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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The stars of The Muppets finally learn to play nice

Illustration for article titled The stars of The Muppets finally learn to play nice
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“Pig Out” was a near-perfect half hour of The Muppets that almost got sunk by yet another nasty ending. It’s not that I mind seeing Jim Henson’s creations be jerks to one another, but when that becomes the go-to for the conclusion of every single episode, it makes the show—if we’re being blunt—kind of boring. And that has nothing to do with your tolerance level of Kermit’s dickishness; it’s more about adhering to what makes an interesting story. After a while, the “gotcha!” brand of cruelty grows predictable, and if The Muppets wants to be truly adult, it needs to be surprising.

Thankfully, writers Gregg Mettler and Nell Scovell give the show what feels like its first harmonious ending tonight, finally breaking the characters’ holding pattern of stale manipulation. After Miss Piggy’s attempt to out-charity her guest Reese Witherspoon at a Habitat For Humanity build site goes horribly kaput—she still holds a grudge against the actress for getting cast over her in Walk The Line—it’s unclear how she’ll deal with the fallout. Will she try and make amends? At first, it seems unlikely, especially since there’s a prime opportunity to drag Witherspoon’s name through the mud (the public thinks both she and Piggy had an equal hand in knocking down one of the Habitat houses’ walls).

But lo and behold, Piggy actually decides to apologize to her rival on national television. Even better, she arrives at that decision with the help of Kermit, who manages to put aside his own fear of her mucking it up—humility is not exactly Piggy’s strong suit—to let her take one tiny step towards becoming a better person (er, pig). That’s a far cry from two weeks ago, when the frog placed greater value on Up Late With Miss Piggy’s success (and his own feelings of jealousy) than her newfound friendship with her coworkers.

Of course, this is Miss Piggy we’re talking about, and her apology isn’t as simple or self-effacing as it should be. Instead, she turns the words “I’m sorry” into an elaborate song-and-dance number, one that involves The Electric Mayhem moving from big-band music to hip hop so Piggy can literally drop the mic and walk away. The whole spectacle’s much more about her than Witherspoon or a genuine sense of remorse, but it’s still an apology, and that feels much warmer than anything we’ve seen on The Muppets so far. It also manages to blend her selfishness with a genuine connection to Kermit, making for an ending that’s not completely sugary, but not completely acidic either.

The same goes for Fozzie Bear’s storyline with his human girlfriend, Becky. Their already tense union has become tenser since Fozzie started making her the butt of every joke in his standup routine. Naturally, this goes over much better than his terrible puns, putting him in a similar situation as Kermit was in the last time around—what’s more important: showbiz success or the happiness of the person he loves? Unlike Kermit, Fozzie chooses the latter, which is good for his relationship, if not for his comedy. But sacrifice works both ways, and when Becky sees him bombing, she signals to him from the audience that it’s okay to use the material about her again. As with the Piggy/Witherspoon thread, it’s not a completely optimistic ending—during the credits, it looks like Fozzie’s inability to leave the jokes onstage might drive away Becky after all—but it still shows two likable characters doing their best to work together.

This increased emphasis on warmth doesn’t necessarily make for a flawless episode. “Walk The Swine” still has a bit of fat to it, most notably a throwaway storyline involving Scooter and Rizzo. After they get into a car accident in the cold open, the rat sends the stage manager to several shady, possibly criminal family members of his for repairs. The joke goes nowhere, relying solely on the idea that Rizzo’s relatives are metaphorical rats as well as literal ones and that Scooter’s too gullible to realize that they’re screwing him over at first. He eventually gets wise to what’s going on, ends the runaround, and that’s it.


So while “Walk The Swine” may not be as funny as “Pig Out” or some of the other darker episodes of the show, it at least proves that the writers know how to handle Kermit and Piggy’s positive traits as well as their negative ones. And that’s encouraging. It’s encouraging that tonight’s flaws are more emblematic of first-season growing pains than a gross mishandling of the characters. It’s encouraging that The Muppets’ heart, while still made of felt, may have more humanity inside of it than we thought.

Stray observations

  • No Jere Burns? I was really hoping for more Jere Burns.
  • Uncle Deadly can make anything sound flamboyantly creepy, even if it’s ordering a pumpkin-spice latte.
  • Piggy may not be cut out for Habitat For Humanity, but she sure knows how to karate-chop a 2x4 in half.
  • I know it’s almost Halloween and all, but I don’t even want to think about what a doggy facelift looks like. I expect it would be similar to that poor golden retriever in The Fly II.
  • According to Fozzie, “True Colors” is “just hauntingly beautiful on a sax.”
  • Bobo to Fozzie: “I have an associate’s degree. I use a towel.” I hope we continue to learn more about the subtle differences between the show’s two resident ursines.
  • “How could something like taking revenge on a person take such a dark turn?”