Michael Ranks ‘The Muppets’

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Michael Wermuth – Well, the first season of The Muppets. is over. So far, it’s a great show. Hopefully we’ll get another season. And if we don’t, at least ABC aired every produced episode (in contrast to how NBC only aired 9 out of 12 episodes of The Jim Henson Hour and ABC only aired 10 of the 13 first season episodes of Muppets Tonight). Anyway, let’s take a look at my picks for the top ten episodes from the first season (of hopefully many) of The Muppets. And technically, with one season finished and no word yet on another, this is my list of the top ten episodes.

And before you ask why I’m doing a list of top ten episodes of a season that only has 16 episodes, when my recent list of the best Muppets Tonight episodes was limited to 6, when there are 22 episodes…. Well, I don’t really have an answer for that logic.

JANICE, ROWLF, TREISA GARY

10. Generally Inhospitable
This episode finds Miss Piggy spraining her ankle and having to go to the hospital, and ends up doing the show at the hospital, while Rizzo, Yolanda, and Pepe lock Pache in a closet to keep him from messing with the show. Willie Nelson is the guest, doing a great rendition of “On the Road Again” with The Electric Mayhem (and I didn’t realize until I saw this that it was the first time on this show that the band sang in a song). It even features the return of Veterinarian’s Hospital, with an actual patient (who apparently didn’t know she’d be in a sketch) playing the patient.

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9. Going, Going, Gonzo
This was one of the first episodes to be perfectly Muppety (after “Pig in a Blackout”), with Gonzo having a renewed desire to do dangerous stunts, something that had been lacking on the series, only for Gonzo to start to become scared to do his human cannonball stunt. Additionally, there’s a great subplot involving Scooter and The Electric Mayhem. Although it seems this show has a lot of interactions between characters performed by the same person (I feel more so than other productions), I was surprised to see Scooter and Janice interacting so much, as I always thought they sounded exactly the same, but now that I’ve heard them conversing, I can hear a difference (it sounds to me like David Rudman made Janice’s voice sound a little sweeter). We also get some great lines from Lips, and I like the idea of Piggywater, as well as Miss Piggy putting people who make her mad on a “list”.

Also, up until this point, we hadn’t seen many characters appear on the show. In contrast to past productions, where backstage characters get to appear on-stage from time to time, at first it seems like everyone on this show either worked on-stage or . Although Gonzo chickens out with doing the stunt on the show, this was a step in the right direction, with Gonzo coming close to appearing on “Up Late with Miss Piggy”. It would have been the first time a backstage character appeared on the show.

KRISTIN CHENOWETH, ANIMAL, JANICE, LIPS, FLOYD PEPPER

8. The Ex-Factor
When I first heard of Kermit and Miss Piggy breaking up and Kermit getting a new girlfriend, I was hoping to hear her voice and see what she’s like. But then Denise ended up not really doing much. In the presentation pilot she’s more-or-less a featured extra, and her voice barely even heard. And when the show began, she ended up working for the network, functioning separately from the Muppets (with Kermit seemingly her only friend from the Muppets). She only got a couple scenes in the first episode, and then was absent for five episodes before returning here, which ended up being her only major episode (though “Swine Song” comes close), and even then the episode is more about her than starring her, in that Kermit struggles to figure out a good present to get her for her birthday and, in desperation, asks Miss Piggy for help.

Of course, while that plot is a little good, the subplot with Kristin Chenoweth and the Electric Mayhem is a lot better. Kristin accepts an invitation to sing at Floyd’s parents wedding anniversary, but while on the road, she inadvertently turns the band against each other, particularly when Janice reveals that she’s not anybody’s lady, surprising Floyd (and, I guess, opening the door for Sam the Eagle’s sudden interest in her, though he would probably be disappointed when he finds out). Zoot gets some funny lines, and I like Animal’s line “Animal always wanted to play with live snakes, but Zoot big baby!” I only wish that this was the main plot, or at least more had been done with the band on the road.

MISS PIGGY

7. Swine Song
This was the first episode after the winter break, and the first of the “re-tool”, with the network wanting “Up Late  with Miss Piggy” to appeal to younger audiences and Pache being brought in to help rebrand the show – with ridiculous suggestions. Pache is less involved here than I had expected, with him really only getting a couple of scenes, and is not even there when the Muppets have a big brainstorming session for the shows changes. I had expected Pache to be a boss to Kermit, so I was confused that the Muppets just changed the show their way without doing any of his suggestions (and was surprised that he would sabotage his own show).

Although I had really liked the show before this, this episode was the start of many improvements. One of my biggest complaints was the lack of actually seeing the shows sketches (though most of the sketches we’ve gotten so far have been games/game shows, or things that take place outside of the studio and, in-universe, appear to be unscripted). This episode got more of the Muppets involved on-stage (the two episodes before started to get into the right direction as well). This episode also finds Kermit and Denise breaking up.

