Original air date: November 15, 1980
When The Muppet Show premiered in 1976, perhaps the biggest breakout star was Miss Piggy, who practically became an overnight sensation. But with such an ensemble-heavy project like The Muppet Show, even with her success, it wasn’t very often that she would be the main focus of an episode. Now, if you know anything about the episode with guest star Loretta Swit, it’s very likely that you know this is the one where she’s fired. I’m sorry, I meant to say that she’s fired, FIRED! But when the chips are down, that’s when she’s at her best. This is a fabulous showcase for the character (and performer Frank Oz), showing depth, great comedy, and a fun guest to play off of. And it all works wonderfully, just as a Miss Piggy showcase should.
As the show begins, we find that Miss Piggy has planted an item in a celebrity gossip magazine that she and Kermit were quietly married in Las Vegas the previous year. Fed up with her “dumb stunts,” Kermit gives her the heave-ho in one of the most memorable frog freakouts ever recorded. (No seriously, we recorded it on the Freakout-o-meter.) Naturally, with both parties angry, this quickly devolves into a shouting match, and that’s when we really get to see Jim Henson and Frank Oz do some really great acting work. Because we normally see Kermit so even-keeled in the face of pure chaos, the surprise of witnessing him at his full fury is hilarious as he responds to Piggy’s claims that she doesn’t need the show by hurling insults. Somehow, it’s both so out-of-character and so very much in-character to see the normally centered Kermit finally break down after her stunts to promote herself and take their relationship to another level cross the line.
This gives Piggy a great partner to play off of, showing off her vulnerability as she finally comes to the realization that her time on the show is up. And what gets her, and what really comes through in Oz’s performance, is knowing that she didn’t get to make the decision to leave. For someone who had always fought (sometimes violently) to maintain control over her performing career, for once, the decision had been made without her. Heartbroken but still confident in her skills, this leads to a really fun rendition of “Some of These Days” as she packs up her dressing room, where we get to see some emotional range as she goes from sad to resolute. And that’s what I really love about this episode. We get to see Miss Piggy show off so many facets of her personality that make her such an interesting character as she interacts with both Kermit and Swit.
Speaking of our guest star, knowing that losing Miss Piggy creates a void in the show, Kermit asks Swit to fill her place in Veterinarians Hospital and Pigs in Space. Of course, Piggy’s not one for quick goodbyes, so she packs up her dressing room, but seeing Swit play the roles she’s made famous makes her dig in her heels and want to stay. But while Swit is eager to take on these meaty parts, in reality, she really wants the pair to make up, knowing that they’re stronger together than they are separately. Swit really adds to the episode by not being a simple rival to Piggy (though she does inadvertently infuriate her) and winds up being the catalyst for their reconciliation. Like Miss Piggy’s character arc in the episode, Swit, in her role as Maj. Margaret “Hot Lips” Houlihan on M*A*S*H, was also one to defy expectations, transforming her from a hard-nosed authoritarian to a complex character who balanced empathy with her loyalty to regulations. While she doesn’t get a chance to show off all of her acting skills here, she definitely gets big laughs while still being heartwarming, and that’s just what this episode needs.
Before Johnny Fiama left home, before a certain sitcom allowed us into their private lives and see what makes the Muppets tick, we had the Loretta Swit episode of The Muppet Show. It allows Miss Piggy to show off her full range of emotions, have some great performance moments with Kermit and Swit, and we get to peel back a few layers of a fascinating, complicated character. I don’t care that it aired four decades ago, give Miss Piggy an Emmy! She can share with Isabel Sanford!
Best Joke: Remember when I reviewed Roger Moore’s episode and said I was tired of the Miss Piggy fat jokes? Something tells me I wasn’t the only one, as heard in Veterinarian’s Hospital:
LORETTA: Hello! I’m nurse Loretta, and I’m here to fill in for nurse Piggy.
ROWLF: Well, uhh, if you’re here to fill in for nurse Piggy, you’d better fill out!
LORETTA: Is that some kind of a fat joke?
ROWLF: Uh, yes, unfortunately, it’s not the funny kind.
Worst Joke: And just seconds later, Swit lets this groaner fly when Dr. Bob asks if she has the clamps: “Uh, no. My stomach’s a little upset, but I don’t have any clamps.”
MVM (Most Valuable Muppet): Even though I’m risking a socially distanced karate chop, I’ll split this week’s honors between Miss Piggy and honorary Muppet Swit herself, for her Piggy-esque performance right before she goes onstage for Pigs in Space. The pig is so good in this episode, they needed two of her.
Most Classic Moment: What else? Piggy is fired, FIRED!
Should-Be-Classic Moment: Miss Piggy’s emotional farewell in “Some of These Days,” followed immediately by her shouting “one more time!” and launching into an encore. Think of it as the anti-“My Way.”
Coolest Puppetry Effect: It isn’t so much puppet-work, but the use of miniatures and video editing in “I Feel the Earth Move” is really good to make Thog appear as a kaiju-style monster rampaging through the town.
Musical Highlight: On that same note (pun semi-intended), “I Feel the Earth Move” is one of those songs that feels made for the Muppets, with the title alone inviting images of mayhem. I’m so glad they actually did it on the show. Plus, it turns out Swit’s a pretty darn good singer!.
Adultiest Content: In the opening number, “Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens” a posse of chickens with guns manage to shoot their way through a henhouse occupied by some nasty critters who have broken in. Those chickens don’t cluck around.
Obscure Character Watch: Also in the number, a familiar-looking weasel and snake can be seen in the crowd. Nice to know the Riverbottom Nightmare Band can still get work.
One More Thing: Miss Piggy says that she doesn’t need this show, saying she has movie offers she can take. In a twist of irony, when this episode premiered, filming was already underway on The Great Muppet Caper.
Okay, One More Thing: Right before the freakout, Kermit asks Piggy, “Have you been planting items about us in the gossip papers again?” The “again?” gets me every time. I need to know more about this incident.
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by Matthew Soberman