections of sad adults in a sad world of our own making.
Actually, upon re-reading this, he really is right in the sense that in these cases, the creators of our mythos ARE writing for sad adults in a sad world. These characters belong to us. Batman is mine. Kermit is mine. I grew up with them, and the people still crafting these stories are my contemporaries. That their legends would evolve with me — the sad adult in the sad world — is actually okay.
Younger generations will have their own characters. Some may adopt mine, too (certainly Batman predated me and my father and I enjoyed him together), but today’s youth exist on platforms I don’t even SEE. The million moms screaming? Your kids are hanging out with PewDiePie on youtube. They couldn’t care less about whether or not Kermit and Piggy are actually fucking each other.
The greater problem is the insistence that our characters have to stay locked in a moment. That exploring new arcs is somehow sacrilegious. That new writers with new ideas would dare take our beloved characters on new adventures. That these characters might change from who they were when we first met them (and lest we forget, Kermit’s first incarnation was as a sadistic monster bent on forcing Wilkins Coffee down our throats with acts of extreme violence). That — worst of all — they might be a reflection of what our lives have become.
Pappademas says, “There’s something fundamentally wrong about a show in which the Muppets are the adults.” I think the real problem isn’t that these beloved characters are adults in this allegory.
It’s that WE are.