I’ve looked past my disappointment that The Muppets doesn’t compare to the Muppets I grew up loving. I’ve come to terms with the show as a mockumentary-style sitcom, the worst thing to catch on from The Office since terrible people everywhere started doing that stapler-in-Jello prank. What I can’t square with, though, is the fact that The Muppets often forgets the basic tenets of sitcom writing.
Since time immemorial, countless shows have forced two characters who don’t like each other very much/are exes/are hated enemies/are gay to pretend to be a couple. Hell, the entire genre may not exist without the trope of “either we kiss or everyone finds out we’re lying!”
I am almost sure that is what The Muppets is going for with “Little Green Lie,” an episode that ignores a key rule about storytelling, comedy, and people: Nobody does anything they don’t want to do until they’re backed into a corner.
Kermit’s nephew Robin (remember Robin the Frog?) comes to visit the Up Late set as a fun treat to distract him from his parents’ divorce. Robin loves Miss Piggy, so Kermit tells Piggy they have to pretend to be a couple … and she agrees.
Let’s pause here for a second, because this is the shaky scaffolding upon which “Little Green Lie” is built.
Although Robin mentions how seeing Kermit and Miss Piggy together would help him get through the divorce, he never puts any stakes into play that explain why Kermit and Piggy have to pretend to be together. If this is going to be the backbone of the episode, the stakes should be high enough that Kermit can’t conceivably think of anything else he could do. Is Robin acting out and ruining production while he’s onset? Is he so devastated by not believing in love that Kermit says he’s still with Miss Piggy just to get him to act like himself? Did Robin’s mom lie to him, and in order for Kermit to get something he wants from her, he must play along with the lie? The reasoning doesn’t have to be great, just sitcom solid.
This is all to say nothing of Miss Piggy immediately agreeing to the ruse. We know Miss Piggy is motivated by two things: selfishness and attention. I have no doubt she actually cares about Robin, but she wouldn’t put herself in a position of having to lie if there weren’t something in it for herself. Even if the secret reason is a nascent re-crush on Kermit, I wanted to see some outward logic. For example: Miss Piggy hasn’t been in the tabloids enough lately and she’s trying to promote her new fragrance line. Or, Miss Piggy is trying to make some new guy jealous, so she’s pretending to be back together with Kermit anyway. Her immediate eagerness to help out felt like sloppy writing to me.
Kermit tells the Up Late crew to back up his story, despite the fact that they are all awful liars. You’d think this might be a good way to mine comedy and conflict out of the plot — bad liars forced to lie seems pretty cut and dry to me — but it never really comes up. Scooter, however, is unable to lie, so Kermit just tells him he and Miss Piggy are back together. About that: Scooter is naïve, but he’s not stupid. I couldn’t quite wrap my head around this piece of plot, either. That he later tweets out the lie that he knows to be a lie, even though Kermit presented it to him as truth is … just … okay, I need to sit down for a second.
Kermit gets through the taping of the episode without anyone spilling the beans to Robin, but then Robin suggests that everyone go out to play laser tag at some late-night laser-tag place. They go, and it’s just replete with children and families on a weeknight. But sure, whatever, I shouldn’t be so picky.
The laser tag is fine as a set, but makes absolutely zero sense within the episode. Wouldn’t it have been more compelling to bring all the character’s to Rowlf’s, where Robin could ask questions about Kermit and Piggy’s life together, forcing the other characters to back them up with unconvincing lies? Shouldn’t there have been some all-too-convenient situation, like a game of Spin the Bottle or one of those old time-y “test your love” machines, which Robin could insist on watching Kermit and Miss Piggy play? And then they would realize they really do like each other in a forced romantic context, rather than while hiding from the blaring “pew pew pew” of a laser gun?
Now, if you’re hoping the lie might be revealed to Robin by Denise’s sudden appearance, or by Leonardo DiCaprio (whom Piggy mentions trying to date) barging in and kicking Kermit’s ass, or anything else that could raise the stakes, then you will be very disappointed by what happens next. See, Scooter’s been tweeting about Kermit and Piggy being back together — again, WHY? — and the paparazzi are here to snap photos of them. Instead of being forced to kiss, they just admit to Robin that they were lying. He’s bummed, but totally fine with it. End of conflict.
Meanwhile, Rizzo and Pepe are worried that Gonzo’s rekindled relationship with Camilla means they’ll have to find a new wingman, so they bring Chip, Big Mean Carl, and Sam the Eagle out to Rowlf’s to see who is best at helping them get them laid. What they don’t anticipate, though, is that the girls are more interested in Chip, Big Mean Carl, and Sam the Eagle than they are in either Rizzo or Pepe. Just as they’re ready to go home, Gonzo shows up for some boys’ time. If “Little Green Lie” did anything right, it was to reaffirm my love for Camilla, whose non-possessive, go-have-a-good-time attitude grounds Gonzo’s story line in some relationship reality.
I also liked the brief scenes that weren’t focused on the shoddy plot. A game of “Friendly Feud” in which the Electric Mayhem debates the ethics of ice cream is fun, and I really enjoyed watching the crew toss tennis balls into Big Mean Carl’s mouth, if only because it felt like a flash of genuine Muppet zaniness. But ultimately, when the best thing I can say about this episode is, “Well, at least some scenes didn’t include any plot,” we are stuck in very choppy waters.