Some of the highlights in this episode include the stuff with Uncle Deadly and Gloria Estefan, the Muppets doing an impromptu performance of The Muppet Show theme, and “Pepe the Uber Driver”.

josh groban miss piggy

6. Hostile Makeover
While I liked the first episode and had no problems with a lot of things people complained about (such as the adult humor and how mean/cynical everyone was), this second episode was a big improvement. This episode has Miss Piggy and Josh Groban becoming a couple, making Piggy nicer to the other characters, but Groban’s influence makes the show suffer. I like the scene at the beginning where everyone is hiding from Miss Piggy, as well as the subplot with Bobo selling cookies for his daughter. I also like that sneaky look Kermit does after he’s found a way to bring things back to normal, he does a similar thing in the next episode on this list. These sneaky things kind of make Kermit look a little mean, even though he is right in doing them (because he’s keeping the show from being affected negatively).

ED HELMS, MISS PIGGY, SCOOTER, BOBO THE BEAR

5. Pig Out
The first few episodes didn’t have much music, but this episode more than makes up for it. We get to see the characters karaoke-singing at Rowlf’s tavern, with The Swedish Chef singing “Rappers Deligth”, Bunsen and Beaker singing “I’ve Got You Babe”, and the Muppets, joined by Ed Helms, singing “Don’t Stop Believing”. This is probably the most we’ve seen of The Swedish Chef hat-less, and the first time we’ve seen adult Scooter without his glasses (he looks weird).

This episode also has a subplot in which Fozzie accidentally injures Statler, and after apologizing and trying to make up for it, Statler practically screws Fozzie over (nevermind the fact that Statler had always been mean to Fozzie before the accident and Fozzie still wanted to help). This is a good plot, but I feel bad for Fozzie. Statler never learns a lesson or gets any consequences for his actions. And as a plot hole, Fozzie is among the Muppets who shows up late, even though he was not out partying with the others (did he oversleep because he was out doing so many errands for Statler?). Another thing  of note about this episode is that it’s the first to only feature one guest star, Ed Helms, and is also the first where a guest star is not really involved in a plot (well he kind of is, but he also kind of isn’t). This episode also introduces Sam the Eagle’s crush on Janice, which is used well here, but probably should have wrapped up in this episode.

For a long time, this one was the #1 spot on this list, but then it got bumped right before the retooling.

RIZZO, SCOOTER, BIG MEAN CARL, YOLANDA, FOZZIE, BOBO THE BEAR, SAM THE EAGLE, MINDY KALING, MISS PIGGY, PEPE THE KING PRAWN, SWEETUMS, THE GREAT GONZO, CHIP, DR. BUNSEN HONEYDEW, UNCLE DEADLY

4. Single All the Way
I figured the show would have a Christmas episode. None of the previous Muppet shows had holiday episodes (the closest would be The Muppet Show having episodes with Vincent Price and Alice Cooper which fans tend to refer to as Halloween episodes, even though the holiday is never even mentioned in either episode), but in this day and age, TV shows seem to have Christmas episodes every season (back in the golden age of television, it seems most TV shows only got one Christmas episode every four or five years). The Muppets do Christmas well, and I wondered if this would remain in the #1 spot on this list.

This episode has Miss Piggy helping Fozzie cope with Becky breaking up with him, only to realize that she should have fought to stay with Kermit. It starts to plant the seeds that they might get back together. Oddly, although Fozzie and Becky do get back together, Becky never appears in this episode, and hasn’t been on the show since (though she was briefly mentioned in “Little Green Lie”, as if they are still having relationship problems). Even if it’s a downer, it would have been good if they just remained broken up.

I really like the stuff with Mindy Kaling being  a bad singer and Kermit trying to figure out a way out of this without actually telling her so. I actually do like how she sounds when she sings badly. But of course this leads to the big ending where the whole cast sings “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” on-stage. It’s the first time we saw the backstage characters on-stage, foreshadowing the next six episodes where everyone is just as involved on-stage as they are backstage (just like on the previous shows).

MISS PIGGY, ALINDA

3. A Tail of Two Piggies
This episode does a good job of bringing in a message of being yourself. It also seems to lampoon the Janet Jackson Superbowl controversy of 2004, though it seems a bit late to be doing so. When Miss Piggy’s tail accidently sticks out of her dress in public, sponsors threaten to pull out of the show, but after a young fan, Alynda, shows her support, Miss Piggy decides to “unveil the tail” in an online campaign… Only for the network to disapprove of showing the tail on TV. Meanwhile, following Gonzo and Camilla’s break-up, Gonzo, Rizzo, and Pepe decide to buy a new house together and throw a hot tub party, ending with the return of Camilla, one of the characters absent from previous episodes who fans had been wanting to see on the show.

