I finally watched the new Jason Segel Muppets movie over the weekend. “But Gabe, that movie came out months ago. It’s simply not topical!” Well what do you want to talk about, DEMI MOORE’S NEW TWITTER HANDLE? No. We’re going to talk about this now because there are things to say about it and if you want to see a Japanese man running around like a monkey you can go to every other blog today, or you can wait because we’ll probably post it later when we get desperate. But, so, the “new” Muppets movie: it’s good! You should see it. THE END. Just kidding. There’s more! So, as you know, I am virulently anti-nostalgia. I think it’s a dangerous wasteland of sapped energy and lazy thinking. Nothing has ever been better than it is right now. Think about today, prepare for tomorrow, eat delicious sandwiches whenever possible, that’s my motto. It’s fine to have fond memories of the past, but to dwell on them, or to regurgitate them constantly and/or use them as deflection shields from dealing with the present is simply no good. The Muppets certainly indulged in that poison nectar. Not only are the muppets themselves a nostalgiac artifact at this point, but the movie is a self-referencing rumination on the franchise’s past glories. It even includes a rendition of “Rainbow Connection” for heaven’s sake. (Not that some us, and it could have been any of us so there’s no use pointing fingers because it’s rude, didn’t find it entirely heartwarming and delightful. BUT STILL.) Nevertheless, the movie was fun and charming and full of good humor and positive energy and all our old friends and everything.

But there’s this other thing I was thinking about when I was watching it: where is OUR generation’s The Muppets. And I don’t mean that in the typical blow off, haha fart noise joke joke poke in the ribs way either. I mean it sincerely: what are we even DOING these days?

The fact that 40 years ago there was a prime time comedy show that appealed to adults as well as children featuring brilliantly constructed puppets in an homage to vaudevillian showbiz and this show aired on a major network and was wildly popular is pretty incredible. That really happened? Yes. The humor was gentle but intelligent, family friendly but not watered down. The puppets were works of art. The show was a treat. So where’s ours?

I’m not saying that we need an actual Muppet Show. We already had that. It’s over! But we do need something that embodies that same sense of joy and magic. That’s what we are missing. Now, before you head down the misguided road of golden hued nostalgia for a bygone era, remember this: television is genuinely enjoying a Golden Age right now. It’s crazy how much good stuff is on that stupid thing. And back when The Muppet Show actually aired, almost everything else on television was complete and utter garbage. How do I know that? Because it’s always true. Even right now, you’ve got a Kardashian for every Justified. A couple million people watch Mad Men and 10 times that number watch reruns of Two Broke Girls. It’s just the law of the TV Jungle. It’s fine! If anyone ever wonders why there is so much garbage on TV or in movie theaters the answer is really simple: because people love that garbage. So stop complaining. It’s not helping.

We live in dark times, and cultural barriers fall away, and that leaves us with Breaking Bad. But it’s not like the 1970s weren’t hell of fucking dark, too. You had recent tragedies fresh in people’s minds (World Wars, Presidential Assassinations) and a minor conflict called the Vietnam War. You had the nuclear cloud of the Cold War hanging over everyone’s heads, skyrocketing gas prices, and the Iranian Hostage Crisis. It was a mess! Just like it’s still a mess and has always been a mess and will always be a mess! (See again the part about how it’s never been better than it is now. Although it has been worse!) But even there amidst all of those troubles and concerns, there was The Muppet Show. Just because things are bleak does not mean we lose our capacity for charm and magic and wonder and amusement. It was inside us the whole time! (LOL GROSSSSS.)

It’s very easy to just say that people should be more creative and imaginative and brilliant, but that doesn’t make it any less true: THEY SHOULD! We’ve got the gritty Dark Knights and the depressive Louies and the anal swords of Game of Thrones pretty well covered. We’re like a rheumatic Statler and Waldorf complaining to an empty theater. I thought it was time to start the music! I thought it was time to light the lights! So let’s!

Oh wait, I’ve got it. Demi Moore should change her Twitter handle to @DEMIMOORE.

Comments (43)
  1. Gabe is very strongly of the opinion that things have never been better than they are now. He’s also said that we’re in a golden age of television. I notice these things are coinciding with another recent development:

  2. She could just keep her current Twitter handle if she gets a sex change and legally changes her last name to Skutcher.

  3. Gabe, you should seriously watch Adventure Time. That show is pure joy and magic.

    • So it’s the exact opposite of a reuben sandwich? Because those are all despair and technology.

