The Muppets Review: “Hostile Makeover”

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Airtime: Tuesday 8 PM on ABC

Tweetable Takeaway: The Muppets gets better and more confident with its second episode, but is still lacking some classic Muppety Mayhem.


Let me begin with the preface that I’m a huge Muppets fan. I’ve always have been an admirer of our funny felt friends. Yup, I’m talking lunchboxes, clothes, and all the other merchandise that my parents could get me. Though I’m technically an adult now, I’m still a big fan of Jim Henson’s creations, so naturally, I have some qualms with ABC’s recent interpretation. But, it’s not why you’d think.

I don’t have an issue with ’ trek into more adult territory, as that’s nothing new for the characters. The rapid-fire innuendos don’t soil the Henson name and the characters haven’t really changed since they became icons on The Muppet Show. My biggest issue, and it’s really a small one, is the lack of physical humor and wackier antics.

As for as office sitcoms go, The Muppets is very funny. “Hostile Makeover” is miles ahead of the and gives a greater sense of what this series could be and how it’ll function week to week. In this episode, Kermit and the gang are looking to calm down the rolling tornado that is Miss Piggy by hooking her up with Josh Groban (here playing himself to great effect as a douchebag).

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Meanwhile, Fozzy enters a starstruck conundrum with Jay Leno when he swipes the former Tonight Show host’s candy dish in an attempt to keep a souvenir to savor this special moment. Our C-story involves Bobo the bear battling the Muppet Newsman when they’re both attempting to sell their daughter’s girl scout cookies, which ends up being the funniest part of the episode.

It seems that Kermit and Piggy will dominate the A-story each week, which is entirely fine, as Kermit’s the straight-man that holds the crew together. There’s a reason he’s the focus of every movie and series – he’s just that good. Bobo is used to great effect here as a father who wants to sell enough of his daughter’s cookies to get her a bike. His role really lends to audience connection, as we’re all familiar with someone trying to pawn off their kid’s cookies on everyone else. It’s very funny and never outstays its welcome.

The series utilizes the mokumentary format well, implementing excellent timing for jokes. Who knew a puppet could deadpan? Turns out they can, and pretty effectively at that. Background characters and supporting players thrive the best here, providing excellent moments of levity through Kermit’s frustration or Piggy’s diva antics. Pepe, Gonzo, Rizzo, the members of Electric Mayhem, Sweetums, Bobo, and Uncle Deadly particularly shine with well-timed quips that get the best laughs.

JAY LENO, FOZZIE BEAR

Fozzy, who normally is a key player, is getting short-ended each week. He’s been the dominant B-story two weeks in a row, but they generally feel very out of place and less organic to the whole of the episode, not to mention generally unfitting to the character. Fozzy’s great, but his stories are falling flatter each week and feel generally like a deterrent from the much more humorous storylines taking place. I genuinely felt myself aching to go back to the storyline with Groban or Bobo. I’m hoping that he isn’t the focus of the B-storyline every week, because I’d love to see Gonzo, Rizzo, or Pepe get something to do as well. Gonzo in particular, as he’s a major character that was largely delegated to background gags in the last two films. He’s the character that feels most readily at home in the mokumentary format, mastering the dry, deadpan jokes that thrive so well in that medium. I’m sincerely wishing that he gets his own storylines in future episodes.

Most fans and casual viewers are most angry at Kermit’s ugly side rearing it’s head, but I think that’s premature. Sure, Kermit’s stressed and upset, but he’s not anymore fed up then he was on The Muppet Show. In fact that’s an interesting new angle that the The Muppets takes, in which it showcases the character’s flaws, vulnerabilities, and eccentricities outside of the “show” that they work on. Where The Muppet Show featured backstage shenanigans, The Muppets takes the characters completely outside of the show and puts them in the modern world.

And that’s funny. Seeing Kermit become ridiculed by a Laurence Fishburne is great. Josh Groban bullying Kermit and playing a smug aletist is a lot of fun. But I for one find myself at odds with the show’s treatment of the Muppet ensemble. My favorite part of the Muppets films and past series are the groups large ensemble of nameless background characters that are always up to something strange, a seemingly huge and endless group doing who known what.

I’d like to see a larger amount of Muppet extras up to things that are…well, Muppety. Gonzo is well-known for his pain tolerance level being through the roof, as the beak-nosed goofball is constantly shot out of cannons and finds himself in bodily harm. I get that the series is placing the Muppets in a real-world context as if they’re actually alive, but the Muppets aren’t real world. They’re zany and bizarre and very physical. The only physical humor that we’ve seen thus far is Beeker getting electrocuted once and Scooter being thrown off a golf cart.

UNCLE DEADLY, SCOOTER, KERMIT THE FROG

The show needs more of the physical slapstick that the Muppets are known for, with characters being thrown about and cars crashing into the set. Beeker should be in a new experiment each week, being blown up or fired out of something. There should be chickens roaming and an odd assortment of weird background shenanigans taking place in the halls, much to Kermit’s chargin. The Muppets are larger than life, so their outside lives and workplace antics should be so as well.

I’m also wondering why some of the better jokes from the presentation released in July are lacking from the series. Some of the best jokes in that presentation were when the characters were fully aware of all of the films and shows that came before. The best joke in my opinion was when an obscure Muppet asked others which Muppet show or movie he was even in, inquiring as to whether it was Muppet Treasure Island or a holiday special.

To sum it all up, I think in order to be truly accepted as a Muppet show, The Muppets needs to not take itself so seriously and implement a greater amount of physical humor and self-referential comedy. But, I feel confident about where the show is going and think that, in time, it could become one of the best primetime comedies on television.

BEST HUMAN GUEST STAR:

Lea Thompson. Who turns out to be Kermit’s biggest “free pass” crush and later appears in a great payoff.

MUPPET MVP OF THE WEEK:

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Big Mean Carl. This secondary muppet lives up to his name in hilarious fashion as a screaming and generally furious receptionist who tangles with Fozzy when the bear questions his ability to distinguish tone.

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Bryan is a filmmaker who is now living in Hollywood. On any given Saturday you can find him dressing like an 80’s dad and singing “Just a friend” until someone asks him to stop.

Twitter: @BryanLiberty

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