Reviews in the Nick of Time: Ken and the Muppets

by wjw on November 12, 2015

I don’t watch a lot of sitcoms.  It’s not that I don’t like to laugh, I just don’t have a lot of time for TV, and I choose to spend most of my limited TV time with dramas, possibly because dramas are pretty much what I write for a living, and that’s what interests me.  (Not that I haven’t done comedy, too.)

But I’ve been watching a couple of the new sitcoms, and I’ve become aware of how constricting the structure of a sitcom can be, even to the point where it works against the strengths of the stars.

First, The Muppets.  The 1970s Muppet Show was set in, on, and around a comedy-variety show, a common television format of the time.  The setting allowed for the hijinx of the characters, encounters with guest stars, and big, extravagant, often surreal musical numbers.  Like this one.

The Muppets is set behind the scenes on a late-night talk show, which make it more timely.  By now the characters have been in Hollywood for decades, and their hard-bitten cynicism is more apparent, and the jokes more pointed.  Piggy is much more unsympathetic than in past incarnations.  And of course the genius of Henson and Frank Oz is gone, leaving their replacements in a terrible situation: they’re stuck imitating their predecessors, and if they try anything new they’ll be flamed for daring to tamper with iconic characters.

But the main problem with the show is that it’s now a sitcom.  Every week there’s a sitcom-type problem to solve, a guest star who threatens Piggy’s primacy, and sitcom-type jokes.  The last few episodes, I’ve tried to picture to myself if the show would work with human comics in the roles instead of puppets, and it totally would.  This show could star Zach Galifianakis and Jane Krakowski, and it would pretty much be the same show.

A show with the Muppets should be something that only the Muppets can do.  It shouldn’t be stuck in a sitcom straightjacket, it should be deranged, anarchic, and over the top.  It should feature demented sketches like the one above.  It should have Harry Belafonte singing “Day-O” to a bunch of harmonizing bananas.  It should have Rita Moreno slamming Animal’s head between a pair of cymbals.   It should have Prince singing one of his hits against psychedelic CGI.

But you can’t picture any of that stuff on The Muppets.  Which is sad.

And speaking of straightjackets, that’s where we find Ken Jeong on Dr. Ken.  I’d been watching it because Jeong is pretty much the Korean Robin Williams, with the same demented, inventive energy, and a couple hundred voices; but all that is channeled into a family sitcom that is so less impressive than its star that I can only stare in disbelief.

What needs to happen here is that Jeong wakes up one morning with his head pillowed on the vast bosom of a Russian hooker in full clown makeup, and realizes that the earlier episodes in which he was a husband and father was a hallucination caused by bad drugs.  And then the show just becomes about whoever Jeong is on that particular day.

Which is a show that I would totally watch.  And then he and the Muppets could guest on one another’s shows, and that would be awesome.

Jim Janney November 17, 2015 at 5:14 pm

I remember watching the old Muppet show do a parody of Robin Hood and thinking “these guys could do The Hobbit.” I was probably wrong about that, but it would have been interesting to watch them try.

DensityDuck November 21, 2015 at 10:12 pm

It’s interesting that you mention Robin Williams, because the last project he worked on was a sitcom, and it had the same problem–the actor did best when he just did gonzo ad-lib stuff and the requirements of a TV sitcom do not really permit that. The best part of each episode–often the only truly funny part–was the outtakes where Williams and the cast just riff off each other. Honestly, I think we’d have been happy with just a half-hour of that every week; TV has matured to the point where you can get away with the most vulgar things Williams ever did in any of his acts, other than outright f-bombs. (Seriously, one episode outtake has Williams yelling “money shot” and then miming someone ejaculating on his face. And that’s right there on plain old CBS TV!)

wjw November 23, 2015 at 3:19 am

I watched that one for a few episodes, then gave up.

I think that series would have worked if they’d shown the Sarah Michelle Gellar character as being =even more crazy than her dad.= Instead they made her fairly sane, and she bogged down all the fun.

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