    • Oh my glob, I was planning on making the exact same recommendation.

    • Yes! Was thinking of Adventure Time as I was reading this post. I love AT (obvs, from my avatar). The show is very funny and creative. It appeals to both kids and the “young at heart,” and there are a few jokes that seem to have miraculously slipped past Cartoon Network’s censors and would only be caught/appreciated by adults. “Pure joy and magic” is a great way to describe Adventure Time. It’s such a genuine and refreshing take on kids’ television and it’s only been getting better with each new season.

    • I’d posit that Regular Show is equally funny. But to answer Gabe’s question, there are things that exist with this same kind of vigor, zest, and optimism, but most of pop culture is so singular today that it simply won’t resonate on the level of a Muppet Show. Much of what was touched on Retromania or what Touré has also kind of championed, the thinking that there are no longer water cooler moments. It’s very rare that we are all watching the same thing, let alone the same positive or hopeful thing.

      Why is the latter point true? That’s maybe a symptom of the jaded world that we live in now. Sure. But I think it’s similar to my byline whenever people try to tell me that music is no good anymore. If you really look for something great, you’ll find it.

    • I’d like to suggest Yo Gabba Gabba as, if not a Muppet equivalent, a solid new Sesame Street for today.

  4. Thanks for bumming us out about our lack of a Muppet-equivalent, Gabe Downer Jr.!

  5. No Nostalgia = Gabe never eats the same sandwich twice.

  6. I assumed Salsa Dog was our muppets.

    • It’s a joke, but this is kind of a good point. People watched the Muppets to ‘feel good’ amidst all the heavy-handed seriousness or plain old bad quality garbage going on around it. We’ve just found a much more efficient way to get our dose of that. The Internet has become the new escape where we can get that instant shot of pleasure from watching a cat video or a two-year old falling down the stairs or whatever, that we might have once got from a show like the Muppets (that was as much slapstick as it was sentimental). It’s just in a format now where every 90 seconds we get to choose what form that entertainment takes. It removes the cultural significance that something like the Muppets had because none of us is watching the same thing, but then we create communities like Videogum to showcase what we’re watching in a way that we can share and enjoy them together, and develop them into our own form of pop culture.

      So I guess what I’m trying to say is, we are our Muppets.

      Or, if you’re looking for a more long-form equivalent actually related to the medium being discussed, how about Pixar?

    • I don’t even have to read what you write anymore. I just upvote it automatically.

    • I immediately perked up just reading the words “Salsa Dog”.

  7. Pastor of Muppets is missing his (her?) cue.

  8. I have no idea what kids like. Yo Gabba Gabba? Harry Potter? SYTYCD? Does it have to be a tv show? Maybe 9/11 eradicated that part of our creative accolades for the time being. Entertainment media was definitely affected as much as everything else. Doctor Who?

  9. @ModernDemi – “i’m saucy”

  10. to address your argument for “our generation’s Muppets”…essentially, you’re being nostalgic for mass culture, something that just cannot exist any longer.

    we all want to think we still can live in a The Muppet Show world, but in reality, we now live in a

    world.

    now allow me to use this puppet to educate you on how the internet has lead to the polarization and politicization of everything

    • Yeah, I definitely agree with this.

      Also, after it is revealed to internet-accessing adults that there is an awful world out there that runs primarily on anonymous hateful comments and FAILvideos, I think people become more cynical. And they crave entertainment and content that displays things that they can make fun of (Hoarders), incompetent unredeeming characters (Two and a Half Men), and people falling off giant balls on an obstacle course (Can’t recall the name).

      I don’t know if I have lost the capacity for magic and wonder, but videos like the kid becoming batman for a day make me feel sad, rather than happy. And I’ve got to think the internet has something to do with that.

      Also, it’s hard to hear about desperation for posting things when I submitted, a month ago, a perfectly good video of a man with a severed foot.

