What do Jay Leno, Laurence Fishburne, Josh Groban, Lea Thompson, and Reza Aslan have in common? They’re all willing to let themselves be mocked for a slice of that sweet, sweet Muppet cameo action.
Let’s bitch it out…
This week’s episode – funnier and edgier, but no less cynical than last week’s premiere – sees three key plotlines. In the A plot, Miss Piggy falls in love with Josh Groban, who wants to change her show, but she promptly falls out of love with him when it looks like he might get credit. In the B plot, Fozzie Bear becomes friends with his idol Jay Leno, but is defriended by the end of the episode. And in the C plot, Bobo is annoying everyone with his daughter’s girl scout cookies and failing to make sales when he has to compete with a local news anchor, until the now legally “medicated” Electric Mayhem gang get ahold of him. The three plots intersect a lot more smoothly than last week, and the whole thing feels a lot more polished and cohesive.
I can’t help it: I find it totally charming to think of muppets having real lives off-screen. The Bobo’s daughter plotline amused me extra because I’m such a sucker for that particular conceit.
Lots of guest stars this week. I have to say, I expected more from Josh Groban – his sense of humour and willingness to make fun of himself is pretty legion – but the standouts instead are Reza Aslan and Laurence Fishburne. Confused Reza Aslan does a good job of playing his interview with Miss Piggy like that train wreck interview he did on Fox, and asshole Laurence Fishburne made me snort-laugh so loud I woke up my cat. (Totally. Worth. It.)
Diva Piggy returns hardcore in this episode, but there’s more heart in it. She’s motivated by loneliness, and we get a clearer sense that her rage also keeps her competitive and on her game. Kermit has a throw-away line at the end of the episode that I hope foreshadows more to come: he points out that she’s the only female host in late night. Hey, Muppets writers? DO MORE WITH THAT, PLEASE. It’s true, it is grounds for a ton of comedy, and it would let Piggy own her strength beyond the bitchy diva role you’re boxing her into.
So far the muppets all continue to be heightened versions of themselves – Piggy is more extreme, Kermit more harried, Electric Mayhem more stoned than in previous incarnations – but I maintain that these are not departures from, but rather extensions of, their original personalities. I think we have a tendency to remember the original Muppet Show through a veil of nostalgia. It was never Sesame Street, and tonight there’s real sweetness in both the B and C plots. Fozzie’s desire to be loved and recognized by Jay Leno, but his inability to make it stick, offers the heartbreak Fozzie is best suited to play. Likewise, loveable failure Bobo’s desire to support his daughter and succeed softens the cynical one-liners that make up the bulk of the show. So far, this reboot is within the acceptable realm of muppet for me, and I’m really enjoying it.
- Much more effective use of Pepe in this episode. I literally cannot get enough of that king prawn, okay?
- I didn’t notice it last week, but paying attention to background muppets is a must. Especially during the cutaway interviews — there is some real comedy gold in the stage business of the muppets that you’re not supposed to be focused on. Keep an eye on those Easter eggs.
- An acoustic Electric Mayhem set sounds like something you would pay a lot of money to see in Brooklyn at a bar that only serves pickled eggs (ironically, of course). I expect the hipster cover band to hit Pitchfork any second now.
- I will never get tired of watching monster muppets eat whole containers of things. I would like a supercut of that, please and thank you.
- The idea of Scooter and Animal sharing a pre-show cry makes me really, really happy. Too happy.
- The physical comedy of the brass rooster, Fozzie’s head, and the hat is a lovely five seconds of stage business. It, along with Miss Piggy singing on the piano and Kermit’s arm waves, reminds me of just how good physical effects are. I love puppeteering. Someone remind JJ Abrams on my behalf re: Star Wars.
- Pepe: “Aw, rats.” Rizzo: “Hey, there’s a rat sitting right here.” Pepe: “Oh, don’t be so sensitive. You guys started the plague.”
- Pepe (on Josh Groban giving him “the feels”): “What? He’s a handsome man, and gender is fluid, okay?”
- Statler (after Josh Groban’s duet with Miss Piggy): “WOO!” Waldorf: “Did you just say woo?” Statler: “What? I’m allowed to feel things.”
- Jay Leno: “Whoa there, Fozzie, you’re getting fur on my pants.” Fozzie: “Hey, you’re getting Jay Leno on my fur!”
- Josh Groban: “Wouldn’t the world be a much better place if everybody was a little more like me?”
Your turn: do you buy my sweet-and-salty reading of the episode structure? Did you think Josh Groban was funnier than I give him credit for? Do you also love Pepe the most? Sound off in the comments!
The Muppets airs Tuesday at 8 pm EST on ABC (or Mondays at 8 pm on City in Canada)