Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The Muppets continues to be adult in its humor, if not its relationships

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For better or for worse, The Muppets has been marketed as the “adult” Muppet series, a show where Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, and the rest of the gang pull back the curtain to reveal the inner workings of their lives. Naturally, a lot of attention has been paid to the series’ increased emphasis on sex: Fozzie having a human girlfriend, Kermit “cross-promoting” with a new pig, his old pig spending all day in bed with Josh Groban, etc.

But being an adult is about much more than sex. It’s about dealing with morality. It’s about romantic complexity. It’s about retaining (or losing) longstanding friendships. The Muppets has already navigated some of these waters quite well, particularly in the dissolution of Kermit and Piggy’s romance and Fozzie’s inability to be taken seriously by both his peers and his idols. “Bear Left Then Bear Write” tackles the latter with a great setup, but ultimately deflates like a sat-on whoopee cushion when writers Nell Scovell and Steve Rudnick choose a cheap joke over any kind of emotional weight.

But oh, that setup. When Kermit can’t bring himself to tell Fozzie how horrible the bear’s latest sketch is, he feeds him a lie about how the segment, while not great television, would make a great movie. Fozzie, being Fozzie, takes his friend’s backhanded praise to heart and embarks on a solo career. His travels bring him to the woods where, after taking a note from Yogi Bear and trying to steal a family’s food, he ends up with a park ranger’s tranquilizer dart in his neck. Luckily, a remorseful Kermit has set out to find his pal, and shows up just in time to bring Fozzie home.

Their storyline—the primary thread of the episode—has all the makings of an emotionally satisfying buddy comedy: Kermit recognizing how wrong he was for lying to Fozzie is a great start, a move that gives him genuine inner conflict and goes a long way towards combatting his rather blatant assholery in the first two episodes. But when he comes clean with Fozzie over the phone, everything gets resolved rather quickly. Although Fozzie vows to continue his solo career, he doesn’t seem all that mad at Kermit (keep in mind, we’re only halfway through the episode at this point), thus stripping the moment of any kind of catharsis. The potential hurdle in their friendship gets quickly jumped over, and we’re off to the forest for the final gag: a sluggish Fozzie being helped out of the woods by Kermit. In slurred, trank-heavy speech, the bear agrees to come back to Up Late With Miss Piggy with little resistance, and we’re done. Show’s over, folks.

Elsewhere, we get a feud between Miss Piggy and her latest target of jealousy, Christina Applegate, that never escalates, plus some delightful romantic weirdness from Gonzo when he crosses paths with Liam Hemsworth. He’s been using the actor’s picture for his dating profile, resulting in a rather sad date that ends with his online girlfriend in the arms of the Australian hunk. The narrative capitalizes on many of the traits of our favorite weirdo (or, as Hemsworth calls him, an “elephant beaver”)—his odd libido, getting inept advice from Rizzo and Pepe as his sidekicks, being oblivious to the hair-brained nature of his own schemes—all while treating him with a sense of normalcy that elicits empathy when Hemsworth strolls out of the bar with the object of his affection.

And isn’t that the primary joke of the show? This idea that even when the Muppets are a part of our world, they’re still a strange enough breed to never quite fit in when rubbing elbows with celebrities on a daily basis. And that results in solidarity among what’s, at its core, a group of showbiz misfits. But where the Gonzo stuff works by using everything we know about the character to push things towards a logical conclusion, the Kermit/Fozzie storyline reminds us of their friendship, then does nothing with it. It’s not that I expect some hard-hitting relationship drama between the two of them. But the show has proved that it’s capable of emotional nuance, and if it wants to live up to its more mature concept, the writers need to figure out how to move past the novelty of “Oh my God, they’re puppets talking about sex!” or, in tonight’s case, a high Fozzie talking all slow-like. Why make the Muppets more adult unless you’re actually going to treat them like adults?


Stray Observations

  • Seeing Sweetums ride a bicycle made me smile.
  • Outside of Hemsworth, this was the show’s weakest utilization of its celebrity guests so far. Piggy and Applegate’s rivalry never reached the crazy heights it deserved, and the joke of Nick Offerman being a demanding replacement for Fozzie fell flat for me.
  • As the show points out, it is rather strange how the Muppets have two high-profile bear characters. Although he has the gift of speech, the more realistic-looking Bobo is the equivalent to Pluto, which would make Fozzie an ursine Goofy.
  • Where the hell is Denise? I’m assuming she was introduced to develop more tension (and an eventual reunion) between Kermit and Piggy, but the writers seem reluctant to cash in on any of her story potential.
  • And what about Camilla? I guess Gonzo’s moved on from poultry to humans.
  • Likewise, I hope we get more of Rowlf. He deserves better than a single joke about chewing out his own stitches, especially when his job as levelheaded bartender could make him the eye of the Muppet storm (a role he’s filled many times in the past).
  • “That’s a beautiful story, sir. And if you don’t go after him…I WILL.” More Chip, please.
  • “No, I’ve been gorgeous since birth. But I have struck out a few times, just at a super-high level.”