Jarrod Fairclough – Let’s talk a little about the concept of ‘Muppet canon’, i.e the idea of how something that The Muppets do in one venture relates to these characters in another. For example, in The Muppet Movie Kermit meets the gang as adults in various hilarious and wacky ways. And yet in A Muppet Family Christmas it’s revealed that they all knew each other as children, alluding to the cartoon series Muppet Babies. So which one is correct? Did Kermit and Fozzie meet doing bad jokes in a sleezy cafe? Or did they meet when they were put in the same daycare with a carer who was all legs and not much else?
Well, there’s no real answer to that, because both are equally true. Yes, it’s a paradox, but so is everything about anything these characters have ever said or done. The truth is that Muppet canon doesn’t really exist unless it’s super necessary, and even then it can fluctuate as needed. But what does this have to do with ‘Bear Left then Bear Write’, the third episode in The Muppets first season? I want to talk about Gonzo and Miss Piggy, and how they relate to their previous incarnations.
Let’s start off with the bad news – Gonzo and Camilla are no more. It’s a shock, yes, but Camilla is literally nowhere to be seen in this entire series. It appears that after almost 40 years of poultry, Gonzo has lost the taste for chicken and instead craves the other white meat – women. He is giving the world of online dating a go, and with the help of Pepe, Rizzo and guest star Liam Hemsworth, he’s meeting up with Debbie, a Muppet woman who he’s very interested in. The issue is that Gonzo hasn’t been truthful, and instead of showing his ‘cute little elephant beaver’ face, he’s been using a photo of Hemsworth instead. It makes for a great little subplot to the episode, and Hemsworth nails his performance. But I couldn’t help but feel a little uncomfortable, even as I laughed along. Gonzo has NEVER been ashamed of who he is. He’s the biggest advocate for waving your freak flag that The Muppets have ever had. He doesn’t care what anyone thinks of him, even as he eats a tire or water skies with singing chickens. But yet here we are, with a storyline about Gonzo being embarrassed about who he is, something that has never really happened before. It’s a strange look on Gonzo, and that’s saying something.
But I think it’s okay. I mean, sure, it’s a tad strange that Gonzo isn’t stricken with a chicken. It’s strange that he might be a bit ashamed of his unique looks. But perhaps that’s just the Gonzo that we’re getting in this new series. That’s his character in this venture – a slightly shy, though still kind of mental, Gonzo. That doesn’t mean that in the next Muppet movie he’ll be this way. In fact I’m willing to bet any money that the next movie will have him back doing crazy weird stunts with his faithful chicken by his side. And of course it’s highly possible that Camilla could turn up later on in this show, with literally no explaination, to resume her relationship. But that’s the world of Muppet canon. When you learn to embrace the continuity issues, you begin to get the full experience of these characters.
Which brings me to Miss Piggy. One joke I enjoyed in the pilot presentation for the new show was Piggy forgetting Gonzo, calling him Gary. It was a silly bit, but made sense because the characters had been split up for a while, and Miss Piggy is pretty clueless. In this new show, it’s been implied that Up Late with Miss Piggy has been on the air for around 5 years. When Fozzie quits (which we’ll get to later) Piggy’s only reaction is ‘And you are?’. I don’t know if Miss Piggy was joking, or if it was just a line reading not quite pulled off by an otherwise stellar Eric Jacobson (which, again, we’ll get to), but it didn’t work. Miss Piggy has worked with Fozzie by her side for 5 years. It’s not like Fozzie was a lowly coffee boy – he was her sidekick, on the air with her every night. It’s not a realistic notion that Piggy wouldn’t know who Fozzie is, and it’s a little disappointing that she doesn’t care that he’s gone. Even in Muppets Most Wanted she seems a LITTLE affected by his and Walter’s abandonment, but here we get nothing. It’s a joke that’s called out a couple of times by Scooter in an amusing little scene, but I wish they’d show Piggy with a bit more compassion for the others.
But, again, maybe that’s my own issue I need to deal with. Perhaps that’s the Piggy we’re getting in this show. I know I could be coming off a little unfair to the writers – after all, Piggy’s never been the sweetest of characters. But in the past she’s at least shown a glimmer of love and respect for her colleagues, a few times begrudgingly. While I’d have liked to have seen Piggy tell Kermit to go get Fozzie back, I can see why she didn’t.
The main plot of the episode revolves around Fozzie quitting the show to write a film about a porcupine buying dress socks, after Kermit lies about it being a great idea. He suffers a slight extensional crisis, but his old pal Kermit comes to the rescue. Meanwhile Gonzo, Rizzo and Pepe deal with Gonzo’s catfishing, with the help of Liam Hemsworth, and Piggy attempts to humiliate Christina Applegate with the help of a reluctant Scooter.
