Even at 78, it feels like Jerry Nelson died prematurely. The same could be said of any Muppet performer, really, including Jim Henson (53) and especially Richard Hunt (40). That’s because, even if the characters they voice aren’t supposed to be young themselves, the puppeteers still have to tap in to something energetic and youthful to give them personality. They have to keep their imaginations young.
Unlike Floyd, Dr. Julius Strangepork, and many of Nelson’s other characters from The Muppet Show, Kermit’s nephew Robin was always supposed to be young, much younger than everyone else in the cast. He was also kind and innocent, yet disarmingly wise. I’ve always wondered why, with that kind of unique likability, he’s been relegated to being somewhat of a background character outside of The Muppet Show, The Frog Prince, A Muppet Family Christmas, and A Muppet Christmas Carol. Maybe there’s only room for one reasonable amphibian in most Muppet stories.
That still hasn’t prevented him from becoming a fan favorite. Robin may be the most heartbreaking depiction of Tiny Tim in cinematic history, and even Ricky Gervais has proclaimed him to be his favorite Muppet, perhaps to balance the high acidity levels found in his own humor. So it should be interesting to hear what he and every other super-fan thinks about the little guy’s reintroduction to the Muppetverse—he hasn’t had a major role in any Muppet film or TV special since (the mostly awful) It’s A Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie. Because as soon as Robin comes onscreen in “Little Green Lie,” it’s clear that he’s changed.
Don’t worry, he’s not all of a sudden mean or pervy or reverted to his tadpole state on Muppet Babies. He’s still kind. He’s still inquisitive. He’s still Robin. But he’s much more of an awkward teenager than when we last saw him—his neck elongated, his face erring on the side of confused rather than wondrous, his voice (now provided by Matt Vogel) a little deeper and more warbled. I could be reading too far into this, as many of the Muppets have become physically altered over time, but given how close Robin’s voice and appearance was to the Nelson years during a 2011 appearance on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon, I don’t think so.
Whatever the case, much of his assured nature has been replaced by franticness stemming from the recent divorce of his parents. Even when he visits the office and reunites with many of his old Muppet mentors, he doesn’t look like a frog who’s at ease with himself. Unsurprisingly, Kermit and Piggy can’t bring themselves to tell Robin they’re not together anymore. At first, they agree to keep up their fib for just a day, but their lie gets drawn out thanks to the invasive nature of the press and how happy it seems to make Robin.
I expect the somewhat serious nature of this storyline will irk a lot of hardcore Muppet fans, but I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: The more mature conflicts on The Muppets tend to work as long as they don’t betray what we know about the characters. And sweet, impressionable Robin—even a clumsier teenage version of him—would very much be thrown for a loop by a change in the romance he’s come to admire, especially when considering his parents’ situation. Kermit’s always been a father figure to him, and seeing a role model go through relationship troubles tends to humanize them. And humanization can be scary, at least at first.
Of course, Kermit and Piggy’s cover does eventually get blown thanks to Scooter (and, to a lesser extent, several reporters) at a luau-themed laser-tag game, causing Robin to retreat to the top of a giant tiki mask. His elders manage to talk him down by finally being honest with him, which isn’t so easy for him to swallow right away.
“I know you fight,” he tells them. “But come on, everybody knows you belong together.” And like that, he’s become a surrogate for the show’s audience.
Viewers have been clamoring for Kermit and Piggy to get reunite since before The Muppets even aired its first episode, and I’ll admit, their constant tension and bickering wasn’t working earlier on in the season. And yet having them get back together simply because Robin and everyone else wants them to would also be a cheap move on the writers’ part. I’m sure it will happen soon, perhaps even within an episode or two, but if “Little Green Lie” ended with Kermit and Piggy actually kissing instead of almost kissing over milkshakes, it wouldn’t send a very good message to Robin. Change happens all the time, and sometimes, it sucks. But all you can do is deal with it head-on. That lesson doesn’t just apply to Robin, but to Kermit and Piggy as well, who spend most of the episode running away from the truth. Although the ultimate moral of the story feels a little more Sesame Street than a primetime “adult” show about the Muppets, it’s still universal and relates to viewers both young and old.
“Little Green Lie” also deals with the comeback of another one of Nelson’s supporting characters in Camilla, who, after her brief appearance at the end of “A Tail Of Two Piggies,” has moved back in with Gonzo, and thus Rizzo and Pepe, too. Maybe it’s because the divorce-related subject matter of Robin’s arc is so weighty, but her more extended return feels a little shortchanged, when, after Gonzo’s season-long bout of loneliness, it should take on more significance. Part of this also lies in her character. As a chicken who only has the ability to cluck, Camilla’s never been as complex as Robin or most of the other Muppets. But her return likely has a huge effect on Gonzo, and we never get to see it from his point of view, outside of an amusing sequence where they do couple’s yoga together. He seems happy, but there should be some sort of seismic shift when she comes back into his life, whether positive or negative.
Instead, the story gets framed from Rizzo and Pepe’s perspective, who, in addition to having to deal with an extra roommate—one who leaves her possible offspring on the kitchen counter and is dating their pal, no less—have to cope with not having a wingman when they’re out and about. Although it’s entertaining to see them try out Sam the Eagle, Chip, and Big Mean Carl as their potential new sidekicks, this b-plot has little heft. We know their feelings on Camilla coming back into Gonzo’s life (hesitant, then approving), but it would be nice to know how Gonzo feels, too.
- Is it bad that I didn’t want Foo-Foo to survive getting eaten by Big Mean Carl?
- I’ve figured out why Chip is so unnerving: He blinks with his pupils.
- More drunk Pepe, please. Always more drunk Pepe.
- “I don’t have a nose. I smell through a hole in my knee.”
- “We love the Gonzos. But we’re not so into this chicken thing.”