Most of the panel discussions that happen at the Television Critics Association press tour currently underway in Beverly Hills have something critical in common: the panelists are humans. (Please hold your jokes about Hollywood. The critics in attendance have made them all.)
Tuesday morning, that all changed when ABC presented its new show The Muppets, a reality-style mockumentary about the behind-the-scenes happenings at Miss Piggy's new late-night talk show. At first, the stage was taken by Bill Prady and Bob Kushell, the writer-producers, alongside a certain well-known frog who answers, in his way, to "Kermit." But inevitably, the empty fourth chair was filled by Miss Piggy, who crawled her way out from under the table to join the group.
There's something a little bit weird about asking puppets questions; let's just get that out of the way right now. This was not the same kind of press conference that happens when four flesh-and-blood people who are not childhood iconography for much of the room's assembled press corps sit for questions. There were certainly questions to the producers about what to expect from the show, none of which yielded anything especially different from the ten-minute tease that's already online. But mostly, everybody wanted to talk to the pig and the frog.
Kermit explained that his romantic relationship with Piggy is over, so the show deals in part with the challenges of working with your ex. He reports that he's now dating a different pig entirely, who goes by the name of Denise, who works in marketing for ABC. (You can see Denise in that tease I mentioned.) Apparently, Kermit has a type. It's pigs.
If you really want to get a sense of what the sense of humor on the show might be like, look to a comment that Kermit made when he was addressing the history of the Muppets franchise and getting back on television (transcribed in real time to the best of my ability): "Like most Hollywood stars, we are wholly owned subsidiaries of a large company." That slight sense of ironic distance is in keeping with what the original Muppet Show always was. It was always a behind-the-scenes sendup of a form, even if that form was vaudeville or variety shows. So the fact that now they're more sending up celebrity/reality culture – as with the discussion of whether or not they were still together – makes some sense.
Still, it's hard to feel like we learned much, as opposed to watching a performance. I mean, what do we learn from asking Miss Piggy how she avoids looking "porky" on television? Perhaps the best approach in a situation like this is simply to give up and ask questions that seem like fun puppet questions. At the very end of the panel, someone asked Miss Piggy whether, given her well-known martial arts skills, whether she'd be willing to take on UFC champ and movie star Ronda Rousey. "I will meet anyone, anywhere, anytime," Miss Piggy said. And let's be honest: if none of the flesh-constructed humans are making that call yet, they probably should be.