    • ps. if anyone wants to be relieved of the constant anger, frustration, and anxiety of the current cultural climate while pining for an “easier, simpler time” where much of this ignorance, hatred, and animosity didn’t exist – i encourage you to read Nixonland. it’s a long one, but as I read it – during those tough days of the constant Republican debates, etc. I was completely relieved of that dread.

      back then, people said even worse things about other people – it just wasn’t more of a big deal b/c it wasn’t put on every news channel and watched on YouTube 30 million times and endlessly mocked, etc….so much of what was happening then [the 1960s] is happening now, with minor substitutions in the players. and despite very prominent and powerful people saying and doing some truly awful things to others, specifically those that were “different” or had different beliefs – things generally turn out ok. the right side usually wins, and things just take time, and there will always be a contingent of ignorant, hateful people who are really just afraid of change pulling back on a society, culture, or world moving forward without them.

      so I find it a waste of energy, time, and an unnecessary cause of stress to get caught up in the day-to-day bullshit that causes such fragmentation and the more people back away from that the better off we’ll all be. and, hey! if we and all decide to unplug from that, and sit down and all watch something together once a week, maybe we can find our generation’s Muppets. now where’s the fucking remote?

      • Hey, the world has always sucked. During the 1828 campaign, J.Q. Adams accused Andrew Jackson’s wife of being a bigamist (she technically was). One thing that should be said is that people are nostalgic for the “simpler” time of when they were kids because they were kids then and they didn’t have to deal with real world bullshit. Of course it seemed simpler. But, it never was.

  11. I read on the internet that the alt ending to the muppets movie was that the old dudes – stadler and waldorf or whatever – were supposed to chip in the last dollar in a final capitulation to the quality of the muppets. that would have been rad to the hella indeed

  12. I finally got around to watching Easy Rider for the first time last night, and let me just say that I was not prepared for the violence in that film. Also, the movie was a revelation in many ways. I recommend it for anyone who is also 40 years behind in their familiarity with defining American cultural documents.

  13. 30 Rock is like the Muppet Show. But it’s more of a throwback to SNL and The Muppet Show than it is the representative and next step in all-ages appeal.

    When I glance at the photo of them I always see Bunsen Honeydew as Dr. Spaceman for a quick second.

  14. There is a porn theatre called Cinema L’Amour here in Montreal that was one of the first theatres in the city, with gorgeous ceiling murals and gilded red velvet opera boxes (I know this not because I am the type of person who enjoys watching porn en masse, but because a group that shows grindhouse movies once a month rented it for a special Valentine’s Day/Black History Month showing of Blacula and Coffee). Anyway, I’ve always wanted to sit (on towels) in the box seats and hold up “ZZZZZ” signs or heckle through the showings. The only thing stopping me, really, is that the boxes are reserved for groups and I’m too chicken to find out what that means in the world of porn theatres.

  15. I feel like Spongebob captures a lot of that joy and magic and purity and sense of wonderment. I don’t watch the show regularly enough to really push the comparison, but I will say when I saw that movie (as a wee 21 year old), I was just blown away by how much fun I had.

  16. I think you may be looking to equate something you can’t equate Gabe. It was a different time. All times are distinct. There is no Muppets equivalent because there can’t be. We have many more options on TV now than we did then. When I was a kid, I was glued to the TV set to watch the Muppets. I’m sure the kids are now as well (to watch something else). Adults like it but my mom said I watched it so much she ended up hating it.
    We also had to go and seek out movies and shows to find that were not in the mainstream. It’s much easier now to find a niche. What I’m saying is – you can’t compare the two times. At least I don’t think so.

    • I agree with this, especially the part about so many more choices now. I have 500 channels on Direct TV and pretty much unlimited access to any shows I want online; when the Muppets originally aired, there were 3 major networks and you had to have rabbit ears to tune in any of them.

  17. I think the next Muppets movie should have the Muppets dealing with an alcoholic and suicidal Nanny, who has been depressed ever since her babies left the home. You can mix the lighthearted nature of the loveable Muppets and the dark, grittiness of Nanny’s inner turmoil over becoming a recluse once her babies abandoned her and moved on to greatness.

  18. Did anyone see the Fashion Police where Joan Rivers interviewed Miss Piggy?
    “If I knew you had prepared Pig Jokes I would have brought some Dinosaur Jokes.”
    “You are such a bitch.”
    I LOVED IT! couldn’t find a clip in the ten seconds i was on google looking for it….ah well. trust me it was great!

  19. I watched the Alice Cooper episode of the Muppets last night and nothing — nothing — you guys have mentioned comes near the quality and tiered level of comedy and entertainment that i saw last night (and as a kid). The Simpsons is the closest I can think of, but they have become a lot less tiered and a lot less subversive than they used to be.

    Seriously, that Alice Cooper ep is AMAZING.

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