Meet the new The Muppets, same as the old Muppets? Well, not exactly, as the premiere of ABC’s latest spin on the characters saddles them with enough relationship and work problems to look more like the staff of Dunder Mifflin than the crew behind the classic The Muppet Show.
But there are still hints of the classic, optimistically silly yet smart humor that has defined Kermit, Miss Piggy, and the gang over the decades. So let’s take a look at where “Pig Girls Don’t Cry” places the biggest stars of the Muppet gang as they transition from variety to late night:
Kermit and Miss Piggy
Kermy is at the head of the show, EP’ing Up Late With Miss Piggy, which started becoming a problem after he and Piggy split up. He’s now going out with the new pig in town, Denise. (“What can I say, I’m attracted to pigs,” Kermit says in a confessional, which opens up the floodgates for how exactly the Muppets view interspecies relationships. Can frogs only date pigs now? Are rats forced to date only other rats? What attracts Fozzie to humans twice his size, and is he then okay with always being the little spoon?)
But the split has put Piggy in a particularly bad mood — well, worse than usual—and among her list of demands is that Elizabeth Banks be removed from the guest list for the upcoming episode. (ASIDE: She also wants her lilacs to smell more lilac-y, and Kermit mentions he’ll talk to God about it. Do the Muppets have a religion in this version? Is Kermit a devout Christian? Is anyone Jewish and therefore not allowed to be in the same room as Pepe the Prawn? END OF ASIDE)
Kermit initially agrees to remove her, replacing Banks with Tom Bergeron (definitely not his first choice, as he openly insults Scooter’s choice of the Dancing With the Stars host. He had a stage full of “stars” to choose from, after all.), but with a little help from Denise he changes his mind. He learns that Piggy had a bad screen test with Banks when the former auditioned for The Hunger Games — there are games and people are hungry, who needs to read a script before an audition?
Kermit calls Banks back in, but when she arrives early to hang out with Piggy — and Kermit hasn’t revealed to Piggy that Banks has been reinstated — he has Scooter distract her. Unfortunately that doesn’t go well in one of the most tonally bizarre moments of the show. The slapstick as Banks throws Scooter out of the golf cart touring the studio lot is funny, but Scooter is just so decidedly mean that it sucks some of the fun out of the whole thing.
But the attempted diversion fails as Banks returns, Piggy runs into her and storms out. Kermit goes to apologize to her, learning that Piggy actually hates Banks because they broke up the night they were going to see Pitch Perfect 2. A poster of Banks loomed over the whole messy affair, and Piggy has hated her since.
With Kermit’s apology, they two don’t necessarily make up, but Piggy agrees to let Banks on the show and all goes well… until Animal plays with Imagine Dragons that is.
Dr. Teeth and Electric Mayhem
Yes, the band is intact on the show, though not all is well. Zoot pretty much admits he’s an alcoholic at the morning meeting, Janice is horrible at telling a story, and Animal… well, Animal apparently is quite the ladies’ muppet. “Too many shows, too many women,” he explains when having to decline Imagine Dragons offer to tour with them on the road. (Do you think Imagine Dragons’ actual drummer had any input on that offer?)
But, when Mayhem meets Dragons, Animal may have found an escape route. Animal punches a hole in the massive drum he’s playing, only to disappear inside it. Maybe he’s going to find his friend Jack Black.
Fozzie (and Statler and Waldorf)
Fozzie has settled into his role as announcer and warm-up comic as well as you’d expect someone with Fozzie’s jokes to. He seems to be met nightly with nothing but a silent audience, save for Statler and Waldorf in front row seats mocking his every joke.
But Fozzie has a bigger concern during “Pig Girls” — he’s dating Becky, a human, and her parents are not too pleased with the relationship. (ASIDE: It’s a shame Becky and Fozzie don’t work out, because as cruel as Jere Burns’ comments toward Fozzie are, his utter confusion with the whole situation is hilarious.) Fozzie tries to butter them up by offering to let them meet Miss Piggy, but she has her Banks-related blow-up right as she’s supposed to meet them.
Becky’s parents aren’t quite sold, but she still loves Fozzie and wants to make it work. Sadly, Fozzie needs more than “love,” he needs it universally, so it looks like the long search for love continues.
Gonzo, Sam the Eagle, and Rizzo
Up Late’s team is filled with a host of recognizable faces. Rizzo the Rat is part of the crew, though he seems more interested in seducing Yolanda than actually finishing his job. Bobo, Big Mean Carl, and others are there to also fill out the staff.
But “Pig Girls” gives some more of a spotlight to Sam the Eagle, enforcing network’s standards and practices — don’t say crotchety, twiddle, or gesticulate on air. And Gonzo appears to be one of, if not the only, writers on the show. He comes up with a bit that feels like truly classic Muppets: Piggy’s guests will be Catherine the great… dancer and Ivan the Terrible… dancer. It’s silly, physical, and random, but it works in a way that feels more like vintage Muppets than much of the rest of the premiere does.
So The Muppets has an interesting balancing act going forward. It has to find its voice with this new, more adult and seemingly ground iterations of the characters while evoking what audiences have loved for decades about the Muppets. It may take a few weeks to see whether it really is time to light the lights, or if they should maybe be kept off for the time being.
Do you agree with EW’s Jeff Jensen, who in his B- review said “the show stumbles out of the gate, subverted by a strategy for relevancy that’s not only a few steps behind the moment but misguided”?