I'll say this for The Muppets: It ended in a better place than it began. And because this impromptu "finale" is its 15th and 16th episodes, and it's airing in early March after a mid-season shake-up, and no renewal announcement has been made, it seems pretty clear that this is the end. Apparently, ABC decided to just burn the whole thing off.
I've heard it said that no life is lived in vain; some are lived to show us how to live ours. If a second season is made — and again, that's a big if — I hope some lessons will at least be learned. Not every beloved childhood brand needs a detached, modern update. Guest stars don't an episode make. And, as Fozzie taught us in "A Tail of Two Piggies," never forget the Third Thing.
At is worst, The Muppets was a fundamental misunderstanding of what drew people to make connections with the Muppets. As my friend, Abe, put it after watching an episode, "The Muppets are supposed to be lovable weirdos. On the new show they aren't weirdos; they're terse, post-modern witnesses of their own lives." So often, this version of The Muppets was cynical and thinly plotted, a paltry shadow of the joy and heart the Muppets are more than capable of celebrating.
At its occasional best, The Muppets found ways to not only tap into the deep wells of nostalgia at its disposal, but to actually allow glimpses into how the Muppets could work as a modern sitcom. These glimmers of hope were as frustrating as they were welcome, and I do hope that one day we at least get a proper reboot of The Muppet Show. Man, remember those salad days when the first still-funny Muppets promo came out at the upfronts? I want to see that show.
With all of this said, "Generally Inhospitable" and "Because … Love" were both serviceable enough, given what they have to do and their less-than-ideal working conditions. These episodes are not masterpieces, but at least they are not trainwrecks.
"Generally Inhospitable" starts with Miss Piggy breaking her leg, and if you'd assume she'd immediately enjoy basking in the attention an injury brings, you'd be as confused as I was. Instead, she fights Kermit and Uncle Deadly every step of the way as they bring her to the hospital, while Pizza takes over creative control of the show. (Question for both of these episodes: Where the hell was the Network President? They built her up as the arch-antagonist, but she doesn't step in to fill that role, even after Pizza is subdued as a threat.)
Miss Piggy has to have surgery, which means she won't be able to host the show that night, and Pizza threatens to bring in a hot DJ to replace her as a host. Pepe, Rizzo, and Yolanda scheme to get Pizza's phone, although why that will effectively foil his plot is never quite explained. Doesn't he still have a computer? Couldn't he borrow someone else's phone? And then, after Big Mean Carl steals his phone, he says he needed a new one anyway … so they lock him in a dressing room and enlist Sweetums as his prison guard? Were they picking plot points by throwing darts at a wall?
At the hospital, Miss Piggy reveals why she is afraid of getting injured, and it's actually a really nice character moment. Growing up on a farm, whenever pigs were injured, they were taken to the butcher, and now she's worried that an injury will lead to the Hollywood equivalent of being put out the pasture. It makes sense as a justification, and I wish she'd given it up top so I hadn't spent every moment up until that point wondering why Miss Piggy wouldn't revel in the attention of a hospital. Kermit decides he's not going to let Pizza replace her, and arranges to broadcast the show live from her hospital room before she goes in for surgery.
Meanwhile, Sweetums discovers that Pizza isn't such a bad guy — he just wished his dad had said "I love you" to him while growing up. Yolanda fakes a phone call from his dad and has them reconcile, so Pizza decides to go back home and help run the family business. Now, you might think that I am truncating this particular story line for the recap, but you'd be as wrong as you were about the whole Miss Piggy's leg thing at the beginning. It. Just. Happens. That. Fast. It's like The Muppets wants to get this over with, too.
Although Miss Piggy accidentally ups her morphine intake right before they go to air, the show broadcast from the hospital room is a success — the Muppets do an actual Muppet sketch! — and after it's over Miss Piggy is prepped for surgery. Unfortunately, high on morphine and unaware that she is still being filmed, Piggy tells Kermit that she loves him, and he says it back.
"Because … Love" picks up where "Generally Inhospitable" leaves off, and it's bizarrely, disappointingly thin as a season finale. Kermit has to decide whether or not to pursue Miss Piggy in earnest, and when Rowlf's lucky coin comes up heads, he decides to go ahead with it. But the Up Late staff are divided on the question of his grand romantic gesture — after all, they know what a mess the Piggy/Kermit relationship can be. Yolanda thinks they should stay friends because Rizzo's lack of romanticism has jaded her about love. Sam the Eagle is initially on the side of friendship, but quickly changes his stance when Janice says she's on the side of love.
This raises the question: Why was Sam the Eagle never the key antagonist on this show? Why didn't he and Janice ever find themselves on opposite sides of a censorship debate? Hell, if they were only going to address it during the finale, why not have her reveal that she did have a crush on him, but it ended when he said he didn't want Kermit and Piggy to get back together? It doesn't make sense. So little of this makes sense. Can we get a show do-over?
The rest of the episode is just as muddled. Kermit and Piggy want to get back together, but their logic for not immediately doing so is never thoroughly explained. She will only do it if Kermit makes a romantic gesture that proves he is "all in," but he starts to have doubts after the Up Late staff reminds him how fraught their relationship used to be. At one point, Jack White shows up to talk Kermit into going after Piggy. It just seems strange to hinge an episode around a conflict that neither of the characters need to have: Why didn't Denise reappear? Why weren't they forced to make a legitimate choice? This is all of the key problems of the whole series, distilled. In that way, it is the perfect finale.
Rizzo and Yolanda get together, too. It's meant to be cathartic, but because they weren't introduced as a couple until about two episodes ago, it has very little emotional impact. Sam and Janice are not mentioned again. Camilla and Gonzo are nowhere to be seen. Fozzie has very little to do. Luckily, those creepy Muppet babies (not like the TV show, like those babies who are actual Muppets) make a fun cameo, and we get some "Mahna Mahna!", so there are moments of buoyancy. Otherwise, the episode is weighted down by its own inability to identify what should be an obvious conflict.
In the end, Miss Piggy decides to stop waiting around for Kermit to perform a grand romantic gesture, and she buys a ticket to Thailand for the show's break. Instead of running through the airport to stop her (the obvious romantic grand gesture of choice), Kermit just … meets her on the airplane? Unfortunately, before she can say whether or not she wants to get back together with him, her pre-flight Ambien kicks in (too much reliance on drugged Piggy for plot purposes in two episodes, if you ask me), and she falls asleep.
End of episode, end of season, likely end of series.
I doubt there will be a next season, but if there is, let me just say this: The bare bones are still here. The Muppets are strong enough as a franchise and as a group of characters that I truly believe diamonds can still be found in The Muppets' first season rough. I believed in the Muppets through Muppets From Space, I believed in them through Muppets Most Wanted, and I will believe in them through The Muppets. The Muppets have taught me nothing if not optimism.