The Muppets 1.08: “Too Hot To Handler”

Scooter goes on a date with Chelsea Handler.

Scooter goes on a date with Chelsea Handler.

So far, The Muppets has had a mix of episodes that were mostly fantastic and ones that were more uneven, with genuinely brilliant elements side-by-side with ones that just didn’t work very well, for various reasons–plotting, characterization, what have you. Tonight’s, “Too Hot to Handler,” however, is the first that doesn’t inspire a rave nor a significant complaint from me.

 

I wouldn’t go so far as to say “it’s just there,” because there’s a lot about it I did enjoy, mostly revolving around Scooter’s surprising romance with Chelsea Handler of all people, but overall, it falls significantly short of exceptional while also not containing anything particularly objectionable. After two truly terrific episodes, this one is…perfectly all right, and if that seems like damning something with faint praise, I guess it basically is. But I’m also perfectly fine with a just-okay episode every now and then. Not every episode of a series can be its most stellar.

 

The main issue is likely just how tepid the Kermit/Fozzie story is. Don’t get me wrong, I love that, after finally finding his center last week, the show is continuing its Kermit “rehabilitation,” so to speak (in terms of balancing his impatient, frazzled side with his genuine, caring side) by centering a story on Kermit worrying about his best friend’s happiness. After Fozzie announces a desire to ask his girlfriend, Becky (Riki Lindholme) to move in with him, his green pal fears that he’s moving too quickly and so suggests a double date with Denise and the two of them, basically in order to size her up and make sure he approves of the union. Which is sweet and protective and all of that good stuff.

 

At the same time, the manner in which the plot unfolds is overly formulaic and sitcom-bound. I’ve read complaints in others’ reviews that sometimes this new show relies on stories that aren’t quite Muppety enough, namely ones for which you could swap out the Muppets for humans in a sitcom and you’d have essentially the same outcome, and I have generally disagreed with that, because I felt that practically every one has had a crucial Muppet twist that either sprang from these specific characters’ long histories or at least subverted the cliche in some significant way. This is the first time, however, that I feel that criticism is fully valid. As it turns out, nothing happens in this plot that hasn’t happened in many other sitcoms.

 

While at dinner, Kermit becomes convinced that Becky is cheating–to be fair, not cheating on Fozzie as it would likely be on another show but cheating at the quiz night at Rowlf’s Tavern by secretly looking up answers on her phone, but that still doesn’t brim with the comedic imagination and ingenuity I expect from the Muppets. And, of course, after Denise warns Kermit to not confront Fozzie with this perceived truth for the danger of his friend turning on him, Kermit eventually can’t help himself after failing to catch Becky in her lie…and then, it predictably turns out that she was telling the truth after all. She’d actually been bidding on an eBay auction for a gift for Fozzie–a suede fanny pack which wouldn’t irritate his new “belly plugs” (Fozzie getting hair plugs for a bald patch on his belly being one of my favorite recurring gags of the episode)–which thus leaves Kermit looking like a total jerk.

 

Kermit messes up, big-time.

Kermit messes up, big-time.

But, again, it was all in pursuit of protecting his best friend, as he later explains. And so they naturally have a heart-to-heart reconciliation that, in content, isn’t dramatically different from their reconciliation at the end of “Bear Write Then Bear Left,” the only thing keeping it from feeling entirely repetitive being the clever conceit of Fozzie filming Up Late promo spots for various markets while wearing different costumes–including a Viking hat and long blonde braids for Minnesota–as they’re talking. It’s a funny and sweet moment, but, again, it already feels overly familiar (not necessarily ideal for the 8th episode of a half-hour show), and it’s the resolution to a plot that holds little surprise.

 

Far more successful is the aforementioned Chelsea Handler plot, which I liked for numerous reasons. For one, I love that The Muppets approached Handler for this guest spot in the first place. On the surface, a fairly foul-mouthed comedian with a penchant for jokes about booze and sex might seem an odd choice for the Muppets, and yet that’s also what makes her such a wonderful choice. In more recent years, Muppet productions have tended to stick to celebrities you’d expect to mesh well with the Muppets, either because they’re Muppety themselves, sweet, what have you, but back in the old days, The Muppet Show didn’t only choose guests you’d expect. It also had such seemingly ill-suited ones as Vincent Price and Alice Cooper, both of whose initially jarring what-are-they-doing-here?-ness actually ended up contributing to the humor and making for two of the most memorable episodes in the show’s run.

 

As you might have gleaned from my restrained response, that doesn’t quite happen here, but I like that Chelsea seems like herself in her interactions with the Muppets–the fact that Miss Piggy, the only current woman in late night, has one of the only other women to ever host a late night show on hers as a guest feels spot-on, and their lack of any animosity towards each other comes across as entirely natural, too; Chelsea isn’t the sort of star that Piggy dreams of being but is in many ways an outsider like herself, which means there’s no jealousy on her part, and the fact that Chelsea’s show was on basic cable rather than a major network like Piggy’s means she doesn’t feel competitive with her either–and I like that they actually play up her inappropriateness and weave it directly into the fabric of the episode. The idea of Scooter falling for her because of her risque edge is also wonderful, particularly because it largely seems to be an act of rebellion against his mom (with a touch of Freudian weirdness mixed in there), as is the fact that his walk on the “wild side” proves too much for him when Chelsea plants a big kiss on his lips, which is the Scooter equivalent of…reaching a base he’s never even heard of before.

 

And from that point on, Scooter tries to break things off with Chelsea, who pursues him relentlessly. Not only has she been looking for a sweet dork after having grown tired of only dating bad boys, but his rejection of her seems to make him even more irresistible to her, a nice gender inversion of how this sort of plot usually goes. With all of that said, I didn’t feel that these scenes landed as well as the Muppets do (and The Muppets does) in their best moments, making it funnier in theory than in execution. For whatever reason, the energy felt a little off to me, although it might have just been my mood at the time, because again, unlike the Kermit/Fozzie thread, it’s a solid plot that only really could have happened on this show, with these characters.

 

Scooter falls into Chelsea's arms.

Scooter falls into Chelsea’s arms.

I can’t imagine accepting Chelsea having fallen for a real, human dweeb, but Scooter is just plush and cartoonish enough that it feels believable within the series’ framework. Meanwhile, an actual person just like him might have come across as too young and immature for the story to feel comfortable but the fact that he’s a puppet of indeterminate age removes the specificness that a human actor would have. It also creates a sincerely funny visual, particularly for a Chelsea fan such as myself, to see her turning her amorous attention on a Muppet, and Scooter of all Muppets.

 

So it probably mostly comes down to personal preference rather than something I can analyze or quantify. When push comes to shove, it just didn’t make me laugh as much as I would’ve hoped and as most of the previous episodes did. And while I found “The Ex-Factor” a bit more restrained in the laughter department, as well, that one made up for it with its superb Piggy character development. This one didn’t stun me. It did entertain me, just not quite enough.

 

One thing did make me laugh uproariously, however, and that was Uncle Deadly’s line about Scooter definitely being a “boy toy,” which as far as I’m concerned is the closest we’ve had to a direct reference to Deadly’s likely sexuality. Sure, his general, melodramatic demeanor and his particular job on this show are huge signs, but he gives this line such a world-weary, knowing inflection so rife with I’ve-been-around-the-block-before innuendo, I can’t imagine any other interpretation.

 

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