Jenny, Mary, Nadia, and Lady Holiday

Published: March 8, 2021
Categories: Commentary, Feature

This article was guest written by the terrific Maria Nance! Many thanks to Maria for her unique insight and dedication!

As Muppet fans, we know that the Muppets have always been a so-called “Boys Club.” Even today, the main principal performers are male. The majority of writers have been men. With the hundreds of thousands of male characters, the (Disney) Muppet troupe has about four recurring, developed, female characters. Miss Piggy, Janice, Camilla, and Yolanda. Sure, there’s Annie Sue Pig, Afghan Hound, Hilda, Mildred Huxtetter, Miss Mousey, Lydia, and tons more, but they’re hardly “recurring”, especially these days. (Not that that stops me from loving them – there was a time many years ago where I would exclusively write Annie Sue fanfiction. Will said fanfiction ever see the light of day? No. Will it still haunt me by the time I’m in my fifties? Probably.)

As you can tell, it takes a lot for the Muppets to introduce new female characters, so we also have to look toward the Muppets’ human characters to contribute to the gender diversity. In recent years, we’ve been introduced to Mary and Nadia, seen in The Muppets and Muppets Most Wanted, respectively.

I adore Amy Adams, always have, always will. She’s a brilliant performer and singer, so when you put her with the Muppets, she should do things, right? That’s the point of having human actors with the Muppets, to work off of them? Because the character of Mary doesn’t do that, she doesn’t have a character arc, she doesn’t have too much of a personality, we barely know anything about her! Except one thing: she’s Gary’s girlfriend. She’s specifically the nagging girlfriend trope. This is not a slight towards Amy Adams, or any of the female actors in this article, this is just to say they deserve oh, so much more. When rewatching The Muppets, specifically taking a look at the character of Mary, it hit me. Mary is nothing more than character development fodder for Gary. If you replaced her with an office job back home, the movie would not change one bit. 

Gary not only lets his younger brother play third-wheel on their tenth anniversary trip, he volunteers them constantly to help find the Muppets, help fix the theater, help Walter with his act, without consulting her on any of it! Next thing you know, he’s coming home with a dog and a cat, without your consent, finding out you’re allergic, with no way to give them back to the adoption agency! Then it’s unpaid credit card bills and using your credit card without your permission, maxing it out! You deserve not only a better partner, Mary, but a whole character that’s not tied to him. 

She doesn’t even feel like a character, she’s a plot device with no agency. Even in the scenes she’s in, Gary or Walter take up all the action. When Gary says they’re going to keep helping the Muppets, Mary says one thing: “Don’t forget about me, or our Friday anniversary dinner!” GUESS WHAT HE DOES! GUESS! I WANT YOU TO GUESS WHAT HE DOES! She deserves a personality that isn’t steeped in depression over her boyfriend’s lack of attention. Because besides that, I’m not seeing one. In her song, “Me Party”, she sings, “My man ain’t here, he’s gone and done me wrong.” Which is the complete truth, but what about you, Mary? What do you have that’s not Gary? What do you have that’s your own? This song isn’t even your own, it’s a duet with Piggy! You or Piggy can’t even have your own damn solo in this movie!

When Gary shows up at her doorstep at the end of “Man or Muppet” there’s no apology, he’s just there so she immediately hugs him and they have dinner on the porch, instantly forgiving him, because that’s what two-dimensional movie girlfriend types do. And almost immediately after, she volunteers to sacrifice her only “want” in the film – her anniversary dinner with Gary – so he can return to Walter and the Muppets. And the end of Mary’s so-called character arc is that Gary proposes? Woof. Ouch. Oof.

So how would I fix her? Easy, make her a mechanic (as she teased, fixing a car in her introductory scene), allow her to use her skills throughout the film to help move the story along, give her a personality outside of the men in her life, and a character arc. It’s not that hard when writing any character! It certainly wasn’t this hard to figure it out for the male leads.

Compare her to Jenny from Muppets take Manhattan. In her very first scene, we learn so much about who she is and what her ambitions are. She’s a living, breathing person who lives in New York. We learn she’s a student, later confirming at a fashion school. She’s putting on a waitress uniform over her street clothes, showing us she works at Pete’s Luncheonette. In her next few casual interactions, we quickly learn that she’s Pete’s daughter, Rizzo’s coworker, and a friendly presence to her regular customers. We get all that from a few actions and lines of dialogue, we can see what her life is like and we’ve just met her! She’s determined to be a fashion designer, she’s hardworking, and supportive. Already, she’s more fleshed out than Mary was throughout her entire movie.

