Fall TV Preview
Muppets Million Moms Scandal

Muppets Under Fire: EP Insists 'Adult' Jokes Will Always 'Work on Two Levels'

A brewing brouhaha asks: Has the The Muppets’ very fabric changed?

When ABC first unveiled the 10-minute preview (embedded below) for its new comedy — which brings Kermit, Piggy et al back to life via the production of a late-night talk show — one of the few lines to possibly raise a stitched eyebrow had the frog alluding to Animal and the band always being happy, but now “legally.”

The Muppets‘ promotional campaign, including gossipy “news” items, have toed a similar line — Piggy’s new Tinder profile urges someone to “put this pig in a blanket,” while one promo shows Castle star Nathan Fillion doing an early-morning “walk of shame” from the porcine prima donna’s trailer — to the point that the One Million Moms organization has called for a boycott of what they call a “perverted” and “sexually charged” reimagining of familiar, kid-oriented creatures.

The new Muppets series was described at the TCA press tour by Kermit himself as more “adult,” though executive producer Bill Prady has since countered that “grown-up” is perhaps a better adjective. Sensing that such a hullabaloo was on the horizon, TVLine at press tour invited EP Bob Kushell to shine a light on where exactly the line lies as the felt-and-buttons figures reveal their personal lives to parent-and-child audiences.

“Jokes can work on two levels,” Kushell said when presented specifically with the band/drugs reference. “That’s a joke where the adults in the audience get to put two and two together,” whereas any rugrat in the room “has no idea” to what Kermit is alluding.

As the Muppets scribes dive deeper into this world, Kushell said, “Yes, there will be jokes that are pitched that are a little too risque, and then we have to find a way to make it more clever, I guess you would say, so that it works on two levels. That’s the fun challenge of what we do.”

At the time we spoke, Kushell said that “already, the writers are thinking in a way where you don’t go to the more racy joke first, you go to the clever way to say the racy joke. It’s becoming second nature very quickly.”

Though the Million Moms campaign aims to suggest that ABC’s The Muppets will not only cross questionable lines but do so on a weekly basis — somehow, they even hint that abortion will be a topic for the 8 o’clock family comedy — their formal complaint cites no specific examples of any such betrayal of the compact with the audience.

“Part of the excitement of doing this show,” Kushell said last month, “is to see where we can push the envelope but never push it so far that the adults feel embarrassed to watch it in front of their kids. That will never happen.”

“We know our audience is going to be families watching, adults watching with their children, so we’re not pitching stories or thinking of stories that are, like, Norman Lear stories from the 1970s,” he added. “[This show] not going to be that.”

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56 Comments
  1. Cat says:

    So….are kids the rugrats in the room who have no idea what is being alluded to……….?
    Because kids these days…….
    I think there are enough comedies pushing the envelope without the Muppets needing to do it too. There were always wink winks in the old show, but knowing TV these days….I can see them venturing into more adult waters.

    • Mark says:

      If your kids get the “grown-up” level of the joke, don’t blame the Muppets. They already learned it elsewhere first.

      • MrMank says:

        Well said, Mark.

      • damroberts744 says:

        Amen

      • Angela says:

        This. Heck, considering the way I hear some parents talk around their children, or argue with each other in front of their kids, or things of that sort, I’m willing to bet they’re the reason a lot of kids know about “adult” topics in the first place.
        When I was a kid, I was often in the room when my parents watched stuff that contained cuss words and innuendo and other adult humor/topics. Even watched some of that stuff with them. If I ever asked what they were talking about? My parents explained it to me, in an age-appropriate way, and…that was that. Crisis and drama averted, no biggie.
        Kids aren’t stupid, and I think a lot of adults tend to forget that. And so long as parents keep making a big a deal out of this stuff, and freak out and try and shield their kids from seeing anything on TV that might be even remotely controversial/offensive/adult, they’re only succeeding in making their children MORE curious about what they’re forbidden to see, not less curious.

    • Whatevah says:

      You know their puppets right?

      • Whatevah says:

        Please provide an edit button on this site! Ack..They’re puppets and this was directed to the mom group not anyone commenting here. :)

  2. SUSO says:

    These people HAVE seen the original “Muppet Show” right?

    • Cat says:

      Of course they have but just let me check……….that’s the one with the Hundred Acre Wood, right?

    • Guy says:

      That’s what i was going to say. Jim Henson created The Muppet Show because he wanted something that could be enjoyed by both kids and adults (since Sesame Street appealed only to kids). There was always wink-wink humor for adult viewers. Heck, even one of the pilots for the original show was called “Sex and Violence.”

  3. Is it the suggestion of beastiality they object to or merely the line of dialogue? lol. Muppets have dated humans before, so can’t be that, lol.

  4. The Grinch says:

    Have these people ever seen the original Muppet Show? It was the very definition of grown up and kid humor and it was brilliant. Hard to believe there was more grit and intelligence in television 40 years ago, on a major network level at least. Lots of quality adult fare on cable now, of course.

  5. So, One Million Moms boycotts the Muppets. Somewhere, Sam Eagle is grinning ear to ear.

  6. The Muppets have always done this. In their nineties revival, Billy Crystal and Miss Piggy re-enacted the restaurant scene from “When Harry Met Sally” (she was proving to him that she could convincingly fake a sneeze).

  7. Ellinas1978 says:

    Or parents can DVR it, watch it first and see if it’s appropriate for their kids. Now that’s a novel concept: parenting.

