Last night, ABC aired “Because… Love,” the 16th and final episode of the first season of The Muppets.  Because a season finale (hopefully not series finale) is such a big deal, your ToughPigs co-runners Joe Hennes and Ryan Roe teamed up for a super review.  Enjoy!

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Ryan: So that’s the end of season one of The Muppets.  It had romance, it had lots and lots of Muppets… and it ended with a cliffhanger!

Joe: There was spectacle, there was fantasy, they saw a chance and saw romance end happily!  Okay, more ambiguous than happy, but that’s what you do when you’re hoping for a season two.

Ryan: And we’re all hoping for a season two, perhaps now more than ever.  These last two episodes continuing the sweeter, less bitter, and generally better-tasting run of episodes that started with the introduction of Kristin Newman, the showrunner we’ve come to view as the Savior of Our Muppets.

Joe: Savior is right.  I really enjoyed the show pre-retooling (“pretooling”?), but the updates have been fantastic.  And the last two episodes have done an amazing job at highlighting those good changes.  More characters, classic sketches, Miss Piggy not being a horrible person.

ep16 - new - cannon4Ryan: Yeah, in “Because… Love,” she’s about as sympathetic as she’s been all season.  Conventional wisdom among Muppet fans is that Miss Piggy is a tough character to get right (a tough pig, if you will) but the Muppets writers seem to have cracked the code.

Joe: Kermit nailed it just before Piggy broke her leg when he said that she’d grown a lot over the last year.  The secret (but probably unintentional) story behind the show was Miss Piggy’s season-long character arc.  She went from selfish to evil to Argentina to vulnerable to loveable in 16 episodes.

Ryan: And finally from lovable to passed out on an airplane.  Yep, that sums it up.  I always had a feeling the season would end with the pig and the frog rediscovering their feelings for each other — I’m on the record making such a prediction in various places on the internet, so you should all be VERY impressed by me — but Piggy’s unplanned redemption somehow made the seemingly inevitable reconciliation even more satisfying.

Joe: I want to talk more about Kermit and Piggy’s in-flight resolution, but we have a whole episode to review!  ToughPigs’ own Anthony Strand handled the review for the first half of the two-part finale, so you can read all about Miss Piggy’s stint in the hospital right here.  Overall, as a standalone episode, what did you think?

Ryan: Well, it’s closely linked to the final minute of the previous episode, and they aired together, so it’s tricky to even approach it as a standalone.  But this is the episode where Kermit and Piggy react to realizing that they still love each other, and it’s executed nicely.  I liked that it started with Kermit seeking advice from Rowlf (who’s really leaning on those dog jokes these days), while Piggy has a parallel conversation with her own confidant Uncle Deadly, with the two coming to similar conclusions in completely different ways.

ep16 - rowlfJoe: That Kermit/Rowlf scene was wonderful.  Yeah, a bit heavy on canine humor, but it’s a great example of the show doing what they weren’t able to during the old Muppet Show, like pairing Kermit and Rowlf outside a feature film.  Not to mention all of the crazy fun puppet tricks.  Kermit flipped a coin!  A COIN, RYAN!

Ryan: I KNOW!  I can’t wait to watch that again.  I honestly wondered if maybe they cheated a little bit and inserted an animated coin, but given the Muppets’ dedication to those crazy fun puppet tricks, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if they used the real thing.

Joe: There were a lot of great puppet tricks.  Full-bodied Miss Piggy in the wind/fan, Kermit sitting in a drawer, Kermit jumping out of the ding-dang window, The Swedish Chef tossing a waffle to Piggy.  Great, great stuff.

Ryan: It was full of cool little moments.  It was also full of Muppet characters we’re familiar with that Mr. and Ms. Average ABC Viewer might not know as well.  Looking for a musical guest to replace Bruno Mars was a good excuse to bring in a bunch of weird Muppets, Muppet Show-style.  And boy, at the beginning of this season, I never expected to see Marvin Suggs and Mahna Mahna on this series.

Joe: Who knew The Muppets season one would end with the triumphant return of Howard Tubman???

ep16 - howardRyan: Yes, exactly!  And who knew he was a manager for musicians?  He even made a Geri and the Atrics reference!

Joe: It makes sense.  If he’s representing all of these unused characters, he’s been out of work since 1998.  When we started doing these regular reviews, we had a segment labeled “Obscure Character Watch”, where we identified all of the weird background characters we spotted.  Eventually, we had to get rid of that element to our reviews because the show was just repeating the Muppet extras.  In the finale, we got the previously mentioned characters, as well as Droop (drinking hand sanitizer, like ya do), Old Tom, Link Hogthrob, Zippity Zap, Bubba the Rat, and Bobby Benson’s Baby Band.  By the end, I half expected Harry the Hipster to pop up.

