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'The Muppets' is a misfire
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In this image released by ABC, Kermit the Frog, left, and Gonzo the Great appear in a scene from "The Muppets." - photo by Jim Bennett
Im sad to say the debut of ABCs new series The Muppets left me cold.

It wasnt anything like the original "Muppet Show," nor was it tonally similar to the thoroughly delightful movie revival and its less-delightful-but-still-somewhat-delightful sequel.

Both of those films treated the Muppets as a corny-but-lovable anachronism in the modern world, and there was much humor to be mined from a juxtaposition of puppets with people who walked the line between silliness and cynicism.

The new show makes no attempt to walk that line. It fully embraces real-world cynicism and throws the Muppets right into the middle of it.

The whole thing is done in the style of mockumentary shows like The Office and Parks and Recreation, with much of the plot driven by Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy sniping at each other over their recent breakup. The breakup is shown in flashback, and its neither funny nor tragic; its just painfully awkward. Keep in mind these are not characters who have heretofore been portrayed with naturalistic, complex emotional lives. But now, suddenly, theyre biting and sarcastic, and genuinely cruel to each other, and it diminishes both of them as a result.

Romantic tension and will-they-or-wont-they questions have fueled many a sitcom over the years, but theres a big difference between the Sam and Diane, Ross and Rachel, Jim and Pam dynamic and a felt frog dating a felt pig. Puppets dont age; they dont gain weight even though Miss Piggy accuses Kermit of getting a tummy at one point and they dont have the capacity to demonstrate a variety of emotions. Thats why Kermit, for decades now, has been consistent both in appearance and in disposition. Hes a good-hearted, kind, gentle soul who never wavers in his friendship.

Yes, real people arent that simple, but this is Kermit the Frog were talking about. Hes a live-action version of a childrens cartoon. Who really wants to see him deal with bitter relationship drama? Does anyone want to see Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse go through a nasty divorce? Its as if the upcoming Peanuts movie were about Charlie Brown being the subject of a custody hearing. Ick.

As I watched the new show without laughing, I kept wondering who the intended audience of this thing was supposed to be. Certainly, it isnt children, who have adored these characters in a variety of settings and have always been welcome in every Muppet incarnation.

Yes, the original Muppet Show was a bit more grown up than Sesame Street, but I still watched it as a kid and enjoyed every minute of it. All of the Muppet movies were family friendly, even though they had more of an edge to them than the public television versions. Deliberately alienating children with the new material seems like a really stupid decision, both artistically and commercially.

So if kids arent the target for this new series, who is? It slowly dawned on me that Im the demographic theyre trying to reach. Im a middle-aged guy who grew up on the Muppets and have a nostalgic affection for them. So, of course, I would tune in for the first few episodes. Since Im more sophisticated than I was when I was a prepubescent, they gambled that I would want to see these beloved characters deconstructed and postmodernized.

They couldnt have been more wrong. The reason I loved the recent movie revival is that it brought the Muppets into the 21st century unchanged, and that allowed me to spend two hours in a theater feeling like a kid again. This new series just made me feel very, very old.

No, thanks.