Muppets Tonight: Modern Nostalgia
In the article The Muppet Show: Nostalgia I wrote about The Muppet Show, a program that aired in 1976 starring The Muppets. The show had viewers see famous celebrities interact with puppets to sing, act, and generally act out hilarious skits. Unfortunately, the show eventually was cancelled in 1981. Fortunately, the Muppets eventually had a new show with a more modern aesthetic. Airing in 1996, Muppets Tonight basically took the premise of The Muppet Show and made some tweaks to appeal to modern audiences. First and foremost, instead of making the show in a theater, Muppets Tonight took place in a television studio. Naturally, this meant that the hijinks that made The Muppet Show popular were remade to fit a more modern context. For example, in the first episode, the viewer got to see some typical Muppets hijinks when the main plot was that the Muppets were not ready to start another new show and essentially a majority of the characters in the show appeared because of desperation. Also unlike The Muppet Show was the fact that some of the guest celebrities had some of their work on television or modern media acknowledged, some more negatively than others. And even some of the new Muppets introduced in Muppets Tonight got to have entire plots and sub-plots dedicated on fleshing-out different aspects to their characters in new and hilarious ways. Muppets Tonight was an attempt to bring the Muppets into a more modernized form of entertainment, and it worked.
In the first episode of Muppets Tonight the ongoing conflict was the fact that the Muppets did not have an actual episode created on its first day. As a result, everyone, Muppets included, did not know what to expect throughout the entire episode. Which meant that everything that was new in this episode was considered new for everyone. One of the major changes that occurred was the introduction to the new host of the show, Clifford. Predictably, Clifford expressed a huge amount of stress due to being promoted to the host of Muppets Tonight that during one hilariously hectic moment in Muppets Tonight caused him to hide inside of a supply cabinet. As an addition to the unpreparedness that was the Muppets Tonight pilot, another problem was that there was no actual celebrity guest like in The Muppet Show. Fortunately, this conundrum was temporarily solved by the introduction of Ms. Piggy, who was shown to be a lot more prideful of herself here than in The Muppet Show. Also introduced was a new pig-based parody of Baywatch starring new pig characters. Of course, as a way to appeal to viewers of The Muppet Show, Statler and Waldorf were still making appearances where they made fun of all of the skits, just from a retirement home. Eventually, the actual celebrity did make an appearance to be a guest on the show, but due to Ms. Piggy being promised a starring role, the next conflict was trying to keep Michelle Pfeiffer and Ms. Piggy from finding out about each other. Which fails. And ultimately results in Clifford being punched.
The interesting thing about Muppets Tonight was that it acknowledged the work each celebrity guest did in various comedic ways. Of course, while the Muppets in The Muppet Show treated all of their guests with respect and friendliness, the fact that soap operas introduced characters who were not very friendly meant that the Muppets in Muppets Tonight could react in terror. Like in the episode where Heather Locklear, who played a morally questionable character in Melrose Place, was a guest on the show. For the viewer, the idea that Heather was not like the character she played was understandable. For the Muppets, separating the actor with the character was somewhat more difficult. So the introductory scene had most of the studio hide from Heather Locklear inside a closet. Fortunately, the introductory skit featuring Heather indicated that some of the cast members were able to work with Heater. And cast Kermit the From as the villain. Unfortunately, the more scientific Muppets, Bunsen and Beaker, made it so that a more antagonistic Heather Locklear would show up more. Using snacks that altered one's personality to be either good or bad. For the misfortune of the studio, this meant that Heather Locklear would be in a forced emotional roller coaster until Bunsen and Beaker decided to use hypnosis to try and get Heather Locklear back to normal. Which failed miserably and resulted in Heather acting both nice and mean simultaneously. Which meant that a lot of the background characters getting beaten up. Fortunately, a well placed slap from a fish fixed everything in the end.
The difference between The Muppet Show and Muppets Tonight was that some of the guest might seem weird to viewers of the first show. Mostly because some of things some celebrities were famous for might not have been very well-known during The Muppet Show. One good example would be Rap Music. While The Muppet Show might not have acknowledged that genre much back in its day, Muppets Tonight actually featured celebrities of that genre. Like Coolio. And as shown in the first skit with Gonzo, Coolio was pretty good at acting as another character, if only for a short time. He was even able to act with Clifford to make a skit that parodied the band Milli Vanilli and make a more comedic explanation about the origins of Rap Music. And to coincide with this attempt to appeal to younger and more newer audiences to Muppets Tonight, new plots were introduced. In this episode the new plot was a hostile takeover of the studio that aired Muppets Tonight. Like most shows that dealt with hostile takeovers, everyone who worked in the studio decided to stage their own attempts to take back their show. Of course the new owner of Muppets Tonight started messing things up due to making poor decisions and making Muppets Tonight as a show a lot less entertaining to watch. Fortunately, by the end of Muppets Tonight everything was sorted out and the order was restored. And Coolio got to sing a shortened version of one of his songs.
The Muppet Show was a show where The Muppets made entire episodes set in an actual theater with celebrities that have acted on stage in different forms of media. Muppets Tonight was a show where The Muppets made entire episodes set in a television studio where the celebrities were more modern and were famous for acting in a form of televised media or another form of modern entertainment. And with this attempt of The Muppets to appeal to a more youthful audience came a change to the skits that were acted out. As a result, some of these skits were references to more modern shows. Shows like The Real World, Tales From the Crypt, and even Baywatch got to be parodied in some way. So in the end Muppets Tonight was a fun show like The Muppet Show, but with a modern twist.