When I was recapping New Girl, I started to feel like a broken record (corrupted audio file? I feel like this phrase needs to be updated) when it came to the fact that New Girl is a hangout show squeezing itself into a structure it doesn’t quite fit. I’m worried this same old story is going to repeat itself when it comes to The Muppets, a show that could not make less sense as a single-camera mockumentary series.
When the initial trailers were rolled out for The Muppets, I was hopeful that what we’d be getting was a Muppets parody of network sitcoms. After all, The Muppet Show was basically a parody variety show; just about every Muppets movie is either one giant genre parody or a pastiche of very specific parodies (or both); and even Up Late, The Muppets’ show within a show, is a parody of late-night talk shows. Muppets are parody machines. And yet, despite the fact that there are few genres more played out at this point than the mockumentary sitcom, The Muppets attempts to squish itself into the format without a hint of irony. Remember that great joke from the promos about how cutaway gags are overdone? It is, to date, the best joke The Muppets has done. It’s not that I want TV shows to detach themselves from the inherent silliness of their genres, or to operate with all brain and no heart — quite the opposite, in fact.
To put it bluntly, The Muppets is currently operating with neither sufficient heart nor brain, which is hard to comprehend given how much of both the Muppets we all grew up on seemed to have.
I’m sure these episodes are very difficult to write, due to the restrictions of working with puppets, guest stars, and a still-new premise, but the stories are just not hanging together at all right now. Do you remember the video of that amazing piece of writing advice Matt Stone and Trey Parker gave an NYU class a while ago? It boiled down to viewing writing as “blank happens, BUT blank happens, THEREFORE blank happens.” Right now, unfortunately, The Muppets seems to be operating under the principle of, “Blank happens, and then blank happens, and then blank guest-star shows up, and then I guess blank should just happen now?”
I’m going to describe the plot of this episode to you, and if it seems like my description is choppy and unresolved, trust me, it’s nothing compared to the source material.
Fozzie is doing audience warm-up when he accidentally hits Statler in the eye with a T-shirt cannon. He’s taken to the hospital. (NO, The Muppets, come on! Statler isn’t a player in the Muppets’ stories, he’s the sideline commentator! And he’s barely been used as that in the show so far!) Fozzie goes to visit him, and Statler reflects on the fact that no one else has been there to see him because he’s so mean? Or something? Fozzie feels bad for him and offers to run him some errands, but when he gets back, Statler has placed a sign that says “sucker!” on the hospital bed pillow. It’s … fine. It is thoroughly unclear what it accomplishes.
Meanwhile, Miss Piggy finds out that the Up Late crew go out after the show without her (okay, this is DEFINITELY ripped right from 30 Rock), and she convinces Kermit to have them invite her along so she can reject them. When they do ask her, though, she says yes, and they head out to Rowlf’s for drinks, karaoke, and the obligatory celebrity cameo du jour, this time from Ed Helms, whose friendship with Miss Piggy the other Muppets are VERY impressed by, despite the fact that the past few episodes, Muppets of all fame calibers have been hanging out with celebrities. The karaoke sequence is fun, especially if you’re a big fan of turning to the person next to you and going, “Oh, that song.”
The next day, Kermit comes into work only to find that the Up Late crew isn’t there — Miss Piggy told them not to come in until two. The other Muppets had a surprisingly great time with Piggy, but Kermit doesn’t want to keep losing his staff to hangovers. Kermit convinces her to not go out with the crew again, lying that it’s because she’s too big of a star or something, and that is that.
Are you feeling like maybe this would have been a whole lot stronger had there been any actual conflict playing out between any of the characters involved, any heightening of the stakes, or any clear resolution? Okay, awesome, me too.
The C-story is less a story and more of a … thing that could maybe come to mean something at some point, even if I think they BADLY need to sort out what’s going on with the main characters first? Sam the Eagle has a crush on Janice (I actually think this is pretty cute) but is too shy to tell her, and then she flirts with Ed Helms. That’s all we get so far. Hopefully it’s a thread that will be picked up again later.
Episode highlight: Beaker’s Miss Piggy impression was perfect.
Denise watch: Denise has still only been seen in the pilot episode. Any rumors of her having an effect on the Kermit-Piggy dynamic obviously circulated before it became so abundantly clear that no relationships on this show would have any actual dynamics whatsoever.
It’s not all bad news: Think about Parks and Recreation. 30 Rock. The NBC version of The Office. Three of the best sitcoms in recent memory started off on really, really shaky footing. Hope springs eternal. I would be delighted to find that The Muppets is going to pull off a hat trick. The raw materials are there. The team behind it knows how to handle a sitcom. Despite everything, I’m still pulling for it.
That The Muppets can still be so disappointing and not even allow Statler and Waldorf to step back from it and comment may be the saddest thing of all. “Oh ho ho ho,” indeed.