Through the course of Manhattan, we see that Jenny has a background that reverberates through the story (helping Kermit assemble his costumes) that culminates in a larger opportunity and reward (designing costumes for a Broadway show). She has her own sub-plot, pursuing a friendship with Kermit while slowly gaining Miss Piggy’s trust. And she has a real personality – proving herself to be friendly and driven, but never overbearing. I have no notes.

Now onto Nadia, poor, poor Nadia. There are a lot of plot lines to keep track of in Muppets Most Wanted. There’s at least ten things happening at once, plus a handful of new characters. It’s so much that Nadia, specifically, ends up feeling one dimensional. But, hey! Her song (“The Big House”) is a bop, and it doesn’t have to do with missing Constantine or something, it’s just explaining what a jail is, so points there, I guess. I didn’t realize I was giving out points, but for the sake of this bit, point to Nadia! Since the song isn’t technically about her, all we learn is that she has a Netflix account and a taser. And neither of those things are personality traits, although there are certain subsections of people desperately trying to force them as personality traits. You know who they are.

She honestly could’ve been a cool antagonist turned sympathetic character, but they gave her this weird crush on Kermit. And in turn, accidentally made a very bad, probably unintentional implication that she’s holding a power imbalance over an inmate, Stockholm syndrome style. When stopping Kermit’s many attempts to escape, and implying that Kermit has no family, she could’ve had a backstory about why she thinks family doesn’t belong in the gulag. For example, maybe her backstory includes family issues of her own, and those insecurities led to her mistreatment of the inmates at the gulag. But no, we don’t get this insight! Instead, we get her stalker-like shrine to Kermit. “Even if your friends don’t need you, we certainly do.” Nadia projecting this leader, this family figure onto Kermit would’ve been great not only for her development, but also Kermit’s. 

Her line “I will never let you go, my amphibian prince.” Hmm… HMM… NOT A GOOD THING TO SAY WHEN YOU ARE A PRISON GUARD AND HE IS YOUR LITERAL PRISONER WHO YOU’RE WELL AWARE IS A VICTIM OF STOLEN IDENTITY!!! Also, I don’t need to see Tina Fey making out with a picture of a puppet, but unfortunately, in my research, I was forced to.

In the last moment in “Together Again, Again,” Constantine and Nadia seem to share a look, indicating they have a potential romantic relationship. Have her feelings for Kermit transferred to Constantine because they look the same? Not healthy!

Nadia, you deserve more backstory or character outside of jail warden in love with a frog. If we stick with her family abandoning her backstory, in the end she could see that since Kermit is able to reconcile with his chosen family, maybe she could too, with either her blood relatives, or a new chosen family (of gulag inmates??). It would be a very sweet message to send out, that even if you think you are utterly alone, someone out there cares. And that person may be Danny Trejo.

Now let’s compare her to Lady Holiday, from The Great Muppet Caper. In her first actual scene (not counting her jewels being stolen in “Hey, a Movie”), she’s marching around her office literally dragging an assistant by a phone cord, barely fazed by the attack, stating as much. She’s prideful, not downplaying herself, or her worth. Or her diamond’s worth for that matter. SHE CUTS OFF ONE OF HER MODELS’ HAIR CURLS BECAUSE IT DOESN’T GO WITH HER DRESS. She splashes ink on another! She’s tough, she speaks her mind, and she’s a borderline abusive boss.

But most importantly, Lady Holiday is integral to the overall story.  She provides the spark that sets off the action of the film. She gives Miss Piggy a platform (literally – the platform is her desk) to meet the Frog of her dreams. She antagonizes the villains to their breaking points. And she falsely accuses Piggy for her jewel theft, sending her to the slammer. My only complaint is that she isn’t present for the climax of the movie. I would’ve loved to see her in the end having a moment with Nicky, maybe even expressing guilt for thinking Piggy a thief. Because I know and care enough about her character and arc to think and want that. I can’t say the same for Mary and Nadia.

Where Nadia and Mary are flat pieces of cardboard, Lady Holiday and Jenny are shining gold. I just wish they all could have been. The fact that they have romantic feelings for male characters is not a problem – it’s the fact it’s the only focus of their characters. But hey! At least Mary and Nadia got to sing! Unfortunately, their songs doesn’t excuse poor, slightly misguided, trope-y, misogynistic writing.

Here’s hoping that the next Big Muppet Project will include some strong female human characters who are defined by their own merits and help move the Muppets’ story along. Oh, and some new female Muppets would be good too.

Click here to accuse a pig of jewel theivery on the Toughpigs forum!

by Maria Nance


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