[Review] - The Muppets, Season 1 Episodes 7 And 8, "Pig's In A Blackout" And "Too Hot To Handler"



This is going to be a shorter than usual review, but one that deals with a major issue currently facing the Muppets. Trouble is afoot behind the scenes, you see. While it has taken the show a handful of episodes to find the best version of their current format, all is not well. Shortly after I published the previous review of the show, it was announced that Bob Kushell, co-show runner had been let go, to be replaced by Kristin Newman after episode ten, at which point the show will go on a mini hiatus and come back with a soft relaunch in their new direction. We know nothing of what this new direction might look like, but Kushell's removal was the product of disagreements he had with co-show runner and series producer, Bill Prady. Prady, unable to spend more than two days a week on The Muppets due to his obligations with Big Bang Theory, was experiencing a "clash of style and vision" with Kushell, resulting in a tug of war between what he saw as the end goal of the series and Kushell's day-to-day running. It should be noted that showrunners change all the time, it's only in the last ten years or so that they've taken a centre-stage position in the public mind (go back to the nineties, and no one outside the industry would have ever heard the term).

However, it is clear that there was an ongoing schism occurring behind the scenes, illustrated nicely by the above clip, taken from the end of episode 7, and this quote pulled from an interview Kushell did with Collider back before the pilot aired (emphasis mine):

Collider: The music has also always played an important role in The Muppets. Will we be hearing current music, or will there also be some original songs?
KUSHELL: It’s going to be primarily music now because it’s not a variety show and we’re not writing songs. On Up Late with Miss Piggy, we might do an original song as a joke, like you might see Jimmy Fallon or Jimmy Kimmel do, because it's a comedy show. But you’re not going to hear songs like "It’s Not Easy Being Green" or "Rainbow Connection." That’s just not the type of show it is.
My first thought, when seeing this scene play out was - well, actually my first thought was best personified by a series of cartoon hearts emanating from my head and evaporating in adorable bursts of cloud - that episode 7 was set up as the "Failure To Launch" episode. Essentially, if ABC had cancelled the show after six episodes, Pig's In A Blackout would have been the episode they aired to serve as an ad hoc series finale, complete with ending the show on the high of seeing Kermit mid-swamp, singing his signature song. But it is also, based on Kushell's adamant assertion that such things straight up would not be happening on this show, that there was a difference of opinion. Now, it is impossible to tell if Kushell's belief that there would be no singing on the show was his own opinion, or a company line he was towing. It is also impossible to know, at least until Newman takes over, relaunching the show more accordingly to Prady's vision, whether with was Prady or Kushell that pushed for things like Kermit breaking out the banjo. Regardless, Kushell clearly lost the battle, and we'll have to wait until after the new year, and the show's final six episodes of season one, before we see the repercussions of that loss.

Personally, I feel that the show has been improving with each episode. Significantly, in fact. The characterization has evened out, if there is still signs that the writers don't have a great handle on how to deal with Kermit week to week (some weeks he's a dick, some weeks he's the only sane man). their use of celebrity guests has dramatically improved, and integrating them into the actual plots instead of having them fly purposelessly across the screen has improved the narrative structure of the episodes. And with these two episodes, the weakest aspect of the show - the relationship drama - took a valiant step forward into relevancy. Make no mistake, there are still places where the show needs to show more improvement. And my hope is that, it was the disagreements that were holding those aspects of the show back. And that, whether Kushell's removal proves to be a positive or a negative in the long wrong, it at least affords the show the opportunity to move ever forward. I hope that Prady's vision, and Newman's execution continues the gains rather than driving the show back to the directionless form of the pilot. I also hope that it improves the balance that the show has yet to strike between the various Muppets, and find ways to have secondary characters support more of the primary plot lines (what I'm calling the Less Fozzie, More Rowlf campaign).

That leaves us with two episodes left in the Kushell era, and then a hiatus where Newman will attempt to bring the show in line with Prady's vision, and ABC's desire for the show. Because ABC considers the Muppets a top priority and a valued franchise, and isn't willing to watch the show hemorrhage viewers, and allow creative squabbles disrupt what should be a hallmark program. ABC is also the only network on the TV willing to work to make a show better, rather than cancel the show and eat the loss. They will keep the show around for as long as they consider it viable, and do what they need to, and hire who they need to, to make things work. As a creative person, that could be a horrifying perspective, but it might also be an example of business pushing the creative process in the right direction. Low returns suggests something isn't working, and they find a creative way to fix things, with the belief that a better product will result in better sales. They want a good Muppet show, and the audience does too. For once, we have a network willing to fight for the good of product. And that gives me hope that eventually, it might be easier being green.
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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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