For decades, not only have the Muppets welcomed guest stars on their own shows, but they’ve also been guests on other people’s, less Muppet-y shows. They show up, make us laugh (hopefully), and then, it’s over, and we wait for ToughPigs to post another VCR alert (which miraculously have survived even the decline of VCRs). But on Tuesday night, Kermit the Frog and company took a step forward in the field of guest-starring, beginning a run of recurring appearances on the ABC program “Holey Moley.” But for a relatively successful show entering its fourth season, does “Holey Moley” benefit from having the Muppets? And more importantly, do the Muppets benefit from being on “Holey Moley?”

First, for those who aren’t avid viewers of miniature golf/physical challenge/Rob Riggle-based shows, here’s a brief explanation of the show: contestants compete on a series of themed mini-golf courses, with themes ranging from doughnuts to the moon landing to porta potties. Each course has a physical challenge incorporated into it. For example, with (and I can’t believe I get to use this term twice in a ToughPigs article) the porta potty-themed hole, dubbed Hole #2, contestants send their tee shot past a long row of porta potties (that’s three!) to a putting green on the other side. After they’ve made their tee shot, they then have to run along the narrow path themselves. To complicate things, costumed performers are in each stall, and after a small window of time, they get to fling open their doors in an attempt to knock the contestant into a pool of brown-looking water. If they get knocked into the water, they receive a one-stroke penalty. Like non-ridiculous golf, the lowest score wins, and contestants are eliminated bracket-style, with the winner of the episode awarded a green jacket and an invitation to come back for the season finale, where all of the season’s champions compete for a $250,000 prize. Okay, so now you hopefully understand “Holey Moley.” But what do the Muppets have to do with this? Not much, as it turns out.

At least in the season premiere, the Muppets’ role is generally confined to the series of short bits that they intersperse between coverage of each match-up of golfers. In previous seasons, they’ve tried to have some sort of a theme to these bits, like basketball star and Sesame-themed shoe manufacturer Stephen Curry attempting to turn the show into an actual professional sports league. For season four, the theme seems to be that ABC is fed up with the show’s schtick and slashed their budget, leading announcer Riggle to try to recruit the Muppets to develop new ideas to get the show renewed for another season. None of the bits are terribly long or necessary to the main focus of the show, but it is a fun way to break up the action.

Fozzie Bear pitches a hole where contestants have to dodge fish he throws (taking a job from poor Lew Zealand) before swimming the Atlantic Ocean to putt a ball into a live salmon’s mouth. As you may have guessed, the suggestions aren’t helpful, especially when Riggle enlists Animal, the Swedish Chef, and Camilla, and of course, the ideas are lost in translation. The bits are quick, not leaving a whole lot of time for the Muppets to shine, but it also leads to another issue: they aren’t particularly funny, not leaving any time for some real Muppet magic. There’s a lot of potential for the Muppets on a show like this, but there needs to be more than this for the premise to pay off. There is a glimmer of hope towards the end of the episode, though, as Riggle sneaks onto the studio lot for a covert conversation with Pepé the King Prawn, telling him to get the show renewed by any means necessary. As keen Muppet fans (mostly meaning you) know, this prawn isn’t usually afraid to resort to some dubious means to achieve his goals, so I’m hoping this is more of a setup to a bit that tells a story rather than a one-minute sketch. This could be the deepest narrative the Muppets have had to tell since, well, the last time they had a show on ABC.

So, does “Holey Moley” benefit from having the Muppets? I like to think so. It does freshen up the show by adding a new angle and a story-within-a-story. Let’s be honest, you can only see golfers fall into water or foam corn kernels or… whatever’s going on at Hole #2 so many times before it gets stale. Riggle works well with the Muppets, allowing them to be the stars of the bits. But do the Muppets benefit from being on “Holey Moley?” Being that we’re only one episode into the season, it’s still unclear. If they’re only going to be doing quick bits that feel like they’ve been done before, then probably not. If they’re given a chance to really tell a story that we can get invested into, then I think we could all be pleasantly surprised. Heck, bring the characters in to do bits on the courses. Gonzo would be in heaven! But for where we stand, nothing is certain yet. Given that I was a fan of “Holey Moley” before the Muppets were brought in, I’m going to keep watching to find out. It’s not a hole-in-one, but they still have a chance to come in under par. (That’s a good thing in golf, so I hear. I only really watch mini-golf.)

“Holey Moley” airs Tuesday nights on ABC, and can be seen the next day on Hulu.

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by Matthew Soberman

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