The best thing about The Muppets is that it’s funny. The Muppets should make us laugh, and this episode does. For fans both casual and hardcore, the sight of familiar Muppets everywhere doing what they do is encouraging. And for fans open-minded enough to see the Muppets try something new, the show is pleasantly unlike anything we’ve seen the characters do before.
From the opening teaser, we jump right into the world of the show. Up Late with Miss Piggy is a current talk show, various Muppets have various production jobs, and Kermit acknowledges that a documentary crew is already following everyone behind the scenes. It’s the job of a pilot episode to establish the setting and the roles of the characters, and it was a good idea to start with Up Late already on the air, so we can be shown, not told, what’s going on.
Which is not to say they can’t give us a flashback at some point to the origins of Up Late. This episode includes a flashback to a scene I never expected to see, although perhaps I should have: the actual breakup of Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy. It could have been played for laughs, with yelling and karate-chopping, but it’s the one serious moment in the whole show, and it’s one of the most successful attempts to make the frog/pig dynamic feel like a real relationship. Kermit’s remark that “It was all over the internet” is a nice little touch of art-imitating-life-imitating-art. Of course, I still fully expect their reconciliation in the season finale.
Speaking of Kermit, it’s great to see him as the guy barely in charge once again. I don’t know if his morning production meetings with the gang will be a recurring thing on the series, but they should be. They provide the perfect opportunity for several Muppets to get a few seconds in the spotlight, while simultaneously and at the same time introducing the episode’s storylines.
In “Pig Girls Don’t Cry,” those storylines include Fozzie trying desperately to impress his girlfriend’s parents, one of a handful of concepts and jokes brought over from the 10-minute pilot presentation. It’s expanded on here, with Fozzie inviting Becky’s mom and dad on a tour of the studio that doesn’t go so well. It seemed to me that, compared to the 10-minute presentation, there was more of a contrast between Becky’s staunchly disapproving dad and her sweet mom trying to make the best of things, and it worked. I’m not sure how much mileage they can get out of the story, but I’d like to see Becky come back at least one more time.
While Fozzie’s praising the salmon, Kermit is struggling to understand why Piggy is vehemently opposed to having Elizabeth Banks as a guest on the show. That becomes the episode’s primary conflict, and leads to a bunch of solid gags. Scooter’s attempt to distract Banks with an endless drive around the ABC lot leads to a nifty “the Muppets are real” moment where Scooter gets thrown out of the golf cart — although since when has Scooter been so aggressive? ABC personality and would-be replacement guest Tom Bergeron makes the most of his brief scenes. And Kermit’s eventual revelation about Piggy associating Elizabeth Banks with the night of their breakup was an effective way to bring in the big important flashback.
Much has been made — so much, so very, very much, WAY too much — of The Muppets‘ supposed premise of “Muppet show for grown-ups.” But I hope everyone reading this watched it with their little brothers and sisters and nieces and nephews, because I’m pretty sure you could count the actual “adult” jokes on one hand, and with one exception (see below) they all fell safely within the sphere of traditionally Muppetty humor.
For me, it’s the mockumentary format rather than the “not just for kids” vibe that’s going to take some getting used to. Oddly enough, the shaky cameras that are presumably meant to make us feel like we’re following the characters’ lives more intimately than we ever have before made me feel like I was one step removed from them. On the other hand, it allowed for some cool camera moves and a general feeling that the Muppets absolutely exist in the real world. I figuratively shouted “Whoa!” at the camera chasing Piggy all the way from the makeup room through the offices.
Lest I forget about the pig about whom a million words were written before she even did anything onscreen: Denise has a scene with Kermit, and she’s… okay. She’s a Southern belle, which I wasn’t expecting, and she’s very supportive of Kermit, which is nice, I suppose. She certainly doesn’t seem like she’s going to ruin the Muppets. Mostly, I hope future episodes give her the chance to be more than just nice and supportive, especially given the well-documented dearth of female Muppets. Her role in network marketing should provide some opportunities for good stories. What if she has to be the reluctant messenger when the network demands Kermit make some stupid changes to the show?
I’ve been thinking about this show a LOT for the past several months. I asked the same questions you can probably find me asking about other new Muppet productions on this very website: Would it be good? Would it get the characters right? Would they be silly, and sing, and be lovable?
Well, they’re silly enough — Gonzo’s “Dancing With the Czars” pitch to Kermit is a quintessential Muppet goof. There’s no singing, but it’s only the first episode and they were squeezing a lot into 22 minutes, so fingers crossed for the future. And they’re sort of lovable, enough so that I’m confident they’ll continue to get closer to finding the perfect combination of wit and heart. As Joe mentioned in his non-spoilery review, The Muppets is not The Muppet Show, but it shouldn’t be. It’s The Muppets, and it’s the Muppets, and I look forward to seeing what they come up with every week on my TV.
Best Joke: Kermit comments on his life as “a bacon-wrapped hell on Earth” just in time for Sam to pass by in the background and remind him, “Can’t say hell.” The runner-up is Tom Bergeron’s sudden appearance and defeated “No… but he figured it out” when Kermit asks Scooter if anyone told him he was bumped from the show.
Lamest Joke: A cable for a wrecking ball couldn’t support Piggy’s weight? I have an idea: As long as they’re putting in an effort to make the a Muppets contemporary comedy, they can retire the fat jokes.
MVP (Muppet Valuable Player): I have to go with Fozzie. He had several of the show’s best moments (“It’s Up Late with Miss Piggy! Featuring the Electric Mayhem! Dr. Teeth and… the…”), and I was really rooting for him to do well with Becky’s parents, while simultaneously hoping everything would go wrong so it would be funny.
Obscure Character Watch: Bill Prady’s doppelganger Chip is still hanging around. The shaggy monster Behemoth/Gene pops up in a few scenes. Who am I missing?
Adultiest Content: Zoot thinks he’s at an AA meeting, and Kermit alludes to doing some cross-promoting with Denise, but the only thing I was genuinely surprised to hear a Muppet say was when Pepe tells Scooter his sister was pregnant at her wedding.
One More Thing: The all-too-brief opening title includes the credit “based on characters created by Jim Henson.” We haven’t seen anything like that so prominently featured in a Disney Muppet production, so it was a welcome sight indeed.
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by Ryan Roe – Ryan@ToughPigs.com