Is it spring yet? Now that we know a Muppets revamp is in the works, I’m simultaneously more content to sit through this last batch of stinkers, and even antsier for them to end.
It should be clear by now that this show isn’t good. Each script seems to be missing jokes. Each episode insists on leaning too hard on its guest stars, while forgoing character development in favor of snark and pettiness. And every week, I find myself returning to the same question: How did ABC manage to drain the Muppets of all their nuance, color, and personality? That’s a greater feat than actually making a good show.
Let’s start with a few of the things that actually worked in “Too Hot to Handler.” This good stuff will cushion the abject disappointment that follows.
Can we talk about Uncle Deadly? As the head of the costume department, Deadly is one of the few Muppets who’s actually better served by The Muppets than he had been by previous movies and shows. (The other characters in this category are Chip the IT Guy and Big Mean Carl.) The show uses him sparingly enough that his quips stay fresh and fun, unlike Scooter, who has officially been run into the ground.
In the one scene I really enjoyed, Kermit tries to catch Becky in a lie by asking her trivia questions. Everyone else keeps jumping in with answers, though, which gives “Too Hot to Handler” a tiny spark of zaniness. The silliness comes quickly, and misunderstandings develop because the characters are all too wrapped up in their own idiosyncrasies to listen to each other. Also, we got a respite from jokes about Scooter’s mom. Which, thank God.
Okay, that’s enough. It’s disappointment time.
I’m not a huge fan of Chelsea Handler, and I’m definitely not a fan of the way The Muppets uses its guest stars, so “Too Hot to Handler” was a double whammy for me. The episode also hinged on my least favorite sitcom trope — when adults go to absurd lengths to avoid telling each other small truths. This used to drive me nuts when New Girl did it, too.
Kermit thinks that it’s too soon for Fozzie to move in with Becky, but rather than tell him like a normal friend should, he decides to find fault in her and ruin their relationship. Kermit, Denise, Fozzie, and Becky go out to play bar trivia — Becky is really good at trivia games — and when Kermit sees her discreetly checking her phone, he suspects that she’s cheating. He could just call her out for it, but instead, he tries to embarrass her in front of the entire Up Late crew.
A bunch of things were kind of subpar about this particular story line — even for The Muppets. Nothing against Riki Lindhome, but why has the show focused on Fozzie and Becky more than Kermit and Denise, or even Kermit and Piggy? Did the writers get nervous about tinkering with the most prominent Muppet relationships? And weirdly, there’s still no word on Camilla.
Eventually Kermit calls Becky out for her surreptitious phone activity. She assures him that she was placing a bid for a gift for Fozzie on eBay. Fozzie tells Kermit he needs to trust him, and the conflict just sort of … resolves itself. Someone remind me: How many days are left until springtime?
Meanwhile, when Handler is a guest on Up Late, Scooter sees an opportunity to ask her out on a date. Jokes are made about Scooter being a huge loser, which is fun when it’s specific — like how he sees the escalator as magical stairs — and much less fun when gags about his relationship with his mother feel lifted line-for-line from the Big Bang Theory. She agrees to go on a date with him, but when she leans in for a kiss, Scooter says he’s intimidated by her experience, so they decide to take it slow. That’s it. That’s the whole story.
My opinion about Handler aside, this episode pulls Scooter away from any of the characters we actually care about. Whenever the show lands a guest star, why does it push aside the prawns, rats, monsters, chefs, scientists, and eclectic weirdos? Those Muppets are much more interesting than whichever guest gets plugged into a story-of-the-week.
Here’s the deal: It’s nearly December, which means it’s almost January. And if it’s almost January, that means spring is just around the corner. In a few months, these 22-minute slogs will feel like ancient history. For now, we can only hope that the show will improve after it’s retooled.
What else is there to say? The Muppets has thrown slightly interesting wrinkles into recent episodes, but it’s still not a good show. And that’s still sorely disappointing.