  8. Et al. says:

    1 million moms should spend less time worrying about tv shows and more time worrying about a new name considering they have less than 50,000 members.

  9. Shaun says:

    It’s more like Roger Rabbit than Looney Tunes I’m guessing.There are plenty of adult shows at 8.

    • Me says:

      Looney toons had a male character in drag hitting on other male characters to get out of scrapes. Nothing more grown up there either. Sometimes people just nitpick to the annoyance of others.

  10. Simon Jester says:

    Anything the One Million Moms want banned is something I ABSOLUTELY WANT TO WATCH.

  11. C4 says:

    They have a lot more to worry about than the controversial topics. They have to worry about being funny and entertaining. They failed in both.

  12. Elf says:

    Yes, let’s all heed the advice of a bunch of stuck up, holier-than-thou women who…
    A) Can’t count
    B) Don’t know how to turn their TVs off
    C) Don’t know how to change channels on their TV to the televangelist channel, something more on their mental wavelength
    D) Think if they don’t like something then nobody else should see it either
    E) Don’t know how to prevent their own kids from seeing programs they don’t like, so instead think it should be removed from TV entirely
    F) Cling to an antiquated notion of “the family hour” on TV, something that made sense when all you got was maybe seven channels and whatever UHF stations you could get on your rabbit ears.
    G) Don’t know how to (or don’t want to) remove the sticks from their posteriors
    H) Should just shut the **** up already

  13. JB Smooove says:

    see, there was a reason the Henson family didn’t want to sign the rights over to Disney after Jim died. they held out until now, and look at the crappy way they treat the muppets. the real muppets are the viewers that will watch.

  14. damroberts744 says:

    I can’t think of a show or film any more that isn’t in some way working to pull off the “works on two levels”. Lets face it though, for the most part One Million Mom’s is a pretty far right interest group. They hardly speak for society in a large sense.

    • Elf says:

      Well, “Two Broke Girls” pretty much only operates on one level. There’s no subtext. There’s barely even text. I’d love to see the Million Moms watch a few episodes of that and have their heads explode.

    • Et al. says:

      Fun fact: < 50,000 Moms is a branch of the American Family Association which has been designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

      • Bob Backus says:

        Southern Poverty Law Center- now that’s a joke! They are about as idiotic if not more so than the moms group. Their hate group list is pathetic and ridiculously/politically biased. Animal from the Muppets has more intelligent things to say then SPLC, or the moms group for that matter. SPLT- what a joke

  15. amadeline says:

    It debuted in Canada last night and was quite a surprise. I was so looking forward to it! However, it’s definitely not the Muppets we’re used to, and not that funny either. In fact just plain dumb a lot of the time. I probably won’t bother tuning in again.

  16. Rachel says:

    Why are the moms complaining? The muppets are on at 8:00 at night and most young kids should be in bed by then or at least I always was. Those kids have sesame street and what not they shouldnt be watching this. I always thought muppets were more PG rated anyway, which is geared for 13 and up I think. The jokes are rightly appropriate for that age range.

  17. Kate says:

    Hasn’t this always been the case with the Muppets? I am of an age where I could watch some later edition of the show when I was young, and my dad would always watch with me and we laughed in different places. And, has anyone seen like any of the Muppet movies? I mean, they are kind of dark if you pick apart the plot and like insert normal humans into their roles. I mean, does anyone know the events that surround The Rainbow Connection?

  18. The biggest problem with the show is it isn’t funny. It also lacks any charm.

  19. makparis says:

    Have these Million Mom’s seen the movies or the show? There have always been double entendre jokes and many of them leaning on the racy side.
    In the original movie there is a song with Rowlf and Kermit singing about women and a line that goes: “We grin and bear it ’cause the nights are long.” Who do these mom’s think they want filling their nights?

  20. Hayes says:

    There’s always someone offended by something these days. It’s ridiculous. We’ve lost the chill!

  21. peterwdawson says:

    So it’s what they did before, but less subtle. To quote Community, “There was a time for subtlety, and that time was before Scary Movie.”

  22. Venus says:

    The One Million Moms With Too Much Freetime can calm their tits, this shown won’t last more than two seasons

  23. fantomex9 says:

    Blank these silly fundie fools, who cares what they think? Nobody said they have to watch it or see it; they can stick to their Christofascist fundie garbage that they love to watch a lot, Or stay stuck in the past in the nostalgia bath from all of those old shows they watch.

  24. Bob Backus says:

    ““Jokes can work on two levels,” . . . whereas any rugrat in the room “has no idea” to what Kermit is alluding.”

    Perhaps someone should tell that moron that the quote is the very definition of a joke working on one level only. If the only level understood is the drug or sex level then it works on one level. DUH!

    My kids have grown so I didn’t think about it while watching the show, so it didn’t bother me. I guess I can see how it bothers others tho.

  25. travelmomof4 says:

    This is sick. Muppets are for kids. No adult innuendos or themes are necessary. So stupid.

  26. Nancy Darbique says:

    Oops. “Pushing the envelope” consistently translates to “relying on badly written innuendo and passe’ lib agendas to attract Gen Y, kill time, and distract everyone for our lack of innovative characterization and plot” and it’s everywhere. Yawn. “Hey, I farted!” Yawn. “Boobies!” Yawn. “I’m/you’re/they’re gay and it’s shocking!” Yawn. Thank God it didn’t fly with audiences this time. A glimmer of hope for our collective US IQ?