The Muppets succeeded in making one hell of a comeback in 2011 with their movie The Muppets. Back as a fixture in entertainment rather than just being a concept slipping into nostalgia, the guys needed to find a way to really land a new home in today’s world. The movie was about playing up the nostalgia and that wouldn’t work again as a follow-up. Muppets Most Wanted ended up being a decent enough film, but the Muppets themselves needed a new direction to plant their feet.
And now we have the TV series The Muppets, which is going with the faux documentary style ala The Office. Makes sense, as a simple rehashing of The Muppet Show wouldn’t work in this day and age. It sure didn’t work for Muppets Tonight. Tonight they did the season premiere with “Pig Girls Don’t Cry,” where we dive right into this new Muppet status quo. Miss Piggy hosts a late night talk show and Kermit’s the guy in charge. Unfortunately, it’s a bit of an awkward situation as they broke up several months ago and there’s some definite passive-aggressiveness on both sides.
Likewise, the other aspects of the show play up the idea that this is more of a look at the Muppets’ personal lives where the stakes are far less epic than your average movie plot. For instance, Fozzie’s dating a human woman and he’s trying to make a good impression on her prejudice parents.
Months ago, a 10-minute proof of concept debuted at San Diego Comic Con and later found its way onto the internet. This pilot episode takes a lot from it, but unfortunately not the better parts. Maybe I’m just bitter that they dropped the running gag that Chip the technician is so obscure that even he doesn’t know who he is (“Hey, guys? Was I in Muppet Treasure Island?”). Meanwhile, Gonzo’s joke about how much he hates talking head reality TV segments loses its punch when it’s his only scene in the entire episode and there’s no callback.
One of the selling points of the show is that to go with the more mature feel of the character relationships, the jokes are also a bit more mature. So far this has meant fuzzy references to stuff you’d never really hear the Muppets talk about and there have been some clever hits mixed in there. In this episode they made a reference to a Muppet being an alcoholic as well as Fozzie being hit on by guys online because he describes himself as a bear on dating sites. Between that and the joke in the proof of concept video about the Electric Mayhem being potheads, I’m amused but not sure this idea can go on for too long before running out of gas.
Speaking of new ideas, Kermit has moved on by dating Denise, another Muppet pig who works on the show. Denise has yet to really adhere herself to the viewers in any meaningful way and doesn’t leave any impression other than being “not Piggy.” Hopefully the next couple episodes give us something better.
I’ll admit that the first half of it felt really bogged down with setup – Elizabeth Banks is the next show’s guest and Piggy refuses to interview her for seemingly petty reasons – but the second half is when things really come alive. There’s a really hilarious bit with Scooter acting as a tour guide, a memorably silly gag involving Janice and musical guests Imagine Dragons, and a wonderful, serious scene in the climax that gives us a deeper look into the current Kermit/Piggy relationship.
Maybe the writers just realized how heartbreaking the “Pictures in My Head” sequence in the movie was and decided to draw it out for an entire series.
What matters is that the characters are still themselves despite the new setting and the jokes are able to shine through despite what is essentially a somewhat depressing introductory episode. Statler and Waldorf are still there, inexplicably watching the show they hate. Fozzie is still telling the worst jokes. Uncle Deadly is still awesome for simply existing.
So the jokes are great, though the plot needs some work. Fozzie’s B-plot didn’t do much for me and the Kermit/Piggy stuff was less than upbeat, but I laughed enough to accept it. It’ll take another episode or two for me to know how I feel about this new take, but I’m neither rushing in nor running away. At the very least, I can see the potential.
Lastly, Tom Bergeron completely owns every scene he’s in. This episode needed more Bergeron scenes, that’s for sure.