The following is our review of ‘The Muppets’, which aired last night on ABC. If you have not yet seen the episode, and wish to avoid spoilers, please be warned that this review contains a multitude of them.
Jarrod Fairclough – The music is playing, and the lights are lit. The Muppets have returned to television with their brand new series, appropriately titled The Muppets.
In a world where everything seems to be getting a reboot (like Full House, The Jungle Book or Star Wars) there is a lot of trepidation about taking classic characters and bringing them in to new worlds and situations. Many people scream ‘Why can’t they just leave these characters be? Why must they ruin our childhoods?’ And in some cases they may be correct. The Smurfs was a great classic cartoon, but the two live action films certainly deserved their low score on Rotten Tomatoes. There are some people who feel the same way about The Muppets. They ask ‘Why does Disney feel the need to taint these characters?’. Some say far worse (believe me, I’ve seen the comments). Well, I’m here to assure you of one thing – The Muppets are back, and it’s going to be okay.
The episode itself plays out slightly similar to the pilot presentation we saw a couple of months back. It includes some of the same gags, like Bunsen tasing Beaker, Gonzo’s dislike for the talking heads format, and Kermit’s life being a bacon wrapped hell on Earth. Some of these jokes are exactly the same, some get extra lines added, with Sam’s nonchalant ‘Can’t say hell’ being one of my favourite jokes of the episode.
The main focus of the episode involves Miss Piggy’s refusal to have Elizabeth Banks on her late night show ‘Up Late with Miss Piggy’, for reasons unbeknownst to Kermit. While he tries to wrangle his friends, who are writing skits like ‘Dancing with the Czars’ and dealing with father issues – poor Big Mean Carl’s dad used to call him worthless – he has to deal with an unreasonable host who won’t talk with him about her real issues. It’s a storyline that leads to some absolutely hilarious moments.
Elizabeth Banks is a great choice for the show’s first celebrity guest, and it’s easy to see why she’s one of the best loved comedic actors in the business. Her screen test with Miss Piggy for The Hunger Games is a great way to show off her initial lack of chemistry with the porcine host, and her scene on the golf cart with Scooter might just be the best in the entire episode. In a great feat of puppetry, Scooter manages to be pushed off the driver’s seat, land on the road, and run back to take back his cart from Banks, all in one single take. Eric Jacobson stated in a panel that in the first two episodes we’ll see shots that they’ve never done with The Muppets before. This is one of them, and it’s glorious, a real testament to David Rudman and the puppeteers. Another amazing shot is Fozzie driving down the highway in a convertible, which seems like it was actually filmed while driving down an actual highway in an actual convertible.
We later find out Miss Piggy’s reasons for not wanting Banks on the show. A poster of Elizabeth’s face was hanging in the window during Miss Piggy and Kermit’s split, which we see in full thanks to some ‘paparazzi footage’ (that has extremely good audio). It’s scenes like this one that I hope the writers aren’t afraid to utilize. It’s all well and good seeing Big Mean Carl wallop Fozzie or having Sweetum’s screw up the cue cards, but the break up scene with Kermit and Piggy has pretty much no humour to it at all, and director Randall Einhorn lets the dramatic moment sit to great effect. If we keep seeing scenes like this, that contrast the craziness these characters usually exude, I’ll be happy.
Fozzie’s storyline is lifted almost exactly from the pilot presentation, as he meets the parents of his new girlfriend Becky, played by actress and comedian Riki Lindhome. Riki is a great choice for the show, as her timing and comedic sensibilities fit perfectly with these characters. She and Eric Jacobson have real chemistry, and it’s used to full effect in this first episode. Joining them are Meagan Fay and Jere Burns, playing Becky’s folks Holly and Carl respectively.
The whole ‘winning the in-laws approval’ shtick is a classic sitcom trope, and frankly, it’s a little played out. If the show went the Community route and turned these tropes on their heads, I think the series would benefit, but this one turns out pretty much as you’d expect, with Becky admitting her parents don’t like Fozzie, but she loves him anyway. Thankfully it doesn’t look like the show will be relying on these sorts of tropes as much as other comedies, but I hope that when they do use them, they find a way to do so in new and refreshing ways.
