Tuesday, September 22, 2015

REVIEW: 'The Muppets' - Miss Piggy Debuts Her New Late Night Show as Kermit Fails to Be Honest with Her in 'Pig Girls Don't Cry'

ABC's The Muppets - Episode 1.01 "Pig Girls Don't Cry"

Miss Piggy is furious that Kermit booked Elizabeth Banks as a guest on her late night talk show, Up Late with Miss Piggy. Fozzie Bear meets his girlfriend's parents. Grammy-winning rock band Imagine Dragons performs their new single "Roots."

The Muppets are such beloved characters. It's great that they are back in a new primetime series. This time the show is centered around Miss Piggy as she launches her new late night talk show, Up Late with Miss Piggy. The series is shot in the same mockumentary-style as The Office - where the characters point out that a documentary film crew is filming the behind-the-scenes action even though those individuals never play an important part of the comedy or office hijinks A late night setting is very current given the amount of turnover that medium has had in the past year. It could be empowering to have Miss Piggy as one of the sole female voices there - even though the show-within-the-show isn't the primary focus of the actual show. The office relationships and personal dynamics are the primary focus of the story. That offers up a mixed bag of results in "Pig Girls Don't Cry."

One of the biggest things the show did was break up Kermit and Miss Piggy. They've had a tumultuous relationship over the years. And yet, they both brought out things in each other that made them better and more emotionally investable characters. Without that angst, both characters feel slightly off. Kermit is rather cynical here. That's surprising given that the Muppets are usual optimistic. In one of his first moments, he is exasperated over the fact that he has to park under a giant sign of Miss Piggy and the fact that he can't get anything from the craft services table. And then, he talks about being able to put up with all of Miss Piggy's narcissistic and diva qualities because they were dating. Without that, he openly refers to her as a lunatic. That's certainly not how Kermit has ever addressed her before - even though it's completely true with this rendition of her. Miss Piggy is allowed to go over-the-top here. Her vain and self-centered persona is so outrageous. That has always been the humor of the character. But there's not a whole lot to reign her in here. She is allowed to be mean to the crew and get Elizabeth Banks cut from the show simply because she doesn't like her. Those moments can work if there's something redeeming about the character. A moment is given where she explains she doesn't want Elizabeth Banks because Kermit broke up with her outside the theater where they never got to see Pitch Perfect 2. But that moment of vulnerability is brief and comes after an extended amount of time where it feels like Miss Piggy is only letting trivial and small things fuel this feud - like being beat out of a role for The Hunger Games.

The premiere also goes deep into the ABC talent pool for its big celebrity guests. Banks has been nominated for an Emmy many times for her work on Modern Family while Dancing with the Star's Tom Bergeron also pops up as a potential guest for the talk show. Both are given humorous bits to play as they are forced to react to the various hijinks of the Muppets. But it is noticeable that the show purposefully cast stars from other ABC projects. Both are talented though. Banks fighting with Scooter as he attempts to give her a tour of the studio was hilarious. So was Bergeron as he sadly realized that he wasn't the kind of star the Muppets were hoping to get when they went to the Dancing With the Star's soundstage. They didn't even have the courtesy to tell him that they ultimately went with Banks in the end.

It is amusing that Up Late doesn't seem to be a good show at all. Kermit makes a reference that an earlier show featured a wrecking ball wire not being able to handle Miss Piggy's weight and that the band didn't stop playing when Miss Piggy tried interviewing the guest. The various Muppets struggle to think up of bits for the show. Miss Piggy did do a respectable job interviewing Elizabeth Banks but she also focused on herself a lot too. But then, Animal broken the drums and got stuck in them when Imagine Dragons performed. All of this is a part of the show. It's not trying to say that Up Late is a great show. It's just something that everyone is doing their best to do even though they often don't do well. That's an amusing place to find comedy.

But the premiere's most consistent and funny story was Fozzie Bear's attempts to win over his new girlfriend's parents. Sure, the joke about being a bear on a dating website wasn't that great. It was unnecessary. But that didn't inform the rest of the story - even though it was hard for Becky's father to get past that fact. Muppets and humans have been romantically linked before. It's no surprise that the show is starting out of the gate with a new one. But it's doing so in a way that does address the question of how that kind of inter-species relationship can work out. Fozzie and Becky love each other. That's not enough though. Fozzie needs her parents to love him as well. They would rather focus on the fact that he loves salmon and probably goes to the bathroom in the woods. He tries impressing them with a studio tour and a meeting with Miss Piggy. But that doesn't go so well. He remains undeterred though. That's admirable. No matter how often his jokes fall flat, he still perseveres and tells them again. That's what makes Fozzie so much fun and lovable. He works on this show. Questionable decisions are being made elsewhere. But he is still a ton of fun. That's a great place to start as the show figures the rest of itself out.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Pig Girls Don't Cry" was written by Bill Prady & Bob Kushell and directed by Randall Einhorn.
  • The little cutaway tidbits about the various Muppets are where so much strong comedy comes from. There are so many of them. Yes, Kermit and Miss Piggy are the leads and demand a lot of attention. But the supporting Muppets have a lot of great jokes here as well.
  • Pepe attended his cousin's wedding over the weekend which he didn't think was great but the best it could be given the fact that she is pregnant with over 4,000 babies.
  • Zoot briefly not realizing what type of meeting he was in was the highlight of that first meeting. The rest was largely establishing the premise.
  • Sam the Eagle is great as the representative from the network's Standards and Practices - especially with his reasoning for why "gesticulating" can't be in the show's script.
  • Animal is no longer allowed to tour because there's too many women on the road - amongst other things.
  • It's weird that Kermit is already in a new relationship with Denise from the ABC Marketing team. It's also way too early to tell if she's a good character or not. I'll reserve judgment until later.
  • Jere Burns reaction shots continue to be the best.