The Muppets 1.02: “Hostile Makeover”

Fozzie attempts to steal Leno's rooster.

Fozzie attempts to steal Leno’s rooster.

Incidentally, it’s also great fun to see Josh Groban play another bizarro version of himself, after the jerk-Groban he played on Glee, who was strongly reminiscent of Neil Patrick Harris in Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle. Here, he’s nearly as douchey but in a submerged, passive-aggressive sense. At the same time, however, just as with Elizabeth Banks last week, although he’s crucial to the plot, he’s used sparingly, being referenced far more than he’s actually seen and never drawing the spotlight away from the real stars, the Muppets. The same is true of the other guest stars, Jay Leno, Reza Aslan, Laurence Fishburne, and Lea Thompson. They each appear, serve their purpose of bolstering the Muppets’ story, and bouncing off of them a bit, some more outlandishly than others–particularly Fishburne, who is so brilliantly, hilariously animated, he nearly comes across as part-Muppet himself–and then they back away.

 

Returning to Jay Leno for a moment, he is the driving force of the episode’s secondary plot, which again revolves around Fozzie. Whereas last week, we got to explore Fozzie’s dating life a bit, here his plot completely revolves around his comedy career. On the old show, Fozzie would often be seen to be in awe of various comedians whose success he wanted to emulate, and the same is true here, the difference being that instead of Jay being a guest star on The Muppet Show, here Jay has actually invited a star-struck Fozzie to his house for a snazzy party, and Fozzie is so ecstatic to be there, he grabs a candy dish as a souvenir. Later on, when Jay invites him over again to discuss something, however, he is so afraid that he’s going to get in trouble that he plans on sneaking the dish back into the house but ends up dropping and shattering it in the process. As it turns out, Jay hadn’t noticed the missing dish at all and had just wanted to ask Fozzie to open for him in Vegas. And as soon as he leaves the room, Fozzie impulsively grabs a brass rooster statue as another souvenir for this special day. This time, however, Jay catches him but laughs it off, saying he himself had once stolen a candy dish from George Carlin’s house, which he goes over to show to Fozzie only to find it missing, soon putting the pieces together and kicking Fozzie out of his house.

 

Cookie fans.

Cookie fans.

Now, to be honest, I wasn’t as big a fan of this plot as some of the others, due to a combination of not being a Leno fan and also finding embarrassment humor such as this a bit too cringe-worthy. At the same time, this sort of scenario is perfectly in keeping with The Muppets‘ satirizing of the mockumentary genre a la The Office and completely works from that perspective. Also, it’s fun to see Fozzie’s eager-to-please side colliding with his comedy fanboy side in such an unusual way. I’d say across the board that this is one of the show’s major strengths so far: finding new jokes and dimensions to play with these characters who we’ve known so long.

 

Meanwhile, I flat-out adored Bobo’s minor arc, in which he faces off against the Muppet Newsman in a competition to sell the most girl scout cookies to help win a bike for his daughter. For a while, his efforts seem to be an abject failure, until Scooter tells him to try selling them to the band. “I bet they’d be happy to buy you’re cookies,” Scooter says. Bobo responds, “Those guys are always happy!” “Legally now,” Scooter says. Cut to a shot of the band buying boxes and boxes of cookies, and Bobo raking in enough cash to get his girl a Prius! This gag is a perfect example of how the new show pushes the envelope in terms of Muppety humor while still remaining firmly in the area of suggestive rather than explicit. Because it’s not like Jim wasn’t aware that the Electric Mayhem always seemed perpetually stoned. That was always part of the implied joke. It’s just that he never confirmed it so definitively. At the same time, the show never makes a single direct reference to marijuana here, nor does it show the gang partaking. They’re simply eating cookies. Scooter’s line is actually a deceptively simple, elegantly composed joke because, as in the old days, the reference flies right over the kids’ heads.

 

The same is true for the episode’s other “adult” jokes. At the start, when Zoot is signing Sweetums’ birthday card, Yolanda scolds him for drawing something “dirty” in the card, and he replies, “Uh…maybe I can turn it into a saxophone.” Again, we as adults know what he meant, but there’s nothing there to indicate anything blue to a child. Ditto Piggy’s “It’s so hard to get out of bed these days” the morning after a night with Groban, the Swedish Chef’s mostly unintelligible “Gropin’ der Groban!” response, and Kermit’s reference to Piggy and his “free pass list”. I have no problem with the Muppets engaging in this sort of humor because, (a) even if they’re being slightly more mischievous than in the past, Jim himself was proper on the surface but mischievous underneath, (b) there’s still a sense of kind innocence to the subversiveness, and (c) again, kids won’t get it. In fact, the parents currently complaining about the jokes are themselves drawing attention to lines that a child would never even notice were issues in the first place. The most direct “adult” line here is Pepe talking about being attracted to Josh Groban and having fluid gender identification, and y’know what? Good.

 

Uncle Deadly and Scooter

Uncle Deadly and Scooter

And, again, in addition to pushing the Muppets forwards, the show continues to pay homage to the past. Besides previous examples that I’ve mentioned throughout, Groban and Piggy’s duet of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “If I Loved You” could have come right out of the original Muppet Show, particularly given their unexpected reaction when the set starts to move, thanks to Kermit’s machinations. And Kermit’s flailing “YAAAAAAAAAY!” at his initial win regarding Piggy and Groban’s union lovingly calls back to his old Muppet Show introductions. Add to that elements such as Statler and Waldorf’s continued snarking from the audience and prominent appearances by both famous Muppets and rarer ones such as Uncle Deadly–who gets the best line of the week, when Kermit worries during a Piggy tantrum that Uncle Deadly let Piggy discover her real dress size, and he responds, “Please, I’ve woven such a cocoon of lies, she doesn’t know her size, her weight, or even how old she is”–and you have a practically perfect fusion of Muppet nostalgia with the forwards, trailblazing progression that Jim Henson was always pushing for in his work.

 

I have only one more thing to add and that is that I’m eager to see Gonzo get a bit crazier. He had fun material both last week–with his “Dancing with the Czars” sketch–and this week, with a small, running gag about confusing his mom’s actual pleas for help, lost on vacation in South America, with e-mail spam, but I hope it doesn’t take too long for him to bust out with one of the epic stunts that he’s most known for. Subdued Gonzo is still great but off the wall Gonzo is best. Oh, and as long as I’m starting a wish list, I hope they continue to sprinkle in more Muppet appearances from the enormous cast they have waiting in the wings. It was great to see the Newsman this week, and I’d love more of that. Perhaps Robin would like to visit his Uncle Kermit for a day backstage at the studio some day soon?

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