You've been hearing a lot about the new television season these past few days, so let's pause briefly to cast our minds back several decades to what the country, and the television schedule, looked like in the years 1976 - 1981.
It was a time of economic malaise, corduroy OP shorts and Annie Hall. A little band called 38 Special was teaching an eager nation how to Hold On Loosely. And on the VHF airwaves (ask your parents), the yuks came courtesy of Carter Country, BJ and the Bear, Love Boat and Supertrain.
It was also the time of The Muppet Show, that weekly vaudevillian showcase of the weird, the silly, the slyly smart, and the whatever-Gonzo-is. At once absurd and lovable, the show was Python with a heart, the Goon Show dosed with an unabashed love of sudsy production numbers. Every week, you and your family could watch celebrities of varying wattage (Julie Andrews! Raquel Welch! Nancy Walker?) spend a game half-hour stooping their shoulders and staring down into a pair of ping-pong eyeballs affixed to the end of Jim Henson's right arm.
The show ceased production in 1981. Muppet master Henson died just 9 years later, and the family sold the shop to Disney in 2004. Oh, movies and TV shows continued to be made, and the appearance of several Christmas-themed web shorts just last month may hint at big Muppety doings in 2010.
Last year, comics publisher BOOM! Studios acquired the Muppet Show license and released two 4-issue mini-series and two single-issue stories. Now BOOM! has launched an ongoing Muppet Show monthly series written and drawn by Roger Langridge, issue #1 of which arrives in comics shops today. (Completists take note: It's not technically the first issue - that honor belongs to the previously released issue #0. Yeah, I know.)
Now: It is a truth universally acknowledged that comics built around licensed TV properties often wear their Marketing Department provenance on their sleeves. Cynical, quickly made and narratively pointless exercises in cross-platform strategizing, many of 'em. (Ghost Whisperer, the Comic: Are your ears burning?)
After the jump: So where does the new Muppet Show comic rank in the grand scale of Muppetdom, which stretches from the gloriousness that is Rita Moreno's version of "Fever" to the ignoble abyss of ... Loretta Swit? (Yes, with video reference.)
Context is key. For this reason, we will grade the new comic on a scale from 1 to 10, where 1 represents the original Muppet Show's most regrettable two minutes and thirty-six seconds; and 10 represents the show's glorious, creative pinnacle.
Or to put that in more concrete terms:
THE MONKEY SEE SCALE O' MUPPETNESS
A crowning achievement in the annals of Muppetiana. Stellar. Golden. Perfect. One for the ages.
5: "The Rainbow Connection"
Iconic, yeah, but a steady stream of treacle runs through the center of this tune. Else it'd rank higher.
1: "I Feel the Earth Move"
The all-time nadir of musical Muppetry. Loretta Swit sings Carole King. Cringe-inducing. Of all Muppet Show moments ever captured on grainy videotape, the absolute Swittiest.
So How's the Comic Book?
It's pretty great, actually. Author/artist Roger Langridge, whose mordantly existential - and very, very funny - Fred the Clown webcomic-cum-indie book is worth seeking out - knows exactly what he's doing.
If we're to judge by the Muppet Show minis he's produced so far, things bode well. Langridge delights in stuffing his panels with jokes, allusions, terrible puns, musical numbers(!), board games and all manner of only barely controlled mayhem. Which is to say: he's nailed the tone.
And yet, happily, it doesn't read or look like work-for-hire; the book is distinctly his. Langridge's gift for parodying the tropes of comics, film, art and music, so evident in Fred the Clown and, especially, his 2000 book The Louche and Insalubrious Escapades of Art d'Ecco (which he co-authored with brother Andrew), gets a healthy workout here - albeit in an all-ages setting.
In drawing the Muppets, he captures what makes each recognizable while adding layers of his own, stylized design. The result: A book that bears little trace of the homogenized, let's-get-Production-to-sign-off-on-the-model-sheet house style you'd expect from any product even tangentially related to the House of Mouse.
A great book for kids - and for those of us who, after a beer or six, find ourselves poking around Youtube for clips in which Viking pigs sing The Village People. I've said too much.
So: The Grade?
A strong showing; Henson'd be proud. 8 out of 10, doo doo, doo doo-doo.