The Muppets 1.11: “Swine Song”

"Swine Song"

“Swine Song”

Since I’ve unfortunately fallen a bit behind on reviewing The Muppets, I’m going to be playing catch-up in my next bunch of posts, reviewing the rest of the season one episode at a time. And here we go!


As anyone closely following The Muppets knows, there has been a bit of backstage drama surrounding the overall creative direction of this still-young series which ultimately led to one of the showrunners, Bob Kushell, leaving and being replaced by Kristin Newman, who has co-executived such beloved cult series as Galavant and Chuck, and who promised to help the show course-correct, keeping the new innovations that work while restoring some of the heart and zaniness that many long-time fans felt were missing from the early episodes.


With that said, I’d been a bit conflicted about the situation, largely because I’d felt that, in the recent batch of episodes, the show already had been finding its voice and I was worried that a network retooling could cause it to lose not only its genuinely excellent new elements but also the bite which had always been a crucial part of the the Muppets but which had only receded in some of their more recent productions (though not, significantly, their most recent film, Muppets Most Wanted, which struck the perfect balance). More unhinged Muppety craziness would definitely be a good thing. Transforming the show either into a carbon copy of the original Muppet Show or, more worryingly, Muppets Tonight, would not.


That’s why I was relieved and delighted to find that this first episode back isn’t at all a radically reconceived The Muppets. Instead, it mostly continues the show further along the improved path it had already discovered before the hiatus, with only the gentlest of tweaks. It doesn’t feel like we’re suddenly watching a brand-new, clean-slate reboot of a show that was already a reboot but instead a show that has simply made a more vocal, direct commitment to keep doing what it had already begun to do beautifully.


Lew, Animal, and Fozzie collaborate.

Lew, Animal, and Fozzie collaborate.

This is apparent right from the start with the new, only slightly-tinkered-with credits sequence which retains the mad hustle and bustle of the Up Late break room, with all of the Muppets rushing in and utterly decimating the craft services table, but which completely alters the tone by making Kermit more upbeat at the end and hinting at Kermit and Piggy’s renewed friendship (and possibly even relationship, too). Now, rather than Piggy remaining part of the chaos adding to Kermit’s stress levels, she sweetly calls out, “Kermie!” and brings him a cup of coffee at the end (a really generous moment for our particularly-on-this-show-to-date often-too-self-obsessed diva), and now when Kermit says, “It’s time to get things started,” it isn’t with an overwhelmed sigh but with a genuinely pleased lilt, indicating how truly happy he is to be working with her and the rest of his closest friends.


Episodes such as “Single All the Way” really started to push this show in this direction of having the characters find joy in bringing their show to life (versus the earlier episodes that sometimes made Up Late seem like a chore for them), and this is a lovely confirmation of that, as is the moment in the meeting where the Muppets, in trying to figure out what they could to help freshen up their show, begin to spontaneously make music together, Animal starting to tap his drum stick in time to Fozzie’s clicking his pen eventually snowballing into all of the friends producing an on-the-spot a cappella version of the original Muppet Show theme song. This need to liven things up is the result of network insistence/interference (June Diane Raphael and Utkarsh Ambudkar are spot-on as, respectively, the passive aggressive exec and “edgy”/mindless creative consultant, as are Key and Peele as terrified versions of themselves, having suffered at the latter’s hands), befitting the Muppets’ penchant for meta. But as Kermit realizes, “We have everything we need right here,” and he’s right, the revelation being a reflection of his Muppets Takes Manhattan epiphany to bring everyone up on stage to make Manhattan Melodies a hit.


What this episode does so well is both to poke fun at ABC for demanding The Muppets needed updating in order to be relevant to a modern audience–why, they might even be saying here that some of the “lack of heart” of the earlier episodes might have actually been due to ABC wanting the show to be edgy and fresh and new above all else–while also admitting that, to some degree, they themselves might have lost sight–at least a bit–of the tenderness crucial to the Muppet formula at the start of the season.


Though, again, it also seems telling that the alterations from the last few pre-hiatus episodes to this one really aren’t so drastic. They finally bring a Muppet penguin into the fold, albeit an Argentinian one that Piggy has dubbed “Gloria Estefan,” and which leads to numerous brilliant one-liners from Deadly, who she’s charged with taking care of the little guy. As referenced above, Kermit strikes upon the idea of bringing more of the Muppets on screen, although, to be honest, for me, much of that aspect of the show doesn’t work quite as well as it should have. I love the idea of more sketches from other Muppets, but the Pepe-as-cabdriver and Bobo-doing-dramatic-readings-from-Real-Housewives sketches don’t land as well as they could have. They’re conceptually on the right track and are definitely the sorts of comedy bits we’d expect in modern late-night, but they also just aren’t very funny.


Denise bids Kermit adieu.

Denise bids Kermit adieu.

With that said, the Kermit/Piggy musical number, “In Spite of Ourselves”–which isn’t actually one of their old numbers, as they claim, having been released by John Prine in 1999, but which easily sounds like something that could have been, in an alternate universe–is absolute perfection, the two former-and-hopefully-future lovebirds singing a country duet while unintentionally reminding one another and the audience all over again of their chemistry and love for each other. Which brings us to the other course-correction, which is clearly the beginnings of the dissolution of the Kermit-Denise relationship, when she starts to notice said chemistry, as well as love in Kermit’s eyes for his former flame.


Farewell, Denise, we hardly knew ye. Literally, as you weren’t on often enough to ever develop into a fully fledged character. And as glad as I am to see Kermit and Piggy starting to find each other again, I’m doubly glad that the show doesn’t seem to want to rush it but instead honors the emotions that led to the break-up in the first place. Healing takes time, and I’m glad to see the show repairing Kermit and Piggy’s friendship before going on to the next step.


So, all in all, a nice reaffirmation of the show’s current course correction that seems to promise its commitment to staying on the right track. Not a revolutionary return, which in some ways is actually a good thing, as it proves they’re not simply scrapping everything that came before, however also not always as funny as it should be, which isn’t as ideal, but overall, a solid episode that indicates the show is in good hands.



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