Apart from a wasted C-plot, “Walk the Swine” sees The Muppets continuing on the same course correcting trajectory as “Pig Out.” That episode, perhaps more than the three that precede it, brimmed over with the sort of Muppety humor we expect from any narrative that revolved around them; what it lacked in forward momentum, it made up for by being funny, which felt like a godsend after the tragically mirthless “Bear Write Then Bear Left.” At this point, it might be wise to ask only for “funny” from The Muppets. The show so far hasn’t shown a great interest in either building up to or on anything, and instead has devoted itself to fostering its own sense of modern edginess.
“Walk the Swine” deviates from that approach, if ever so slightly, by returning to Fozzie’s relationship with Becky. In case you’ve forgotten about her, she’s the gal Fozzie had a Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner moment with back in “Pig Girls Don’t Cry,” when Meagen Fay and Jere Burns played Becky’s folks and the show squeezed a couple of terrific bear jokes out of their prandial discomfiture. Fast forward to now and Becky’s attending Fozzie’s stand-up gigs, sharing a table with Gonzo, Rizzo, and Pepe as well as their chagrin. Fozzie bombs whenever he sticks to his old vaudevillian material, so he tries out a handful of gags at the expense of Becky’s perspiry tendencies. They land with everyone in the crowd except for her, which puts Fozzie between what is, for him, the ultimate rock and a hard place: Make his audience laugh, at long last, or make them boo him at the tradeoff of being a good boyfriend.
The episode, of course, isn’t all about that. Like many of The Muppets’ season one offerings, “Walk the Swine” titles itself in such fashion that we know who it’s about before we get through the opening credits. It’s another Piggy-centric A-plot this week, with Piggy yet again going for the jugular of a gorgeous blonde Hollywood star, this time Reese Witherspoon rather than Christina Applegate. In “Bear Left Then Bear Write,” Piggy went after Kelly Bundy for embarrassing her on live television. In “Walk the Swine,” Piggy’s beef is slightly more substantive, which is to say that it’s not especially substantive at all, but that’s fine: We don’t really define Piggy by her cool-headed rationality. This is not the stuff of Piggy. The stuff of Piggy is pettier than that, and pettier still on The Muppets, where “petty” is the rule of law.
Piggy has held a grudge over Reese beating her for the role of June Carter in Walk the Line ten years ago, and for winning Best Actress at the Oscars following the film’s awards season success. So Piggy sets about trying to even the score by participating in some good old humanitarian work alongside her nemesis. No one at any time thinks to point out, rightly, that Piggy probably wouldn’t have won the Oscar just for showing up in the movie, of course, because Piggy can karate chop a 2×4 as easily as Iko Uwais shatters concrete with his fists. Naturally, her ploy goes pretty poorly for her, for Reese and, in the end, Kermit, too—because Piggy’s bad PR is his bad PR.
So we’re back to Muppets acting like dicks again, except that “Walk the Swine” is structured with apologetic endings. Becky and Fozzie figuratively kiss and make up; Piggy tells Reese “I’m sorry” through an extravagant song-and-dance number on Up Late with Miss Piggy, which both achieves the goal of reconciliation while also letting Piggy get the last word (and remain one up on Reese, who just sits stunned as Piggy raps her way to a literal mic drop). In both cases, the characters get to be exactly who we know them to be, Fozzie the loveable goof, Piggy the arrogant but vulnerable, insecure diva. They also get to express a sincerity and warmth that The Muppets has been roundly absent of to date, even if that warmth winds up getting tempered by Fozzie’s dearth of social graces and Piggy’s need to finally best Reese.
Forget the thread about Scooter getting into a fender bender with Rizzo, who tries mightily to keep Scooter from getting his insurance agency involved. (Given that their entire conflict is boring and largely laughless, forgetting it shouldn’t be too tall an order.) Fozzie’s tiff with Becky and Piggy’s war with Reese, those are the things that we come to The Muppets for. No matter what mode the Muppets work in, their greatest attribute is benevolence. They can make bad decisions, do the wrong thing, or get into hot water, and yet they can still end the day with goodwill and compassion. That’s a necessary component to understanding why they’re so special. It’s a joy to see The Muppets is beginning to remember that.
Boston-based critic Andy Crump has been writing online about film since 2009, and has contributed to Paste Magazine since 2013. He also writes for Screen Rant, Movie Mezzanine, and Birth.Movies.Death. You can follow him on Twitter. He is composed of roughly 65% craft beer.