The Muppets debuted last night and, if the first episode is anything to go by, we may have a winner on our hands. Broad, acerbic, heartfelt, and full of bad puns, Jim Henson’s The Muppets are back. Granted, there is a giant shaped Jim Henson hole, but the Muppets have proven they can go on without him.
The new show is part Larry Sanders, part Office, and part Scrubs. This is to say it’s zany, sort of fractured, biting, and hilarious. This is a grown-up Muppets with a darker edge and a more melancholy feel. This is fine. Nevermind Jim Henson’s belief that the Muppets weren’t just for kids, we have old shows and archive footage to back it up. The old Muppet Show had Akira Kurosawa references, Gilbert and Sullivan gags, bad puns, and ribald humor as well.
The only difference between then and now is, well you’re not a little kid anymore, Charlie Brown. Is the new Miss Piggy (Eric Jacobson) selfish, shallow, diva-ish, and vitriolic? Yes. So was the old one. Is the new Kermit (Steve Whitmire) a bit of jerk, sort of short tempered, and sel- involved? Yes. So was the old one. Here’s the thing: you’re older and they are too.
Miss Piggy is the star of her own late night talk show now. So the diva is going to be even more diva. And she is. But she’s still the take-no-gruff Miss Piggy we’ve always loved. Has she gotten more brusque with age? Yes. It happens. When Fozzie tries to call in a favor (getting Piggy to meet his girlfriend’s parents), she asks him point blank after the hello’s, “Is this the guy with the hat?”
Kermit is still harried and put upon. Mainly because he has Gonzo (Dave Goelz), Rizzo (Whitmire), and Pepe (Bill Barretta) as writers for the show, Scooter (David Rudman) as the talent coordinator, Fozzie as the warm up act for Piggy, and the Electric Mayhem as the house band. You’d be short tempered too. Scooter goes to the sound stage of Dances With the Stars and comes back with Tom Bergeron. Kermit’s job is not an easy one.
Add to that: Kermit and Miss Piggy have broken up and Kermit’s moved on to a new, younger, and skinnier pig, Denise (Julianne Buescher). Plus, he has to contend with Piggy’s bizarre demand that their next night’s guest Elizabeth Banks, be scraped. Piggy doesn’t like her. Kermit, confounded, decides, after some digging as to why she hates Elizabeth Banks, to bring her on anyway. Piggy be damned.
Fozzie is trying to get in good with Becky (Riki Lindhome), his new girlfriend, and her family. A herculean task considering they’re human and he’s well, Fozzie. As his date night with her family spirals into awkward silences, he mentions he works for Piggy. Struck by sitcom inspiration he decides the best way to get in good with them is to take them on tour of the set.
Cue the inevitable farcical mix ups and slapstick: Scooter being asked to take Elizabeth Banks on a tour of the studio to keep her away from Piggy; Banks and Scooter getting into an all out brawl on the tour; Piggy having a meltdown when she finds out Kermit went against her and brought on Banks; Piggy yelling at Fozzie when he tries to introduce her to his girlfriend’s parents.
Which all leads to Kermit asking Piggy why she hates Banks. (Elizabeth not the institution. I have no knowledge one way or the other of how Miss Piggy feels about banks.) She reveals Pitch Perfect 2 was the movie that was playing in the theater the night Kermit and her broke up. It’s heartwarming in a saccharine way.
If anything The Muppets need more story. The half hour format suits them but with only two stories it seemed a little, not slow, just there was a lot of filler. Hopefully as the show goes on pacing and tighter direction and writing will prevail. But as it stands the first episode was pretty solid. Though, and I can not stress this enough, there was no Rowlf. And that’s disturbing.
I missed the big brown lovable mutt.
All in all, the pilot episode is nice enjoyable laugh with old friends. I know a lot of people have issues, but, outside of the ones I listed, these Muppets seem to be just older versions of the ones I grew up with. I think the issue is we grew older and we thought the Muppets would remain ageless. In a way, they have. But they’ve also gotten older and that’s fine.
At the end of the day, they still just want to get together and put on a show. As much as Kermit may flail and shout, he still loves his friends and the show. Gonzo still swings for the fences and relishes in his otherness. Fozzie is still trying to get laughs. The Electric Mayhem plays on and Piggy is the star. Seems like old times to me.