ABC’s The Muppets has been a bit of a rollercoaster ride in a way. As it began, the show was lacking and had some serious tone problems. Like practically all TV shows, it needed to figure itself out and ultimately achieved that goal, giving us some outright brilliant episodes. One of which ended up on our list of best TV episodes of 2015. The problem was that due to the initial public distaste, ABC made a big deal about the show’s imminent retooling, which would begin as of 2016. But…we no longer need that anymore because the show is good now.
“Swine Song” is the first episode of this change and it’s very, very meta. The crux of the episode is the introduction of Pizza (pronounced “Pa-Chay”), an antagonistic human played by Utkarsh Ambudkar brought in to rebrand the show into something more current and relevant while all the Muppets are freaking out about what this means for their futures.
It’s all a smokescreen to cover up the actual changes of the show. Really, the new direction is best explained with the intro. For the first ten episodes, we’d see a fast-forward bit of Kermit trying to get some food and coffee out of catering, only to be overwhelmed by everyone else running in and out, ending with a sad sack Kermit shrugging as the place is completely trashed from being picked clean. Now we’re given a new twist on it that might just be for the better.
Among the changes is that Piggy, having gone on a wonderful vacation to Argentina (where she adopted an adorable Muppet penguin), has totally chilled out. While still an egomaniac and larger than life, she isn’t insufferable and angrily petty. Now that we have Pizza involved, we no longer really need Piggy’s irritable personality being the core cause of conflict on the show.
Another big thing is that they’re trying to get back to the variety show roots by incorporating the cast into Piggy’s talk show more. On paper, variety show segments would be a death knell with today’s sensibilities, but they make it work by simply finding the right modern take. Think of Piggy as David Letterman with the others filling the roles of Rupert Jee, Biff Henderson, and so on. Those guys all got to do their own thing that wasn’t related to stand-up comedy or interviewing guests and the show was better for it.
But the biggest thing is that the series is finally turning the boat around on the whole relationship aspect. In order to make things awkward in a sitcom way, the series began with the aftermath of Kermit and Piggy’s breakup and built the show around the two of them having to work together, even though Kermit had already moved on with his less-than-interesting rebound pig Denise. Obviously, that wasn’t going to last forever and it looks like we’re going back to the old “will they or won’t they” dynamic.
And honestly, it’s better that way. The show can use a bit more looming happiness than seeing felt creatures from our childhoods broken down over broken hearts.
Anyway, as for the episode itself, it’s a promising restart, but nothing top of the list. I will say that guest stars Key and Peele absolutely kill it for the few scenes they are in, as well as the some of the scenes they aren’t in because the writing is that good.
Just as great is a subplot involving Uncle Deadly and Piggy’s pet penguin named Gloria Estefan. Naming the penguin that should be the dumbest thing, but every joke surrounding the name is pretty hilarious. ESPECIALLY anything Uncle Deadly says in that regard. Plus it’s just a real treat to see Uncle Deadly get a piece of the spotlight for once. I’ve wanted to see more from him ever since his role in the movie from a few years ago.
Fans of the show can let out a sigh of relief right now because as it is right now, the retooling isn’t going to cripple what made it work. That is, unless you’re a big fan of Denise and why would you be? Considering the amount of screentime she’s had over the season, she’s more of a plot device than a character. Pizza might end up being too obnoxious for his own good, but let’s see where this goes.
Gavin Jasper wants a pet penguin now. Follow him on Twitter!