Ryan: And yet, we still didn’t see Walter.  So, it made me smile to see all those guys, but at the same time, it seemed a little bit… desperate?  Like, “Look!  Look how Muppety we made this show finally!  Isn’t this what you wanted?”  I mean, Mahna Mahna.  That’s an awfully easy crowd-pleaser, isn’t it?

Joe: I get what you’re saying, and in retrospect, I agree.  But while watching, none of this stuff occurred to me.  But really, the show is on the brink of cancellation, and the showrunners are probably wringing their hands trying to figure out what might make people tune in.  And by gum, if that something is Mahna Mahna, then they can rename the show after him for all I care.

Ryan: ABC’s The Mahna Mahna Show.  I like it.

Joe: Up Late with the Snowths!

ep16 - snowthRyan: And sure, if that’s what it takes, I’m good with it.  I’m just glad they didn’t trot out “At the Dance.”

Joe: If you’re gonna trot out “At the Dance”, it had better be a fox trot.  The previous episode had most of the recurring sketches down (Vet’s Hospital, Muppet Labs, The Swedish Chef), but the finale managed to capture some great moments from popular characters that had been shoved into the background.  Bunsen had a rather hilarious flow chart, Lew Zealand threw a fish, and Crazy Harry finally got to blow something up.

Ryan: America’s most beloved mad bomber!  And yes, Bunsen.  He’s hardly gotten anything to do this season, but watching these last two episodes, I felt like asking the writers, “Was that really so hard?”  But while Bunsen was warning against a Kermit/Piggy reunion, guest star Jack White was all in favor of it.  White was funny as Elvis in a very brief cameo in the movie Walk Hard, but I had no idea how well he would work with the Muppets.  But he had a nice rapport with Kermit, and his rendition of “You Are the Sunshine of My Life” was lovely.  (But since when is that Kermit and Piggy’s song?)

Joe: Available now on iTunes and vinyl!  That was actually referenced as Kermit and Piggy’s song way back in episode 6.  That’s the song that plays in the music box that Piggy bought for Kermit to give to Denise.  Remember that?  From, like, a thousand years ago?

Ryan: At this point, I barely remember Denise.  That poor, underwritten pig.  But we always knew she and Kermit were not going to be a long-term thing.  Which is as good a time as any to ask: Joe, are you on Team Love (because… love *spritz*) or Team Friendship?

ep16 - new - cannon6Joe: A great question.  I am on Team Love, but not because I want Kermit and Piggy to get back together.  I just want them to try to get back together.  They worked pretty well as a couple (which, as far as I can tell, they’ve only been officially together from the 2011 The Muppets movie to the 2015 The Muppets TV show – a blip in their 40-year history).  But I’m a sucker for one of them trying to woo the other.  There’s comedy gold in there, not to mention way more possibility for stories, celebrity encounters, and DRAMA.  What about you?  Have you also tripped on the high of Pepe’s perfume?

Ryan: I think I’m on Team It Doesn’t Really Matter As Long As It’s Interesting.  We’ve seen a few different angle on the Kermit-Piggy dynamic in recent years, and I liked this show’s initial idea of experimenting with them as exes trying to make the best of it.  But as you allude to, there may be more comedy potential with them having romantic tension without being A Couple.

Joe: So that begs the question: What was Piggy going to say before she passed out on Ambien and Chardonnay?

Ryan: It’s a very important question.  Almost as important as “Isn’t taking Ambien with Chardonnay potentially really dangerous?!”  I actually made this note about halfway through the episode: “An ambiguous ending might be the best possible ending.”  And I still think it’s true.  Assuming the show gets renewed, they can pick up where they left off and Piggy can finish her sentence.  But if our worst nightmares become a horrible reality and the show doesn’t come back, leaving Kermit and Piggy’s relationship status undefined feels really appropriate for them.

Joe: Agreed.  It’s almost as if Kermit and Piggy’s relationship is defined by its ambiguity.  Also, the pre-flight calzones.

ep16 - calzoneRyan: Pre-flight calzones was one of my favorite things about the episode.  It shows us how expresses Kermit quietly expresses his fondness for Piggy, and it’s delightfully absurd.

Joe: Speaking of favorite things, let’s talk about some of our favorite moments!  I love love loved seeing Kermit driving his car, singing along with himself to “Bein’ Green” (in a rare Steve Whitmire/Jim Henson double-Kermit duet).

Ryan: One of two instances of Kermit singing in his car, the other being a James Corden “Carpool Karaoke”-style sing-along with Jack White.  Which reminds me, one of my favorite jokes was when Kermit questioned what would happen to White’s abandoned car, and White just deadpanned, “Someone will get it.”