Seeing the Muppets in their day to day lives means seeing a different side of these characters, and I have to say that after one episode – some of these characters are kind of jerks. I mean that in a good way, I love that Scooter will sass Elizabeth Banks or Kermit will have a go at Animal for criticizing his ideas but not contributing any. It will be interesting over the series seeing how these characters develop, and what we will learn about them all. I can’t wait to see how they interact with each other and how characters who don’t usually mingle bounce off of one another, something that it touched on in the next episode.
There were some concerns from the masses when Bill Prady announced that the show would be more ‘adult’ than some of the more recent Muppet works. It’s a concern that a lot of us have fobbed off, saying that Jim Henson never intended The Muppets to be children’s characters. There are definitely some very adult jokes, some that even I, as a big advocate for adult Muppets, went ‘woah!’. Fozzie’s line about his dating profile saying ‘Passionate bear looking for love’ getting ‘wrong’ responses was one of them. ToughPigs head honcho Joe Hennes put it best when he said ‘It’s good that a 60 year old brand can still surprise people’. Some people who have responded badly might need reminding that The Muppets were making premarital pregnancy gags and saying ‘Hell’ back in the 1970’s.
Halfway through the episode we’re introduced to Denise, a controversial figure and Kermit’s new girlfriend. We get a great, albeit brief, look at their relationship, which seems much healthier and happier than Kermit’s relationship with Piggy. Even Kermit himself admits that Piggy’s outbursts aren’t ‘quirky’, they’re the acts of a lunatic. Of course we all know what’s going to happen eventually, but for the time being it’s nice to see Kermit happy with someone else. Denise gets a character, she isn’t just a sexy bore (wocka wocka) like we saw in the pilot presentation. Julianne Buescher plays her as a smart, flirty and fun pig, who truly adores her boyfriend. I’m so glad we finally have another female character in the mix, let alone one with such a great personality.
Speaking of female Muppets, it’s so great to see the return of Yolanda, who I mentioned in April would be a great character to bring back. It’s clear that she has an on-off again relationship with Rizzo, which could lead to some interesting storylines in the future. I’m so glad that instead of inventing a whole new character, Bill Prady and Bob Kushell have dug deep in to the trough of female Muppets and bought back someone we haven’t really seen in a while – and they’ve given her a personality. I can’t wait to see who else returns (Fingers crossed for Beth Bear).
This is just episode one, and I can promise you that the quality doesn’t dip in episode two (I love being considered Press). Enjoy it, ladies and gentlemen, because The Muppets are back, and they’re in great hands.
- I loved the opening titles. They had that nice subtle reference to The Muppet Show without relying on it too much, and I loved hearing Dr. Teeth scat a little over the top. It’s heart warming to see Jim’s name during the sequence, too.
- I’m not sure I heard Peter Linz in the episode at all. His name appears in the credits at the beginning of the episode, so we’re bound to hear him at some point. Walter is nowhere to be seen, which is a shame, but I’m sure it’s just a matter of time until he turns up in some capacity.
- I didn’t talk enough about it above, but Randall Einhorn has done a brilliant job directing this episode. From the characters in the far background to the way he’s set up shots that allow us to see everyone with no cuts, it’s flawless.
- Eric Jacobson is working overtime on this series. Between Piggy, Fozzie and Animal, he’s got a lot to do, and he’s crushing it.
- Background characters seen: Angel Marie, Andy & Randy Pig, Chip, Lips,
Lew Zealand, Gene.
- Zoot’s in AA, which makes complete sense.
- The following words will never make an appearance on The Muppet Mindset again, as ordered by Sam the Eagle – crotchety, twiddle, gesticulate. Because gesticulation leads to shaking hands, which leads to making babies.
PS – All three words were trending on Twitter after the show aired!
- Just in case you’re reading this, Kermit – don’t forget to talk to God about lilacs.
- I can’t wait to hear Tom Bergeron’s story about growing a moustache and being mistaken for Tom Selleck.
- Oh, Imagine Dragons were there too. Frankly I found them a little redundant, but it gave Electric Mayhem Dr Teeth and the some funny moments.