I really like Alynda. She seems like a fun character, and she’s one of the few female characters not performed by Julience Buescher or any of the men (instead, she’s performed by Alice Dinnean). If the show gets renewed, it would be great to see Alynda return. Also, this episode has Sam the Eagle acting as I expected him to as censor. When I first heard he’d be the censor, I expected running the show to be a challenge as a result, but although he had objected to a few ridiculous things, he had been surprisingly lenient in his duties, but this episode has him being the strict censor I had expected him to be.

ROBIN THE FROG, KERMIT THE FROG

2. Little Green Lie
This episode brings in two characters who had been absent from most of the show so far, Robin and Camilla (the latter of whom had appeared in one episode already), making them both involved in different plots.

Robin’s plot involves him visiting the studio for a few days (since it’s treated as if he hasn’t been around Kermit and Miss Piggy for awhile, it makes me wonder if he lives out of town from the shows setting), and with his parents recently getting divorced and him liking hanging out with Miss Piggy (which I find a little ironic because Robin and Miss Piggy have rarely directly interacted in the past), Kermit decides that he and Miss Piggy should pretend to still be together. We get a cool laser tag sequence out of it, and a nice scene at Rowlf’s Tavern.

In the subplot, Gonzo and Camilla have been spending so much time together that Rizzo and Pepe feel the need to find a new wingman. They enlist Sam the Eagle, Big Mean Carl, and Chip to compete to be their new wingman, only they end up with the women (including Good Mornign America’s Laura Spencer, whom Pepe had been flirting with for years) they meet instead. I do feel sorry for Rizzo and Pepe, not only because their wingmen get the girls instead, but also because Camilla’s friends who they opt not to meet end up being hot human women (as opposed to chickens like they expected) who were actually interested in meeting them. With me being  a young male, I really like the pillow fight they have with Camilla. But I must say that when they told Gonzo they didn’t want to hook up with Camilla’s friends because they expected them to be chickens, I saw it coming that they would be humans instead.

Some of the other great highlights of this episode include the “Friendly Feud” game show, Uncle Deadly informing Kermit that keeping Robin from finding out Kermit and Piggy broke up is the third least-important secret he’s keeping, and Foo-Foo accidentally jumping into Big Mean Carl’s mouth. Man, this episode sure does have a lot of great scenes.

UNCLE DEADLY, MISS PIGGY

1.       Because… Love
And the season (hopefully not series) finale ended up being the best episode ever (so far… at least, right? Hopefully). Following the events of “Genrally Inhospitable”, Kermit and Miss Piggy both have to decide whether to continue their relationship, with Kermit being sure after a coin flip but reconsidering after his friends show concern (with some being on “Team Love” and others on “Team Friendship”) before a chat with Jack White convinces him to come to his senses, only for Miss Piggy to not be on board when she finds out Kermit had briefly changed his mind. Jack White ends up performing “You are the Sunshine of My Life”, which earlier this season had been established as Kermit and Piggy’s “song” when they were together, but it doesn’t help and she leaves to board a plane….. And when Kermit shows up to convince her, she falls asleep before she can say whether she wants to come back to Kermit. If there’s a next season we’ll find the answer, and if there’s not, hopefully we’ll still find out.

One of the big highlights of this episode is the use of so many minor characters who haven’t been on the show yet, who show up when Kermit allows everyone to bring a “plus 1” but mistypes it as “plus 11”, and with a need for a music guest, various characters audition, from Bobby Benson’s Baby Band to Marvin Suggs and the Muppaphones to Mahna Mahna and the Snowths. I feel all of these characters could have already been on the show as music acts, and I know that just because it has so many obscure characters doesn’t automatically make it great, but it’s a plus. The closing performance of “You are the Sunshine of my Life” is a big highlight of this episode. I also like when Kermit sings “Being Green” with an audio recording of himself, and I like Jack White’s surprise when he sees Kermit driving (I would have been surprised if I saw this as a kid, when I thought Kermit never drove… and it is common for people who know me to learn that I drive, something that I feel shouldn’t be a surprise to them).

And that’s it for the first season, the ten best episodes so far. But perhaps I should say something good about each of the six episodes not on this list: “Got Silk?” has the fashion show sketch, “Walk the Swine” has Miss Piggy’s “I’m Sorry” song, “Bear Left Then Bear Write” has the subplot involving Scooter and Rizzo, “Pig Girls Don’t Cry” is a good episode to start the series, “Too Hot to Handler” has Scooter’s plotline, and “Pigs in a Blackout” is the first episode to be perfectly Muppety.

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