The opening credits to The Muppets is just a title card — black text on a white background, underscored by a xylophone rendition of the “it’s time to get things started” from The Muppet Show theme song. It’s totally fine, but remember the Muppets Show theme song? How about Muppet Babies? Oh man, remember the music from the movies?
Two episodes in, and that kind of disappointed nostalgia is where I stand on The Muppets in general. It’s fun. It’s watchable. But why watch anything else when you could rewatch The Muppet Movie for the gazillionth time instead?
To be fair, it’s not The Muppets’ creators’ fault that, two episodes into a mockumentary-style network sitcom, they’ve been unable to capture the magic of “The Rainbow Connection.” And the Muppets haven’t been an unmitigated success on every outing. (Okay, I am just talking about Muppets From Space here.) And you know what else? I really did think “Hostile Makeover” was a much better episode than the pilot.
Miss Piggy is in a terrible mood because she doesn’t have a date to the People’s Choice Awards, so Kermit has the crew of Up Late find someone to keep her occupied. Since Keanu Reeves is busy gaining weight for a movie and Jeff Goldblum is married, Josh Groban is the logical third choice in that Fibonacci sequence of approachable guys with black hair who moms love. Besides, Pepe the Prawn thinks he’s dreamy, a fact revealed in a moment that may be the first in which a character on a network sitcom has come out as pansexual. Good on ya, Pepe.
At first Groban is as much a godsend as his cherubic curls and cute little punim would suggest. He calms Miss Piggy down. He’s nice to the crew. But then his influence starts to have repercussions for Up Late. He thinks the Electric Mayhem should go unplugged, for one. He gets Miss Piggy interested in authors, leading her to interview Reza Aslan, which could be great if she’d ever read nonfiction. Kermit’s soft spot for the real Miss Piggy gives way, and he decides to confront Groban about the ways he’s changing her. It doesn’t go so well, and upon reflection he realizes that perhaps he’s just trying to control Miss Piggy’s choices in the same way as her new beau. But still, Josh Groban has revealed himself to be a real douche, and he has to go. Using what he knows remains true about Piggy — her ego — he gets her to dump him.
If the plot sounds vague and a little thin, it’s because it is. Josh Groban’s charm, a performance of “If I Loved You” from Carousel, and a deep attachment to Kermit and Piggy’s love buoyed it for me. Otherwise it did feel like a lot of setup without much payoff. Why, at no point, did the whole crew turn against Josh Groban? It felt like either he had to be doing enough bad for the show that everyone except Miss Piggy turned against him, or that he was doing a lot of good for the show and Kermit squarely realized that his concerns about Josh were rooted not in concern for Piggy but in pure jealousy. But plot thinness seems to be a common thread in this episode.
For example, Fozzie goes to a party at the house of his hero, Jay Leno (which, you know … explains a lot about Fozzie). He steals a candy dish as a souvenir, which he promptly breaks, only to discover that it was stolen by Jay Leno from his comedic hero, George Carlin. Jay Leno gets mad. End of plot.
Back on set, another bear, Bobo, is selling Girl Scout cookies on behalf of his daughter. So is the Newsman (yay, the Newsman!), but there really isn’t any conflict between them. He just … doesn’t sell a lot of cookies, and then he remembers there is a very stoned band on the show, and sells them to them. I love Bobo and am glad he’s getting his due on The Muppets, but it’s, you know, anticlimactic.
Right now it feels a little like the writers are letting the fact that THESE ARE THE MUPPETS! do the heavy lifting. If the actors were flesh and blood instead of felt, this would hardly be enough for a sitcom. It would just be a toothless 30 Rock. Unless, like their previous TV outings, they’re going to lean all the way into these being puppets and have them regularly jump out of cannons and burst into occasional song, it would be nice to see The Muppets develop a super-strong voice as a sitcom. ABC has a lot of very strongly written sitcoms on its lineup right now, and despite it being an old and reliable franchise, The Muppets feels quite undercooked.
Interestingly, despite the amount of time she was built up as one of the new stars, we don’t get any Denise in this episode. You’d think, given the way the press has gone, we’d have had at least one scene between Denise and Miss Piggy, where they take turns hurling insults at each other. I’m sure it’s coming, I’m just surprised it wasn’t the key conflict of the show straight out of the gate. Speaking of Denise, it would be rad to get some more lady Muppets on the Up Late crew — we’ve got Piggy, Denise, Yolanda Rat, and Janice (and Camilla, I think? Have we seen Camilla at all?), but besides Miss Piggy, none of them have had much to do.
Overall, “Hostile Makeover” was totally fine. It wasn’t a step backward from the pilot, but it was only maybe about half a step forward. I’m still excited about the fact that there is a Muppets sitcom currently on air, but I’m disappointed that it’s neither particularly Muppet-y … or particularly sitcom-y, either.