“Pig’s in a Blackout” is bookended by two of the most quintessentially Muppety moments that The Muppets has had throughout the first half of its opening season on ABC. Everything in between is sort of a question mark, but when you start things off with an escalating series of cock-ups that cap off with Fozzie tumbling down an elevator shaft, and end with the single greatest song of Muppets fame, it’s sort of tough to go wrong: no matter how bad The Muppets gets, there’s nothing that one bare-bones performance of “Rainbow Connection” can’t fix.
Of course, this is ABC, and the year happens to be 2015, so Kermit doesn’t get more than a few bars into his crooning before one of his neighbors shouts at him to shut up from off-screen. Quand même. The Muppets has struggled in part from inconsistent writing and occasional mishandling of tone and character alike, but hearing Kermit sing “Rainbow Connection” is an easy gesture that does a lot of legwork reminding us what Muppet television should really be all about: that deep, heartfelt search for something better out of life. It might be a bit much to suggest that there’s self-awareness behind the song’s use here, but maybe, just maybe, playing “Rainbow Connection” in the final moments of “Pig’s in a Blackout” is meant as a message from the showrunners. Maybe they’re striving for greatness behind the scenes.
Or maybe they just know that “Rainbow Connection” is iconic and they’re using it to curry favor with their core demographic. It was just inevitable: “Rainbow Connection” is a huge part of the Muppets canon. At some point, it was bound to pop up on The Muppets, and “Pig’s in a Blackout” might be the perfect time for it. Like the show itself, Kermit is in crisis, though his crisis is professional rather than creative. Work is stressing him out. Why wouldn’t it? His crew members are incompetent—well-meaning, yes, but still incompetent—and every day he goes to the office, he has to face his ex-girlfriend. Frankly, it’s amazing the frog hasn’t snapped from the mental and emotional strain yet, but as one butter-centric accident begets even more accidents within the passage of just a couple of minutes, it all becomes too much.
From there, “Pig’s in a Blackout” balances between Kermit’s time recuperating at a spa retreat, and Scooter’s scrambled attempts at keeping things at the studio under control in his boss’s absence. (Aside: The title here doesn’t totally fit. Piggy and Denise, still the most underwritten character on the series so far, appear for only a few minutes apiece. Most of the drama revolves around Scooter and Kermit. Sure, Piggy hosts the show from within the darkness of the studio after Scooter accidentally kills the lighting rigs, but still—this isn’t her episode.) Considering that the installment is chiefly about Kermit’s spiritual recalibration, the antics on the set are more arresting, despite being less substantial. It’s proof that when the Muppets get to just act like Muppets, the show can be incredibly entertaining, and watching Scooter, who has vacillated between “sad pathetic nerd” and “sad pathetic lacky” since the show’s premiere, freak out in the operation of his duties feels kind of perfect.
But Kermit’s stint at the spa winds up feeling decidedly more muddled. Jason Bateman shows up in “charming asshole” mode, which is good fun for a few seconds before the plot loses its sense of direction; ostensibly, Piggy and Denise forcing Kermit to take time off of work should help him figure out what the hell he’s doing with his life, hence “Rainbow Connection.” But in The Muppet Movie, “Rainbow Connection” both provided Kermit with his roots and served as a unifying force for the entire Muppets squad. In “Pig’s in a Blackout,” the song lets Kermit get back to those roots, but how long is that going to last? ABC has hit the reset button on the show already. In 2016, we’ll be seeing a whole new The Muppets, for better or for worse. Has the series been building up to Kermit sitting in his swamp, strumming his banjo? Or is the climactic sequence of “Pig’s in a Blackout” just an appeal to Muppet fan nostalgia?
There’s no doubting just how much “Rainbow Connection” means here, just on its strength as the ultimate Muppet anthem. Figuring out what that means for The Muppets in a larger context is a bit more of a challenge. “Pig’s in a Blackout” once again sees the show flirting with genuine Muppetness, but there’s no obvious plan for the narrative here, just an urgent sense of uncertainty. It’s natural for a new show to spend a few episodes trying to find its voice and establish a vibe, but The Muppets simply shouldn’t be stumbling this much. It has decades of character-building and storytelling to call upon in achieving its overarching goals. The showrunners need to decide if they want to do that, or if they want to just do their own thing—and if the latter, maybe they shouldn’t bother with The Muppets at all.
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.