‘The Muppets’ Recognizes Its Problems, But Can It Fix Them?

Last night’s  “Swine Song” was the first new episode of The Muppets after the retooling and shift in focus for the show. As viewers checked in with the gang, there was definitely a sense of curiosity about how the show would handle the changes that ratings and legacy had forced it into. If the episode is any indication, the message has been received loud and clear. What will actually happen with this information is less certain.

The first step to fixing things was with Miss Piggy. During the off season of Up Late With Miss Piggy, she headed to Argentina for a zen retreat, returning with ponchos, a penguin, and a new lease on life. Rizzo and Pepe had a rad time in Amsterdam (flashbacks, please), and Kermit decided to attempt a better work/life balance and give his relationship with Denise a real shot. However, despite all this positivity, they’re all thrown for a loop when network president Lucy Royce (June Diane Raphael) informs the group that a branding guru (Utkash Ambudkar) would be coming in to hip up the show. Pache, which he spells “Pizza” because it’s best to “build your brand on an already established brand,” makes old things relevant, and Up Late With Miss Piggy is struggling with an older audience and a lack of cultural relevancy. He wants to sex things up and add YouTube stars and live tweeting in order to reach out to the desirable younger demographic. However, instead of following Pache and his hipster nonsense, the gang decides to do things their way to shake things up and save the show.

The key to being successfully meta is subtlety, and this whole episode was anything but subtle. Yes, we get it, the Muppets aren’t necessarily “cool” anymore. Yes, struggling to find a way to bridge the gap between the older and younger generations is really difficult. We understand. Still, while it may have been a little hamfisted to verbalize every single issue that people have had with The Muppets, at least there is a genuine attempt to fix them, or at the very least acknowledge them. While it’s impossible to judge the changes after one episode, things seem to be heading in the right direction.

First of all, Keegan Michael Key and Jordan Peele are exactly the type of celebrity guest stars that the show should be booking. Game and elastic performers, they fit seamlessly into The Muppets‘ world while not distracting from the A-plot. Key and Peele are always a welcome sight, but they seem totally  at home with the Muppets. Additionally, the new creative team pulled from the type of classic moments that endeared the Muppets to the world in the first place. Between an impromptu performance of the theme song from The Muppet Show and Kermit shouldering his banjo and singing a twangy duet with Mis Piggy, things finally felt a little bit like they used to in the Muppet’s golden age. Finally, Kermit and Denise broke up when he missed her 5k run, in order to stay and work late with Piggy. That isn’t a particularly creative route to take, but it achieved the desired outcome: Kermit will look less like a player, Piggy will have one less thing to be cruel about, and they will have a chance to rebuild the relationship that has long been the heart of the show. Also, on a lesser note, the show seems to have finally realized that Uncle Deadly is one of its underused gems and gave him more to do. Whether he’s drinking a long overdue martini or dropping innuendos about Gloria Estefan, this hideous Muppet is swiftly becoming the show’s MVP.

The Muppets certainly has a long way to go before it’s a great show, but the spark is still there. It may be hidden under layers of clunky exposition, but it’s still there. Kermit explains in the show that “we just need to make a few tweaks to our show that make us happy,” and this is absolutely true. People have adored these felt weirdos for decades, and the ingredients for success are still present. If new showrunner Kristin Newman and company can find a way to keep making the right creative decisions while still holding true to the sweetness and joy that the Muppets have been known for since the beginning, they might be able to get this show back on course.