The seventh episode of The Muppets, “Pig’s In a Blackout”, is the first episode since the announcement that co-creator and Executive Producer Bob Kushell is leaving the series, and that the final six episodes of the season will likely rejigger certain major elements of the show. (Dare we say “reboot”? We dare not.) While this episode was obviously produced long before those announcements could have affected the final product, it feels like we’ve taken a few steps backward. But only in the very best ways.
Did the storyline feel familiar of Kermit taking a break and leaving the show in the not-so-capable hands of his coworkers, only to find it practically beyond repair by his return? It did to me. The first thing I thought of was the Nancy Walker episode of The Muppet Show, in which Kermit is sick, so Fozzie takes over hosting duties. The end result includes botched introductions, holes in the walls, an empty audience, a power outage, and “At the Dance” on stage at the same time as “Veterinarian’s Hospital”. This time around, Kermit takes a mental health day and Scooter’s tenure as showrunner leaves the theater with a broken air conditioner, mutilated crew members, exploding lights, a slippery butter patch, and yet another power outage.
But I don’t see the repeated storyline as a weakness. It’s a good thing that we’re reminded as to what sort of chaos the Muppets can get into without Kermit there to ground them, as well as how important Kermit is to his Muppet family (and vice versa). Plus, giving us another connection to the storytelling elements of The Muppet Show is a great, subtle way to link The Muppets to its predecessor.
That’s not the only link to the past! For the first time since the series began, Gonzo is seen as something other than just a strange-looking writer with some unique kinks. He references his past as a “stuntman”, and while hearing about his cannonball shot into Niagara Falls isn’t quite the same as seeing it, it reminds us that there’s a lot more to his backstory and personality than the show allows time for. Meanwhile, Beaker takes another beating as he’s frozen, thrown against a wall, and seared by hot coffee, which I believe is the first time we’ve seen him take any sort of punishment since he was tasered in the pilot. Finally, we’re starting to get glimpses of who these characters could be if they weren’t stuck behind desks in their nine-to-fives.
There’s also that all-important “heart” that somehow snuck its way into the show, which we haven’t seen much of in a while. I was so rapt in watching the nuances of the Gonzo/Scooter pairing that I almost missed hearing Gonzo say the words, “I believe in you,” which warmed my cold, dead heart. Finally, we see the Muppets showing that they care about each other, and they don’t just tolerate their coworkers because those are the people they happen to have been working with for the last few decades.
Then once Kermit gets back to the studio, he tells us what he should’ve said way back in episode #1: He loves what he does. As was pointed out by many Muppet fans, Kermit doesn’t seem to enjoy his life in the world of The Muppets, and although I don’t think he should always be happy with his situation, we at the very least need him to justify why he sticks around to keep us from feeling as frustrated as him just by watching. Now we can see that Kermit may get frustrated by having to constantly put out fires (sometimes figuratively), but he does it because it’s a part of him, and a part of who he wants to be.
And hey, as long as we’re thinking about old stuff, how great was it to see Kermit sitting at Rowlf’s piano bar again? I’m sure we were all thinking about “I Hope That Something Better Comes Along”, especially when Rowlf delivered the line, “I go home, draw myself a hot bath, get out and run around the house like a maniac and chew on an old shoe,” which sounds like a natural extension to his “I finish work, I go home, read a book, have a couple of beers, take myself for a walk, and go to bed” from The Muppet Movie. Not only is it just great seeing Rowlf again (in only his second appearance in seven episodes!), but they’re focusing on the easy-going, philosophical side of his character, which is just wonderful.
Mixing all of the above criteria, we have Kermit in his homemade swamp, sitting on a log and picking his banjo, singing “Rainbow Connection”. It’s the perfect evocation of that familiar Muppet feel, it’s chock full of heart, and it’s a direct (but not too direct) reference to a classic Muppet production. Not even Phil’s interruption could ruin that moment for me.
Best Joke: Oh man, so many to choose from! Most of which came from Scooter, like “I can’t let Kermit down. He’s my father– MENTOR!”, or the oldest saying in Hollywood being “This is where we should put Hollywood”.
Lamest Joke: Not so much a joke, but the one-sided Sam/Janice flirtation is pretty lame. I was all down for the bizarre pairing, if only because it allowed for some potentially funny material, but all we’ve seen so far is Janice act like a new age ditz as she ignores Sam’s attempts at flirting. Hopefully this will go somewhere soon, because this car is stalled.
Best One Liner: Uncle Deadly’s creepy delivery of “Don’t worry, Piggy. I’ll be right back with some emergency jeggings. There are no jeggings – hope is what she needs now.”
Missed Opportunity: I know I praised him above, but we really should’ve had more from Gonzo. It’s great to hear him talk about his stunt work, but if we don’t get to see any of it, he should at least have a little energy to back it up. Someone get that weirdo an espresso!
MVP (Muppet Valuable Player): Finally, Scooter gets the focus he deserves! I don’t think he’s had this much attention since his uncle got him a job at the Muppet theater.
Best Guest: It’s hard to choose between Pentatonix and Jason Bateman. Pentatonix was hardly on screen, and while Bateman is a pretty funny guy, his snarkiness got really annoying really fast. So I guess my favorite guest was… the lady who led the relaxation seminar? Sure, why not.
Song Watch: We got two this week. Pentatonix (featuring Statler and Waldorf on the back beat) sang “Can’t Sleep Love”, which was a bit forgettable, if only because it was so brief. And Kermit reprised “Rainbow Connection”, which was just beautiful. Steve Whitmire’s performance here was really light and subtle, with only the banjo as accompaniment, and I’d love to own this toned-down version as a digital download.
Obscure Character Watch: Is it possible that we’ve seen all the characters already? Shout-out to Beautiful Day Monster who poked his head into the background of a scene, and mad props to Rowlf for his grand return to the piano.
Adultiest Content: Sweetums clogged the toilet, which is not a thing I want to think too much about.
One More Thing: I wonder if the opening with Kermit running around backstage to the beat of Animal’s drumming was supposed to be a reference to Birdman. If so, could this be the first Birdman spoof that doesn’t attempt to copy the one-take structure?
Okay, One More One More Thing: “Butter on the brakes!” is my new catchphrase.
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by Joe Hennes – Joe@ToughPigs.com