Tuesday, November 3, 2015

REVIEW: 'The Muppets' - Kermit Asks Miss Piggy to Help Him Get a Gift for His New Girlfriend in 'The Ex-Factor'

ABC's The Muppets - Episode 1.06 "The Ex-Factor"

Kermit is scrambling to find the perfect birthday gift for Denise, so he turns to Miss Piggy for help. Meanwhile, Kristin Chenoweth agrees to do a gig with The Electric Mayhem and inadvertently causes a rift between the band.

So much hype was made before the series premiere of The Muppets about Kermit and Miss Piggy breaking up and Kermit dating a new pig, Denise who works in marketing. It was certainly a decision the show had every right to do. And yet, it didn't really make Kermit or Miss Piggy interesting characters. In fact, it made them very spiteful. Their broad characterizations were pushed to some ridiculous levels that couldn't be grounded because they weren't dating. They make each other better characters. That's an awkwardness that the show doesn't really know what to do with. The plot of "The Ex-Factor" forces Kermit and Piggy to work together. It's also one of the best stories the show has done so far. It's had better individual moments. But the overall story of this episode flowed much more naturally than before. That's a good sign that improvement is coming.

Of course, all of the importance of this episode's plot comes from Kermit and Denise's relationship. It's a nonexistent relationship. It has value only because Kermit keeps talking about it. Denise has no personality at all or any defining character trait. She appeared in the series premiere in order to say that Kermit has moved on from Piggy and apparently has a pig fetish. But she hasn't appeared at all since then. How is this relationship suppose to be important to the lead character and the audience if it is never seen onscreen? "The Ex-Factor" offers the very first glimpse into who Denise is as a character. It mostly comes from her brief interactions with Kristin Chenoweth. She goes to meet her because she embraces the "you only live once" philosophy and then awkwardly can't stop talking. That awkwardness is meant to endear her to the audience. She gets tongue tied around celebrities just as easily as the rest of the world. But the show is also clearly trying too hard to make her that way.

The true amusement of this story comes when Kermit realizes he has to get Denise a present for her birthday. It's funny that every single one of the muppets is a horrible gift giver except for Piggy. It's funny listening to all the suggestions that Kermit, Pepe, Chip, Scooter and Gonzo toss around. Kermit even listens to Scooter and tries a homemade gift. All of it is a disaster. It's a horrifying prospect to have Kermit reach out to Miss Piggy to help him get a gift for Denise. It's awkward. However, something magical happens. Piggy does not react in some over the top, ridiculous way. She listens to what Kermit has to say about Denise and then actually goes out and gets a perfect gift for her. In the moment, it may not feel like Piggy is listening to Kermit as he goes on about his new girlfriend. But Piggy still proved her worth as a character and as Kermit's friend. That's a fantastic moment for her. Sure, she's still Miss Piggy and tricked Kermit into giving Denise a present that played the song that defined his last relationship. But the show also earned that moment because of its willingness to address how awkward this situation was.

"The Ex-Factor" also does a very smart thing in limiting its time to telling just two stories. Yes, moments still happen with the rest of the muppets. But the running time isn't trying to cram in as much story as possible. Instead of doing three ongoing plots, this episode only does two. That allows both stories time to breathe and truly develop. All the stuff with Scooter's coloring place works because the episode has time to explore what this place means to him. It offered him a chance to go wild and get out of the house for a little while. It's sad that this is his definition of a good time. But it was also an escape from the feelings he has elsewhere in his life at the moment. Sure, the place is later corrupted by Pepe and Rizzo. But that's a moment where the show truly gets some great mileage out of its characters.

The stuff that happens with Electric Mayhem and Kristin Chenoweth isn't all that great but it's still capable of offering those characters much more screen time than they have had in all the previous episodes combined. It's amusing to see how their thought process works. Animal just wants to share his funyuns. Zoot keeps forgetting what's actually happening in the conversation. And then, when Janice starts a feud amongst the band members because she dated two of them, they just blame Kristin for causing this divide between them. Sure, it's horrifying that they leave her stranded in the middle of the desert. But even that provides valuable insight into how those muppets function as characters on the show.

Some more thoughts:
  • "The Ex-Factor" was directed by Randall Einhorn with story by Bob Kushell & Steve Rudnick and teleplay by Nell Scovell & Emily Wilson.
  • It's great that Uncle Deadly exists to prop up the dramatic importance of the story. When Kermit realizes how crucial this gift is for his relationship, Deadly has the perfect analogy of it falling apart like the thread in his hand.
  • The Statler and Waldorf joke about them probably being too old - as well as cold - for Kristin Chenoweth was unnecessary.
  • Miss Piggy and Kristin Chenoweth singing was excellent. I wish the audience got to see more of that performance. For a moment though, I feared that Piggy would get jealous because Kristin had the big note in the end. Fortunately, that never came to pass. In fact, this was one of the few celebrities Piggy actually got along with.
  • There was no Fozzie Bear at all this week. His absence really wasn't noticeable at all - which is strange for a character who has been a hug factor in the five previous episodes.
  • Gonzo's ideas of what to give a woman were horrendous. First, he wanted to gift a scale so that they would stop asking if they look fat. And then, he suggested socks so that when it's thrown at Kermit it doesn't hurt as much as the scale would.
  • Janice's beliefs about the universe being connected and not wanting to put labels on things got a little annoying the more she talked about it.