I’m going to put this right up front: “Generally Inhospitable” – the first half of tonight’s season finale – is not only the show’s best episode so far, it’s exactly the show I’ve wanted The Muppets to be since the beginning.
When The Muppets was first announced last spring, I couldn’t wait for it to premiere. Still on a high from the two recent Muppet movies (especially the delightful Muppets Most Wanted), I imagined that the new show would be a flawless blend of classic Muppet humor and modern sitcom-style pacing. I went into the show expecting it to fill not only the Muppet Show-shaped hole in my heart, but also the 30 Rock-shaped one.
Now, it was certainly unrealistic of me to expect that the series would be perfect and beautiful and the greatest TV show ever made. But it was still disappointing to find myself getting less enthusiastic with each passing episode. The show wasn’t bad, by any means, but it was unremarkable. Even as I recognized that the show improved after the winter break, it still wasn’t a show that I really loved.
In fact, the recent shows it has reminded me of the most are things like Up All Night, Go On, and The Michael J. Fox Show – series that were passably entertaining, but that I watched out of love for the stars’ past work rather than love for the actual jokes or storytelling. Unlike those shows, I’m sure I’ll end up rewatching all of these episodes someday, but because I adore the Muppets, not because I adore The Muppets.
This episode finally made me adore The Muppets. Now, you might read that and think “This grumpy old-school fan only liked it because it has a Muppet Labs sketch and a Vet’s Hospital sketch, and it reminds him of that old thing he liked as a kid.” And sure, I was happy to see those elements. Not only because of their connection to the old show, but also because of the way they exploit this show’s mission statement – putting the Muppets in the real world.
For example, I think putting Vet’s Hospital in a real hospital with a confused, angry actual human patient is a terrific twist. But more importantly, it’s one that could never have happened on The Muppet Show, which was explicitly set in a theater. They trot it out here to show how the Muppets are fundamentally different from everyone else. To them, being in a hospital – a real, functioning hospital with sick people in it – is just a vehicle for new jokes. That’s the difference between the Muppets and everyone else: Wonderful scenery, but is it funny?
This feeling extends to other areas of the episode as well. Time and again, we get Muppets acting like themselves, but in new and exciting ways. In the aforementioned Muppet Labs sketch, Bunsen and Beaker introduce the Swedish Chef to molecular gastronomy. That’s a seamless way to combine those two sketches and it’s something that didn’t exist in 1981. As a 21st-century update, it’s perfect.
The episode’s other main plot – where Rizzo, Pepe, Yolanda, Big Mean Carl, and Sweetums kidnap Pizza/Pache and lock him in a room – is much more in line with the tone the show has had in its previous episodes. It’s a fairly typical sitcom B-plot – supporting characters get up to something zany while the leads carry the main thread – but it’s infused with more Muppet spirit than many of the past stories have been. Gags like Sweetums running around with a butterfly net, Rizzo spelunking into Big Mean Carl’s mouth to retrieve Pache’s cell phone, and the whole gang breaking into a spontaneous dance party at Pache’s ringtone are infused with real Muppet spirit.
After fifteen episodes, The Muppets has produced an installment that makes me excited – not just hopeful, but positively giddy – to see another season. We still don’t know if that will happen, but it seems like a better idea now than it did even a few weeks ago. This is a show that’s finding its voice, and it would be a real shame if we don’t get to see what it becomes. Especially since it looks like that might be a show about our old pals the Muppets singing songs, telling jokes, and making millions of people happy.
Best Joke: Pepe pointing out that his head looks like a snapdragon. Because it totally does, and it seems obvious in retrospect, but I’ve had twenty years to notice and I never did.
Lamest Joke: Rizzo and Pepe putting mustaches on people’s faces on TV. I just don’t understand the appeal of mustache humor.
Best One-Liner: “Piggy asked that you give her weight in stone so it’s indecipherable.” Uncle Deadly, man. The sensational character find of 2015.
Best Sight Gag: Waldorf pulling out a liquid porkchop after he says he doesn’t eat solid foods. For me, that was the funniest Statler & Waldorf joke in years. Like so much in this episode, it’s completely in character – he can’t eat solid foods because he’s old – but it was also surprising and unexpected and just plaid weird.
Song Watch: Miss Piggy and her backup singers do a little bit of “Single Ladies.” It gets her sent to the hospital, but it’s still nice to hear! But the real showstopper is later, when Willie Nelson stops by to join the gang in a lovely rendition of “On the Road Again.” More than anything else in the episode – including the reprised Muppet Show sketches – that feels exactly like a moment from The Muppet Show, and it gave me chills.
Missed Opportunity: They didn’t actually show Rizzo walking past Pache with a giant magnet and making all of his piercings fly out.
Another Missed Opportunity: The plugs for Grandma’s Cookies and Fig Newtons didn’t lead to a crossover appearance from Cookie Monster, Cookie Monster’s grandma, or Cookie Monster in disguise as Granny Bird.
Best Puppetry Moment: Rizzo climbing out of Carl’s mouth in a shot that still manages to make both characters seem alive. I guess Steve Whitmire was just standing inside of the Carl puppet to operate Rizzo, but he goes the extra mile to show Carl’s reaction at having a rat crawl out of his mouth.
MVP (Most Valuable Puppeteer): Matt Vogel. This was a standout episode for Sweetums – the butterfly net, slamming the door on Pache, his heart-to-heart with Pache – and Matt made him seem even more imposing than usual.
Guest Star Watch: In addition to Willie Nelson, we get Phil Lamarr as Piggy’s doctor. Since he voiced Green Lantern on Justice League Unlimited, this makes him the third DC superhero – after Christopher Reeve and Lynda Carter – to guest-star on a Muppet series.
Adultiest Content: Not a whole lot, really. I guess the joke where Piggy mistakes her morphine drip button for a call button and gets super high, but that’s pretty tame.
One More Thing: I really like how much Piggy actually looks like she doesn’t have any makeup on. When I first heard about that joke, I was expecting her to be grotesque or over-the-top. But instead she looks like . . . a woman without makeup on. Good work, design team!
One More, Final Thing: I intentionally didn’t get into the Kermit/Piggy cliffhanger, because I wanted to leave it for Ryan and Joe’s discussion of the finale. Check out that review for their thoughts!
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by Anthony Strand