In the first review I mentioned how much Eric Jacobson was crushing it, and it bodes mentioning again. Between Miss Piggy and Fozzie, Eric has a lot to do, and he is giving 110% in his performance. Tonight we get to see something I hope we see many more times – a drunk Fozzie. Okay, so he wasn’t drunk, he’d been hit by a tranquilizer dart, but same thing. It might be my favorite Eric-Fozzie performance in a long time, with equal parts sweet and hilarious. Fozzie’s distress at thinking he was dead, only amplified when he thinks Kermit died too, was the highlight of the whole episode. Steve Whitmire seemed to be enjoying it too, because if you listen carefully towards the end of the scene, you can hear Steve laughing before Kermit’s lines. It leads me to believe that the scene was at least partially improvised, which is always a real treat. These guys are solid comedic actors as well as puppeteers, so when they really get to bust out the comedy chops it’s delightful. Steve and Eric have such a great rapport, which is in full display here. Hopefully we get more of this kind of thing in the coming episodes.
The guest stars all bring their A-game in this episode. I was surprised to learn that this was the first time Christina Applegate has worked with The Muppets. She’s been a beloved comedy actress for close to 30 years now, and she’s a natural fit in this environment. Her empowering The Swedish Chef was a highlight, and I’d watch a buddy movie starring Christina and Scooter based on that last scene alone.
Liam Hemsworth doesn’t often get the chance to bust out the comedy chops, but he does it well here. He gets to play against that handsome leading man with a huge wink to the audience. Fun fact: I know a girl who went to school with Liam when she was 7, and she can attest to him always being gorgeous.
Nick Offerman is one of my favorite people, and my only issue was that there wasn’t enough of him. That wry, dry wit that made Ron Swanson such a great character plays nicely against the manic surroundings, as it’s revealed that Nick is just as crazy as the rest of them. I can’t wait to see his and Janice’s wedding episode.
Can I take a moment here to talk about Chip? What an amazingly weird character. In a group that consists of diva pigs, strange whatevers, crazed drummers and Big Mean Carl, it’s hilarious that Chip is the weird one. No-one really knows what he’s there for, including himself. With his perpetually open mouth, his eyes that never close and yet still blink, he’s such a strange guy, one you wouldn’t be surprised to find going through your garbage or mining for gold behind the Hollywood sign. He could be my new favorite obscure character (sorry, Hugga Wugga!). I was disappointed when he didn’t turn up at all in the last scene with Piggy and Scooter, especially after he was convinced she was talking to him about her plan. I hope he’s used a lot, but sparingly.
- So The Swedish Chef’s name is Megan, but we were told once it was Tom. Again, another case of Muppet canon and it’s lack of existence. Live your truth, girl!
- On that, I don’t think it was a revelation that the Chef is a woman, but more him being thankful for Christina Applegate’s support.
- We finally see Rowlf and his tavern! It’s a nice little bar, and one that I assume we’ll see a lot more of over time. I loved seeing Rowlf eat at his stiches, a joke that was partially used in the presentation pilot.
- Still no sign of a Peter Linz character, which is a shame. He’s definitely around – in the press screener of episode 2, we were treated to Peter playing Scooter in a couple of scenes before David Rudman had overdubbed them. I’m hoping we see Walter soon, playing a page or an intern, or the assistant to everyone.
- So, Debbie. She’s a very non-Muppet looking Muppet, isn’t she? I like it.
- Sweetums was on a bike, and now I can die happy.
- Yolanda is a B-average student in her quest to become an ultrasound technician. But all anyone asks is ‘Where’s Koimet?’
- Can someone please make me a Kermit baseball trophy?
- Kermit trying to talk Fozzie through his phone reminds me of all the times I’ve had to do that kind of thing with my family. I once got a phone call asking me how to turn the DVD player on… I WAS IN ANOTHER COUNTRY!
- Gonzo is after anyone from the ages of 18-81 within 20,000 miles of Hollywood. His ethnicity is ‘Complicated’, and under his lists of Likes are ‘Art’ and ‘Pain’.
- “I found a clip of her swimming with some Golden Retriever puppies. The only thing embarrassing about that was the way I said ‘Awwww‘ and then clapped alone in my apartment’ – Oh Scooter, never change.
- ‘You wouldn’t think a Debbie would wear slacks to a first date’
- ‘Oh, maybe we can use these to find my hat!’