This week’s episode of The Muppets might be the best offering so far. It’s by far the Muppetiest episode to date. It was adult, bizarre, wacky, and sweet.
At the start of the episode, we see Kermit dealing with the normal backstage shenanigans of the Up Late cast and crew. It goes without saying the cast and crew, being Muppets, makes the shenanigans that much more absurd and deranged. From Sweetums crashing a golf cart inside the studio because the giant block of butter in the back has started to melt and coat the brake pedals, to Piggy being stuck in the elevator and having Bobo try to fix it while muttering, “Helicopters and elevators. Basically the same thing.”
These are only a few examples. The beauty of this opening is that, for the first time in its seven episodes, The Muppets actually felt like The Muppets. The chaos, the seemingly absurd acts that are inserted because Patrick Dempsey cancelled. Even Piggy being trapped in the elevator was nice because Kermit was actually worried about her safety. Not in a shallow, “the talent is stuck” type of way, but in a genuine “another being is in peril, we have to help them” type of way.
Add to the fact the stroke of genius by making Kermit do his infamous stress wail and arm flail only to have him faint. He’s getting older now and he needs to find a way to relax and relieve the stress. Denise shows up to comfort her fallen frog (yay for some sense of continuity) followed closely by Piggy. The two pigs suggest Kermit take a mental health holiday and go to a Yoga Spa for the day. Kermit agrees and leaves Scooter in charge.
Cue the unmitigated chaos. Scooter turns up the air conditioner. Kermit’s secretary warns him not to. “There’s masking tape on the thermostat for the reason. The Frog likes it swampy.” To which Scooter retorts, “The man also eats bugs, doesn’t mean we have too.” The downfall of Scooter can be traced back to here. The total disregard of the masking tape. The chain of events go from Beaker getting his face frozen to the Up Late studios losing all their power.
Cut to the health spa where Kermit is trying to get his relaxation on. Unfortunately, Jason Bateman shows up, sees Kermit and starts badgering him for help with his elementary school production of Wicked. Kermit, being Kermit, is incapable of turning someone down– especially when it comes to putting on a show. So he acquiesces only to be kicked out of the retreat for breaking the rules by having contact with the outside world.
Where’s a Frog to go when he’s feeling down and out, stressed, and has nowhere to go? Rowlf’s of course. More to the point. Rowlf’s piano. Sweet Henson from above, this was magic. Rowlf tickling the ivories while he and Kermit have a heart to heart about how they each let off steam. Nothing makes me feel quite as good as Rowlf playing the piano and pontificating about life.
Contrary to the show’s track record, it doesn’t drop the ball as it goes back to the studio. Scooter is depressed and heartbroken that he’s basically destroyed the studio in less than twenty four hours. He feels bad that he’s let down his mentor, Kermit. Gonzo, who’s a little sad Kermit didn’t choose him to be in charge, does the truest Muppet thing and talks Scooter into not giving up. “The show must go on.” Scooter does what Kermit, and any good show runner/stage manager, must do and improvises. They light the studio with candles and claim they’re doing the show without electricity to show their dedication to energy conservation, using batteries and such to power the cameras. Scooter even finds a band that “doesn’t need to be plugged in”, and we’re treated to a cameo appearance from the a cappella group Pentatonix.
Kermit comes back, rights the sinking ship that is the show, as Kermit is wont to do, and all returns to what constitutes as normal. Kermit confesses the retreat didn’t work but that he’s found his own way of coping. He’s torn out his pool and installed part of his Mississippi swamp in his backyard. The episode closes out with Kermit sitting on a log, strumming his banjo and singing “The Rainbow Connection”.
From start to finish, this was the best paced, best written, funniest, most Muppet episode the show has done yet. They’ve even got some running gags starting to pop up which is nice. Running gags tend to implicate the show has a memory of some sorts so here’s hope for continuity. The guests (save the brief appearance of Pentatonix) are still lily white and embarrassingly straight and gender normative, but I have faith. Simply because no show whose essential theme song is “The Rainbow Connection” can be blind to the Rainbow coalition. At least it shouldn’t be.