The appearance of a celebrity guest in the Muppet world, whether on the big or small screen, always adds a bit of zest to their tomfoolery, and the Muppets’ list of celebrity guests is as extensive as it is profound. Harry Belafonte, Julie Andrews, Vincent Price, Steve Martin, Roy Clark, Milton Berle, Amy Adams, Dom DeLuise, John Cleese; that’s quite a tally, and thanks to “Bear Left Then Bear Write,” we can add Nick Offerman, Christina Applegate, and Liam Hemsworth to the total, too. Celebrity cameos are a foolproof formula for easy excitement. Got a flagging storyline? Does the plot need a brief injection of hobnobbing pizazz? Just toss in a few well-known and well-liked actors and watch as their very presence livens up the place.
But the movie star parade “livens up” the latest episode of The Muppets the way that a prisoner’s stay of execution might “liven up” the atmosphere on death row. Sure, it’s great to see Offerman trotted out on The Muppets, but to what end? “Bear Left Then Bear Write” doesn’t have a plan for him, or even a very good joke, just a few chuckles and the inherent amusement value of having Ron Swanson show up to gently bully Kermit into buying him a cappuccino machine (followed by a boat). Frankly, there isn’t much of a plan for either Applegate or Hemsworth, either, but at least she has something to do and he is given the task of being an underhanded slimeball. It’s always fun to see pretty people ugly themselves. (If only Hemsworth had an established persona other than “Thor’s little brother.”)
“Bear Left Then Bear Write” lets down its stars as well as The Muppets—both the brand and the show itself. What happened? “Pig Girls Don’t Cry” and “Hostile Makeover” each point to the series’ promise while showcasing the hurdles it has to overcome to realize that promise: The docu-com bent, for example, serves little purpose, while the narrative is missing an overarching sense of forward momentum. But at least those episodes are funny, and at least they have something, even if a very little something, to say about the Muppets through a real world context. “Bear Left Then Bear Write” has absolutely bupkis to say, about its characters, about its premise, about show biz; there’s no connection to the show’s last two weeks of material. Worse than that, it has only two successful punchlines, while the rest simply don’t land. (Chief offender: Chip, the self-identified I.T. guy, a new character apparently conceived by that asshole jock who bullied you and your nerd friends in high school.)
We’ve taken a bit of a break from the Kermit/Piggy drama this time, which is either a good thing or a bad thing, depending on who you ask. If you’re of the mind that The Muppets really had no business separating the couple yet again, then the lack of mention of their relationship status will be a relief; if, on the other hand, you think the “will they/won’t they” dynamic gave the show a goal to strive for, then “Bear Left Then Bear Write” will read as slightly puzzling. Instead of dealing with Kermit’s romantic life, we’re stuck with an examination of his friendship with Fozzie, which is tested when Fozzie runs a sketch he wrote for “Up Late with Miss Piggy” by Kermit in hopes of getting it on the air. But if Fozzie’s a crummy comedian, he’s a worse writer, and Kermit tells a pile of lies to spare Fozzie’s feelings, which of course works out great.
?The fibs ultimately result in Fozzie leaving “Up Late with Miss Piggy,” which sends Kermit scrambling to get his old chum back and repair their bond. As Kermit tells Fozzie when first discussing the sketch, “Bear Left Then Bear Write” should be a movie instead of a bit; after Miss Piggy, Fozzie is Kermit’s oldest and most important partner, the guy he’s relied on (as much as you can rely on Fozzie at all) to help him get through life at its bleakest. If The Muppets wanted to put strain on their bond, then resolving their conflict in less than twenty minutes is equally cheap and lazy. This is a sitcom, so naturally we have to anticipate that each episode resolve its plot threads week in and week out, but patching things up so neatly between Kermit and Fozzie feels like a mistake. This, along with Kermit’s and Piggy’s unresolved feelings over one another, could have been the engine for The Muppets’ first season.
Instead, it’s a throwaway. Maybe that’s a good thing. Critics of The Muppets, who have already gotten their dander up over the Kermit/Piggy split, would probably have passed out in unison if Fozzie couldn’t forgive Kermit for his indiscretion and called it quits on him. But at least that would have been interesting, which “Bear Left Then Bear Write” certainly isn’t. Kermit and Fozzie have a tiff, Piggy plots revenge on Applegate for humiliating her at a taping, and Gonzo uses a glamor shot of Hemsworth as his online dating profile pic, only to have Hemsworth steal his thunder; Gonzo’s woes, at least, buttress the prototypical Muppet theme of failure, but like Fozzie’s beef with Kermit and Piggy’s post-credits arrest, The Muppets probably will have forgotten about it by next Sunday—and if there’s one thing the Muppets should never be, it’s forgettable.
Boston-based critic Andy Crump has been writing online about film since 2009, and has been scribbling for Paste Magazine since 2013. He also contributes to Screen Rant, Movie Mezzanine, and Birth.Movies.Death. You can follow him on Twitter. He is composed of roughly 65% craft brews.