I am the first to say that I absolutely loved the version of The Muppets that debuted last Fall. However, not every fan felt that way. The biggest criticism was that the Muppets weren't being true to their character integrity and indeed, the Muppets did seem to grow up between their last film and the new series. I wasn't as bothered by it as others, but fan reaction was strong enough that ABC made the decision to replace the series' showrunner to lead it in a different direction.
The first new episode, "Swine Song," premieres on February 2nd and finds all of the Muppets returning from their individual winter vacations. Piggy in particular has returned a changed woman with a newfound appreciation for being single and famous. However, their return to work proves more challenging than they expected when the network forces a branding guru on the show who wants to change a lot of things.
The synopsis for the first episode of 2016 couldn't be more tongue-in-cheek to what is really going on behind the scenes of the show. While the new human enemy is going farther than ABC (probably) did, one has to wonder if the writers weren't inspired by their request to tone down the adult humor and ramp up the old school Muppetness. It doesn't take long to realize that things have changed, namely this episode isn't as funny as any of the previous ones. Jokes feel watered down and less inspired and when the guru sabotages Up Late's final act, Piggy and Kermit perform a country song. Part of the rebranding was supposed to infuse the series with more heart, but it's clearly yet to come by the end of "Swine Song."
If you're a big fan of the series and feel let down by the return episode like I did, I still recommend tuning in next week on February 9th for "A Tale of Two Piggies." The creative team strikes a better comedic balance in this episode and hits the emotions as well. While on the red carpet for the Zootopia premiere (SYNERGY!!!), Piggy's tail pops out and the media is not kind about it. Piggy uses her Up Late power to create awareness that she shouldn't be body shamed for the tail she was born with, but the network tries to silence her voice (Another writer jab at show changes, perhaps?).
Overall, neither of the new episodes made me laugh the way the first half of the season did. There is one gag in the second episode that tickled my funny bone courtesy of Lew Zealand (he's back!!!) and that episode gave me feels the same way shows like Modern Family do, but the loss of humor makes this feel like a shell of its former self. I hope the team is able to find the right balance, but I fear this it the beginning of the end. Ratings already weren't great before the break and if the average repeat viewer feels the same way I do post retool, audiences may not give it enough time to find itself... again.