Three episodes into The Muppets, and we’ve now seen the much-fussed-over Denise exactly once. She seemed totally fine, and no one has mentioned her since Miss Piggy and Kermit’s breakup? Barely seems to be an issue.
But in “Bear Left Then Bear Write,” The Muppets committed a much graver sin than splitting up Kermit and Piggy for the press: The show completely forgot about Gonzo and Camilla. Take what creative liberties you will, The Muppets, but leave us the unbridled true love of Gonzo and Camilla. They’ve been together since the early days of The Muppet Show. No egos, no fighting, no karate-chopping. Just love. And the show’s PR team didn’t even make a big deal of the split! Come on, guys.
To add insult to injury, Gonzo seems to be single only in the interest of a lazy plot about online dating that is neither funny nor serves anything we know about Gonzo as a character. See, Gonzo’s been chatting online with this woman named Debbie, but he was insecure about his looks, so he’s been catfishing her with Liam Hemsworth’s photo.
Stop right there. Gonzo (a) shouldn’t be dating anyone because he’s been taken since 1978; (b) is wonderfully self assured about who he is and how he looks; and (c) is only into chickens. It’s a known thing about him. That’s one of the problems with the show in general — The Muppets stars characters that multiple generations of viewers grew up on. You can’t make up new rules about them.
Anyway, because this is The Muppets, Pepe enlists the actual Liam Hemsworth to help Gonzo win Debbie’s affections. Like any Hemsworth brother worth his salt, Liam is charming and game, but even his smile and next-level scruff can’t save this plot from feeling a little bottom-of-the-barrel. Three episodes in, and an entire squadron of Muppet characters and nostalgia at its disposal, and we’re doing online-dating story lines? Fun fact: If you’ve ever taken a sitcom writing class, that’s actually one of the plotlines they tell you not to write into spec scripts. Also, anything involving a body switcheroo.
The character inconsistencies weren’t limited to Gonzo’s sudden singledom, and I had a hard time getting onboard for an A-story about Kermit trying to spare Fozzie’s feelings when giving him notes on a bad sketch. At one point, Kermit says that Fozzie is a “good comedian and a bad writer,” which makes zero sense. Fozzie’s whole thing is that he’s a bad comedian. It’s endearing. Everyone loves him anyway. So I’ve got a few questions.
- What is Fozzie’s role on the show? I thought he was the warm-up comic. Is he the sidekick? I don’t buy Miss Piggy having a sidekick, and if she were to have one, it should be Rowlf (whom we finally get to see in this episode! But he’s a bartender? Why isn’t he working on Up Late?) Is he a writer? If he is, shouldn’t Kermit be pretty good at giving him notes by now?
- Kermit seemed pretty blunt at the top of the episode. He dismissed Yolanda out of hand in a way that made me wonder if they weren’t trying to actively Liz Lemon–ize him. If this is the case, why sugarcoat things for Fozzie? Everyone on Up Late is Kermit’s friend.
- Fozzie quit Up Late to go write a movie? Fozzie’s a stand-up. Stand-ups don’t even quit doing open mics when they have TV shows of their own.
I know what you’re thinking: It’s a TV show, Jaffe. These aren’t real characters or real situations. And you’re right, and none of this would matter so much if it were more entertaining.
Fozzie runs off into the woods to … reconnect with being a bear? So he can write his screenplay? Um, sure. Kermit initially tries to replace Fozzie with Nick Offerman (who is great, because he’s given the episode’s best material, and also because he’s the great Nick Offerman), but his guilt gets the better of him, and he goes to find Fozzie in the woods.
All the scenes of Kermit and Fozzie in cars, by the way, lead to me watching “Movin’ Right Along” about six times. If you haven’t watched it in a while, please do so now. It’s so good.
When Kermit does find Fozzie, he’s been hit with a tranquilizer dart, and so … they reconcile? I’m having the same problem here I had with last week’s episode. The resolution is sudden and unearned. The writing is solid but not particularly funny. The celebrity cameo is fun, but ultimately doesn’t have much bearing on the central characters.
What’s becoming increasingly clear on The Muppets is that the old Muppet trope of big celebrities having a ton of fun with their cameos, which worked so well when those celebrities were then placed into sketches and interstitial bits, is here being used in place of any real episode structure.
Miss Piggy’s one-sided feud with Christina Applegate, for instance, feels out of place in an already-scattershot episode. Basically, Christina Applegate is a guest on Up Late, and brings with her an embarrassing clip of Miss Piggy smashing her face in a cake. Miss Piggy spends the rest of the episode using Scooter to try to get an equally embarrassing clip of Christina Applegate, but her record is too spotless. It feels like an episodic shrug — “we have a celebrity you like and characters you like,” the show seems to be saying, over and over. “Did you need something else?
It is very difficult to treat The Muppets as its own entity. It’s the latest in a long line of beloved TV shows and movies. It may well be that The Muppets is just taking a bit of time to find its own voice — most shows are pretty rough until about halfway through their first season — but the Muppets have had a clear and constant voice since well before most of us were born. I want to love The Muppets. I’d even settle for hating it. But right now, it’s operating with a sort of indifference to its characters and audience that’s leaving me cold.
One final thought: It is heavily implied in this episode that the Swedish Chef is a woman, marking the second time in two episodes The Muppets have called into question the assumption of gender. It’s the kind of room-enough-for-everyone spirit I think Jim Henson would be proud of.