[Review] - The Muppets, Season 1 Episodes 5 And 6, "Walk the Swine" And "The Ex-Factor"

Courtesy of ABC Studios
So, we've arrived at the end of the six episode "trial period" in which a show can find itself, and fall into a standard grove in which to move forward, while casting off the aspect discovered in making those first six that weren't successful. And after a rough couple episodes at the start, I feel that The Muppets final found its groove. While neither of these two episodes matched the level of spectacular that was Pig Out, they at least conformed to a standard notion of what the show is, and how it is. And happily, what it is and how it is, is very good. There is still some work to be done narratively, but the writers finally have their hooks in a structure that works for the format. And that is half the battle.

Before we go into specifics, I want to say something about music. Now, I hate musicals. Nothing turns me off faster than someone breaking into song (if you stopped rhyming, everything would go much faster. Just say what you mean, not what you feel!). The exception to this is the Muppets. Muppets singing are delightful. And I think I feel that way because singing and the Muppets are so entangled with one another. It was the hallmark of the original series, it is the highlight of the movies, and frankly, aside from the fact that they are frogs and bears and chickens and things, the one thing people think of when they think of the Muppets is them bursting into song. When this new series aired, Prady and Kushell said there would be no singing. After three episodes, they lied. But what has impressed me is how they've opted to incorporate the singing into each episode, rather organically and naturally, without it feeling forced. Between drunken karaoke, an on-air duet with Kristin Chenoweth, or everyone gaining up to mock Fozzie, the singing has been inspired and most welcome (also, Riki Lindhome looked like she was living a personal fantasy, surrounded by singing Muppets).

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers that have an associate's degree; they use a towel.

So, these two episodes were success all around, for the most part. Episode six was the first not to feature Fozzie at all, let alone as the centre of one of the episode plots. His absence was most welcome. Piggy continues to be the crux of the show, and these two episodes mostly focused on her, and the fact that behind her egotistical, self-centred exterior is a shallow, vengeful interior. The show is hilariously nimble at avoiding showing Piggy with anything resembling a sympathetic or sensitive side. She goes to extreme lengths to one-up Reese Witherspoon, culminating in an overly elaborate musical apology which says everything you need to know about how importance style is over substance in Piggy's world view.

And in the next episode, she pleasantly and maturely helps Kermit when he asks for it, only to have it revealed that it was a long, patient opportunity for revenge. We've always known that Piggy is self-centred, but the more this series is really highlighting the fact that Piggy is the worst. If they tempered her actions with a quite moment of reflection, or a private instance of regret, she might come off in a better light. But she's completely aware of her behaviour, which doesn't make her evil, but it does make her spiteful.

If I have to congratulate the writers on anything, its the little details they are finding in the Muppets lives that otherwise have never had a venue to be revealed. Week to week, what I end up enjoying most about the show are the throw away lines that give the Muppets a much stranger form of depth. Scooter's relationship with his mom and "Ken," Gonzo's complete lack of understanding of women (and his mother's vacation), and Floyd's father's living arrangements are examples of things that aren't plot necessary but add both humour and description to character that have spent most of forty years being fairly one dimensional.

Jim Henson created immortal characters, but they are archetypes, to the every last one. Dressing them up in strange predilections and making them animals does not disguise the fact that they each have only a single personality types, and exist essentially to conform to that type. By giving these characters backstories, they illicit motivations, which inform why they exist in those types, and suggest how they might evolve the longer the show stays on. My favourite Muppet is increasingly Yolanda, who is getting some of the best material on the show with her glib, sarcastic responses to Kermit's situations and demands.

Episode six returned us to the plot that they sold the show on, which was Kermit and Piggy's break up. Since they hadn't mentioned it in so long, I assumed that was a vestige of the pilot, and that they'd let it go. But no, in episode six Denise popped back up, and the writers suddenly have to try to make the show into a romantic comedy. The problem is, they haven't given us, the audience, to believe that any of this is an issue. They informed us that Kermit and Denise are dating, but they haven't showed us any of that. Not even mentions off hand. Nor has there been a significant difference in how Kermit and Piggy act to and around one another in the wake of their break-up. The show has done nothing to persuade us that any of this isn't just random episode filler.

We've seen Fozzie's girlfriend exactly as many times as we've seen Denise, but that relationship actually feels like a relationship, mostly because we've seen those characters reacting to one another, rather than seeing other characters react about a third part. The relationship side of the show is a distraction, an attempt to make the show feel more adult, and it's been forced on a couple episodes, and landed with a thud. If the writers are intent on making dating a part of the show, they need to inject it organically (like Gonzo's online dating a few episodes back), or they need to commit, and actually build a relationship between Kermit and Denise rather than just have it exist as a narrative device when they can't think of anything else.

The writers have figured out that the celebrities work best when they actually have something to do, and time to do it in. I'm disappointed that Nick Offerman burned off his guest appearance back before they figured out that substance over quantity was the way to go, but at least they've figured it out so that there isn't more waste. Giving the guests an actual arc in the story, and a chance to have a lot of fun, and to play up a version of themselves will only increase the likelihood of others asking to be on the show. Beyond getting to hang out with the Muppets, they actually get to do some work they can be proud of. Reese Witherspoon's role last week was the best role she's had in years (I omit Wild from that list because I didn't see it, but somehow I doubt it's better than getting hip checked by Piggy).

I think Chenoweth's role is the one of beat though, since she got to spend the entire B-plot hanging out with the Electric Mayhem, and suffered the wrath of Muppet logic in the process. It was also easily the nuttiest B-plot the writers have developed so far, and I want them to keep stretching and straining the notion of what is too far. In any fiction, there is a breaking point. A place where the suspension of disbelief turns off, and you realize they've gone too far. For the Muppets, it was Muppets From Space. But short of that, there really isn't a plot that they could come up with that wouldn't make a certain amount of sense with the Muppets. I want the writers to keep challenging themselves to ramp up the weird. these guys can take it.
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.


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