Toward the end of “Pig Out,” Kermit makes an observation about himself that most of us have been screaming at the TV screen all season. “You know, I can be a standup frog,” he tells the camera, “but when our show is on the line, I can manipulate with the best.” That’s nothing new—anyone who hasn’t gotten used to Kermit The Prick should probably just stop watching The Muppets at this point—but I once again bring up his more unsavory side to show how it ices over the heart of an otherwise heartwarming episode.

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Kermit’s line refers to yet another ruse of his to sink Miss Piggy’s happiness in the name of showbiz success. Only this time, it’s not Josh Groban or some other celebrity’s influence that’s threatening Up Late With Miss Piggy, but Piggy’s newfound bond with her coworkers. After a late-night karaoke session with Ed Helms at Rowlf’s Tavern, the whole gang discovers that she’s actually a lot of fun to be around in the right kind of party atmosphere. The only downside is that they all show up to the studio the next day late and hungover, which Kermit sees as a detriment to the stability of their workplace.

Fair enough. But Kermit’s ousting of Groban stemmed from jealousy as well as professional concern, and so does his second manipulation of Piggy. When he convinces her that she’s too good to fraternize with the lowly production team, sure, he might be genuinely worried about the future of the show, but on a more visceral level, he’s pissed off that his staff has started to like his ex more than him. When he shows up the following morning with donuts for everyone, he can’t wait to hear about what an awful time everyone probably had with Piggy. And that gives his ploy a coat of slime that has nothing to do with being an amphibian and everything to do with being a passive-aggressive control freak, not to mention a shitty ex-boyfriend.

As justified as this is given everything we’ve seen from Kermit in the previous three episodes, it also ends “Pig Out” on a bum note, because up until then, it’s by far the funniest The Muppets has been all season, with the karaoke sequence serving as the comic centerpiece (or as Swedish Chef would put it, “de shnersky smörgåsbord”). Like so many nights out between coworkers, the evening begins awkwardly as everyone tries to figure out how to act around Piggy. Then Helms shows up and she becomes the life of the party, shattering any social weirdness by locking into schmooze-mode and introducing him to the table.

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Soon enough, the entire bar is feeling loose enough to slur their way through America’s favorite musical pastime, and it’s hard to think of a more appropriate song for each Muppet: Swedish Chef naturally nails the gibberish of “Rapper’s Delight,” Beaker hits the high notes of “I Got You Babe” with Dr. Honeydew, and Sam is too drunk to realize how stupid the lyrics to “Wind Beneath My Wings” are when they’re sung by an eagle. On the human side of things, Helms makes a perfect guest star, not just because of his half lame/half unhinged glee while leading everyone through “Don’t Stop Believin,’” but because of the subtly metafictional hat-tip from his presence alone—as Andy Bernard, we’ve seen him have plenty of similar Happy Hours with his colleagues on The Office.

The only featured player not present at Rowlf’s (other than Kermit) is Fozzie, who’s off visiting Statler. During the bear’s warmup act, a malfunctioning t-shirt gun lands the ancient heckler in the hospital, leaving Fozzie with a guilt he just can’t shake, despite the years of abuse he’s endured from one-half of his two-headed enemy. At first, Statler’s injury satisfies our collective audience bloodlust—there’s something thrilling about seeing Fozzie knock him out of his seat and into the ICU, even if he didn’t mean to actually cause the senior citizen any harm. Even more surprising is when that thirst for more inadvertent revenge gives way to sympathy after Fozzie and Statler start forming a friendship at the latter’s bedside. The moment opens all sorts of doors. Are we about to see emotional evolution in the Muppetverse? Is Statler finally expressing remorse for his cruelty?

The show soon crushes those hopes by revealing Statler’s new demeanor to be part of his greatest heckle of all. When Fozzie shows up with an armful of gifts, he finds a piece of paper inscribed with the word “Sucker” pinned to the old man’s pillow. Then, as the closing credits roll, we realize that the comedian’s about to be duped again via a nonexistent apology dinner with Statler and Waldorf. Oh, and this is right after Kermit exits the office while laughing sinisterly to himself about his earlier scheme. Has he suddenly been replaced by his evil doppelganger, Constantine?

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As I said, “Pig Out” still gets high marks by simple virtue of being funny. More importantly, it’s funny in a way that combines what we know about the Muppets with what we know about the average human workday, and that’s what this show is all about. I just wish it would go about its mission in a way that doesn’t end in nastiness, which is quickly becoming the preferred style of every episode’s closing moments. Comedy aside, “Pig Out” amounted to watching two iconic characters get fucked over by their peers, made all the worse because the bulk of the episode was seemingly about camaraderie and forgiveness.

While one could argue that’s all part of the writers’ long game, the week-to-week stories still don’t feel welded together in any kind of substantial way. Just look at Denise, who we haven’t even heard mentioned since the first episode. Seeing as she was introduced to upset the Kermit/Piggy dynamic, her absence is especially puzzling and points to a lack of concern with the show’s greater narrative. Even The Office’s brief first season felt somewhat linked, and if The Muppets wants to succeed as the mature sitcom it sets out to be, then it could stand to have a little more of that connective tissue. That, and a whole lot more warmth.

Stray Observations

  • Of all the Muppets at the bar, Pepe has the best drunk eyes, hands down.
  • One development I didn’t touch on: Sam’s sudden infatuation with Janice. That’s a shocker if there ever was one, and I hope it becomes a longterm story in the rest of the season.
  • Were the writers implying something big with Beaker and Honeydew wearing each other’s clothes the next day, or am I reading too far into things?
  • Apparently it only takes an eighth of Advil to cure a rat’s hangover. Good to know.
  • “How do I deal with hecklers? I’m a professional comedian. It’s just part of the job. The part that keeps you from completely liking yourself.”
  • “Sorry, I lost my glasses. They came off when I was doing ‘Maniac’ from Flashdance, and I stepped on them like 400 times.”

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