Gabbing Geek contributor Greg has been rather baffled about how anyone (let alone Jimmy, Jenny, or myself) could possibly be enjoying The Muppets. It hasn’t been working for him. He’s been wondering what he’s been missing, is there something wrong with him, or with the rest of us, and why hot dogs come in packs of ten but hot dog buns come in packs of eight.
I don’t have answers for any of those questions, but let me attempt to address his concerns while discussing last night’s episode after the cut.
The fourth episode of the series dealt primarily with Miss Piggy going out with the crew after the show and the rousing good time had by all except Kermit (and technically Fozzie…more on that soon). Kermit first manipulates Gonzo and Pepe to invite Piggy out with them in the first place, then manipulates Piggy into not going out a second time.
It’s all rather…well, it’s showing this ugly side to Kermit that’s been troubling since this new series started. Kermit’s been something of a jerk, often out of jealousy towards his ex-girlfriend Piggy. I can really see why this would be bothersome to many longtime fans. Kermit’s supposed to be one of the good guys. He doesn’t play cruel tricks. He’s certainly never been overly jealous of Miss Piggy before. If anything, Kermit’s relationship with the pig always seemed more one-sided than anything else to me, and the one side was coming squarely from Piggy.
But here’s the thing: Kermit aside, the Muppets are more or less acting in-character. Fozzie’s neediness, Piggy’s vanity, Sam the Eagle’s sense of propriety, all these are more or less what these characters have always been.
Further, let’s consider that the Muppets are now being used to explore new directions. Sam’s crush on Janice is odd at first blush, but it’s not as if there are a lot of female characters hanging around for Sam to feel anything for. Seeing Sam let his guard down is a nice change of pace, especially since he only barely let his guard down.
But here’s the thing about the Muppets: just about every incarnation of the characters has been about them putting on a show of some kind for the audience. The Muppet Show was essentially a variety show featuring a ton of puppets. Jim Henson wasn’t above using different kinds of puppets to do things puppets didn’t traditionally do, and he catered their acts for a TV (later movie) camera. The Muppets would sing, dance, do comedy, but the framing device of any given episode was just Kermit trying to put on a show. Kermit would inevitably get really frustrated, but at the last second everything would go right and Kermit could have his weekly send-off, promising another show soon.
That incarnation perhaps came closer than most of showing the Muppets as “real” people. Various movies often have scenes where the Muppets make it known they are fully aware they are in a movie. The Muppet Movie uses the framing device of the Muppets themselves watching the movie, and various lines reference the Muppets being in a movie. The audience should get the idea that the Muppets aren’t actually having one of their own adventures recorded, but rather are acting in a movie as fictional versions of themselves. The Great Muppet Caper takes this idea even further. The opening credits are being read by Kermit, Fozzie, and Gonzo while floating in a hot air balloon; Kermit takes time out during the opening song to explain what roles he, Fozzie, and Gonzo are playing; and he and Piggy have an argument halfway through where she threatens to walk off the set before he apologizes. That last one may be the angriest Kermit’s ever sounded while dealing with Piggy, since it doesn’t sound like some of his other bouts of rare rage at the prima dona pig. Seriously, see if you can find the old Muppet Show episode where Kermit fires Piggy for spreading rumors about them in the tabloids and compare it to that fight. The fight in Muppet Caper actually seems a lot more real.
Later Muppet projects would continue this trend. The Jim Henson Hour would do half the show where Kermit is running a TV network. Not much has changed. Post-Henson productions would recast the Muppets as famous literary characters, enforcing the “Muppets are just actors” idea. Even the film relaunch followed that basic idea. Muppets Most Wanted opened with a song where the group wondered what they should do for the sequel.
So, with that in mind, the current series is supposed to be a fake reality show documentary like The Office or Modern Family. This is the most behind-the-scenes look at the Muppets since the original series. Kermit aside, most of them are behaving in ways that look familiar. Even Kermit’s not that far off if you consider his one goal every episode is to put on a good show. He’s just being more of a jerk about it, even if he is chalking it up to learning from Miss Piggy how to do it.
Much of the humor has also been based on these characters. Fozzie is easily the least different in the new incarnation. He’s still the bad comedian with low self esteem that has to deal with the same two hecklers he’s always had shadowing him his entire career. Giving that relationship the twist that Fozzie accidentally injures one of them and tries to make amends and maybe even befriend the old man is a very Fozzie-like stunt. That Statler would use it all for a cruel prank at Fozzie’s expense is a very Statler-like moment.
We still have the celebrity guest stars, too. Ed Helms being the guy who hangs with the Muppets at a raucous party that leads to most of them having hangovers the next day was a delightful touch, as was the Muppets all singing karaoke with many of the most appropriate possible songs each. Of course the Swedish Chef would do “Rapper’s Delight”. And we finally saw Scooter without his glasses.
Was Kermit’s trick to get the crew to have less fun with Piggy manipulative and wrong? Yeah, probably. Was it something Kermit would do? Questionable. Was it part of Kermit’s overall motivation in every incarnation to make sure the show continues to run smoothly? Yeah, it was. Hungover crew members can’t put on a good show. That’s all Kermit wants in the end.
Now, can he just be a little nicer?
Last night’s episode gets a seven out of ten misfired t-shirt canons.