Joe: I think my favorite joke was when Kermit first spotted Jack White, who says, “Hey, Kermit! You can drive???”  Great delivery from a guy I didn’t know could be funny.

Ryan: Would he have been less surprised to see Fozzie driving?  I also really liked the running gag with the Swedish Chef popping up at every reference to Kermit’s waffling.  And it made me want a waffle.

Joe: Yeah, that’s a great use of the Chef that doesn’t overly rely on the fact that he speaks gibberish (sorry, mock-Swedish gibberish).  I also wrote this down as a favorite line: “It looks like Liberace’s quinceañera in here.”  Yolanda has been the secret MVP of this season.

Ryan: If that means you consider Uncle Deadly is the obvious MVP, I’ll co-sign that.

ep16 - faceliftJoe: That is exactly what I was insinuating.  Especially because he started off the episode with the double-whammy of his impression of Piggy getting plastic surgery, followed by having her two very specific dresses within arms’ reach.

Ryan: I wished they had gone further with that gag, with Deadly whipping out even more outfits based on what Piggy might have requested.  Whatever happens with the future of the Muppets, I hope we see more of Yolanda and more of Deadly.  So, in keeping with the traditions of our regular Muppets reviews, do you have a pick for Most Valuable Puppeteer this week?  I thought Steve Whitmire did excellent work with Kermit’s emotional journey.

Joe: Yeah, Steve was fantastic.  If MVP isn’t him, it’s Eric Jacobson.  But Eric plays so many characters, he’s bound to get that title at least a few times.  I was really impressed at how real Miss Piggy felt, which is not an adjective I think I’ve ever used to describe her.

Ryan: Agreed.  The Muppets has done a fine job at making Piggy a true character, while mostly avoiding the “HI-YA!” schtick.  Now, we’ve praised this episode left and right, but were there any jokes or moments that didn’t work for you?

Joe: I noted two moments that I just didn’t care for at all.  I thought the Sam/Janice pairing had potential when it was announced, but the writers did absolutely nothing with it.  So getting our first reference to them in a while left a bit of a bad taste in my mouth.

ep16 - samRyan: Honestly, I had forgotten about that bit in this episode.  But I agree that Sam’s crush on the Janice has been squandered potential.  Mostly because they never led up to it — I expected an episode establishing Sam’s distaste for rock ‘n’ roll, followed by the revelation that he had developed a fascination with the free-spirited Janice despite himself.  Instead, we got Sam abruptly  trying to flirt with her out of nowhere.  What was your other moment?

Joe: The other was a lot less disappointing, but I mainly disliked because it felt so forced.  It was when the whole Muppet troupe put on matching t-shirts and joined Jack White onstage.  I don’t know how they thought the logic worked to use it as a strategy to get Kermit and Piggy together, and it just seemed so blatant that the writers wanted to find a reason for everyone to get in a group shot with the middle-aged emo kid.

Ryan: Ha!  I’m a sucker for a “Muppets gather ‘round the guest star” moment, but this one did seem a little obligatory.  Also, were all the Muppets wearing t-shirts really on Team Love earlier in the episode?  Other than the old-school Muppet overload, I didn’t have any critical notes, which either means nothing struck the wrong note with me, or I was too shocked by that Geri and the Atrics shout-out to notice.

Joe: So, final thoughts?  About the episode and the season?

ep16 - windyRyan: Although I just now realized there was almost no Gonzo, the episode was otherwise a satisfying conclusion to a first season that took a while to find its groove, but then enthusiastically leapt into that groove.  I confessed this on Twitter a few episodes ago, but I don’t know if I’ve said it here on this website: While I maintain that there’s a lot to like about the early episodes of the season that so many fans found sour, I didn’t fully comprehend how much better a more buoyant version of the show could be until we got it.  After the first batch of episodes, I really wanted a second season.  After these last few episodes?  I really, really, really want a second season.  I hope a year from now we’re sitting down to talk about season two, and how Muppety it’s been, and how much we love our Gloria Estefan the penguin dolls.  #RenewTheMuppets!

Joe: Yeah, this episode really wrapped things up nicely.  Up Late with Miss Piggy continues to do well, Kermit and Piggy hit a relationship milestone (whether for good or bad), Gonzo and Camilla are back together, Rowlf and the Swedish Chef and Bunsen and Beaker all get to be a part of the show-within-a-show, and the series isn’t depressing anymore.  When Kristin Newman took over as showrunner, she said that the one thing she wanted to bring back to The Muppets is “joy”.  And I think she absolutely succeeded.  There’s not much television these days, especially on prime time, that can offer the same sort of joy, which is all the more reason that ABC should give it a shot at a second season.  Did we say #RenewTheMuppets yet?  Because #RenewTheMuppets.

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by Joe Hennes and Ryan Roe

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