New Muppet videos debut on YouTube
Disney returns to the Classic Muppet style in new videos exclusively premiering on YouTube
Courtesy of Globe and Mail
When you've got a hammer, everything looks like a nail.
And when you've got a franchise, everything starts to look like a licensing
That seems to have been the sad fate of the Muppets,
those genius creations that started off as implements of education and satire,
but wound up endlessly adapted into ever more tiresome remixes — A Muppet
Christmas Carol, Muppets in Space — whose reviews have become ever more
In fact, wandering the Internet, it's hard not to detect
Muppet nostalgia in the air. There's also the lingering gloom that accompanies a
once-great brand — think of Saturday Night Live, never able to escape the
conventional wisdom that its glory days have come and gone.
It's as if the franchise has been making decades of
withdrawals on the capital it built up with the relentlessly inventive Muppet
Show, until not much is left. It's hard not to see Kermit on a talk show these
days (he was on Live with Regis and Kelly in 2006) without taking him as a token
of better times, when he had something entertaining to say.
Cue the Internet, eager to help. The place is awash in
Muppets. Muppet Show clips are one of the many colonies of pilfered material
that thrive on YouTube. Ditto Sesame Street, which has become a major player in
the online nostalgia industry, as Elmo-hating thirtysomethings massage
long-dormant neurons with the sound of the Pointer Sisters counting to 12.
Not only have the Muppets' owners not fumigated YouTube
to purge it of their material (the copyrights are scattered across Disney,
Sesame Workshop, and the Jim Henson Company), they've actively hopped on board.
Sesame Street, for instance, has a wealth of archival footage up. And when a preview of Leslie Feist's appearance on Sesame Street,
counting only to four — more evidence of declining educational standards! — was
released last week, it immediately became a viral video in its own
And now, brand-new Muppet Show sketches designed
especially for the Web have started appearing on YouTube. They're there under
the guise of being posted by the characters themselves. In the best tradition of
viral marketing campaigns, their real origins have been left mysterious. They
do, however, give every indication of being official productions; Disney
listened very politely to my questions on this subject, and didn't call
But any corporate skulduggery is forgiven for one simple
reason: These things are good. Not just passingly cute, but somehow reminiscent
of what made the Muppets tick in the first place.
They're short pieces, mostly musical sketches: The Swedish Chef and Beaker
sing the Habanera from Carmen with only
the words "bork" and "meep;" Gonzo and his trained chickens cluck out the Blue Danube Waltz; Sam, the American Eagle, his attitude as
relevant as ever ("WORLD wide web? Is there a way to put this on just the
American part?"), leads an Independence Day sing-along. At the end of each,
Statler and Waldorf, the disagreeable old men in the balcony, peer into a
computer screen and deliver a zinger. "How many hits did that thing receive?"
"Unfortunately, not enough to kill it!"
Groan. It's all very self-aware; a couple of the skits
are even explicit send-ups of the split-screen videos that have proliferated on
YouTube lately, in which one person sings different parts of the same song into
their webcam, then splices them all together in one Brady Bunch-style
It should have been a recipe for disaster. Loading down
an act with trendy Web references is a tactic that's as promising as trying to
impress your teenagers with cool slang. Did Muppets in Space go south? Then
let's try "The Muppets Go Viral"! But these shorts left me tickled. Not just
because I was passingly amused, but because they give me a glimmer of optimism
for a franchise I'd given up on years ago. In their ephemeral way, these shorts
drill down to the same substance that's on display in all those old Muppet Show
clips: musical sketch comedy, well sung and absurdly executed.
What happened? It's as if, by trying to wedge the
Muppets into the conventions of viral video, the producers of these shorts
accidentally got back to basics. The Muppets never really needed to adapt to the
Web in the first place: Their oldest sketches meet the same criteria that help
propel a viral video today: short, instantly accessible, diverting, catchy. They
were Web stars decades before the thing was invented.
The Muppet Show was, first and foremost, a variety show.
For everything else its creators packed into that half-hour, it always did
justice to its musical acts. Later Muppet incarnations tried to capitalize on
the popularity of the characters by using them as storytelling implements, which
eventually lent them the sad feeling of a bunch of actors getting together long
after their show closed. The new YouTube shorts signal that the show is back on
There's a lesson here for those who are still searching
for the right way to adapt video for the Web. The answer isn't to be endlessly
self-referential, or to contort to match the perceived whims of new media. Stick
to a simpler ethos: It's time to play the music. It's time to light the
Video: "All I Need is Love" with CeeLo Green and The Muppets
on The Voice Tuesday November 27
Muppets Take Disney Store Manhattan November 27
Muppet Christmas Carol arrives on Blu-ray November 6
and Miss Piggy on "Best in TV" ABC special September 18
• "Kermit's Party" viral
videos from Bounty Paper Towels
Electric Mayhem on Jimmy Kimmel March 21
• Miss Piggy
and Sharon Osbourne go head-to-head on The Talk