The first half of The Muppets’ premiere season has had its ups, downs, and growing pains. In that respect, it’s not unlike any other new television series, but most new television series don’t have decades of established characters and character relationships to draw on, for crafting plots or telling stories. There’s nothing wrong with The Muppets’ search for its own voice as a new addition to Muppet canon, but the sheer tonal inconsistency from one episode to the next has dogged the show from day one. We’ve seen the full span of the attitude spectrum here, from jaded, faux-edgy snark to the absolute heights of Muppet euphoria, and that’s with just ten episodes to The Muppets’ name.
So to date, season one has been kind of a jumble, but at least it’s ending on two high notes. “Going, Going, Gonzo” proved that a contemporary Muppets serial could reach the same heartfelt heights as its predecessor,s while still allowing for exploration of the Muppet version of adulthood; this week, “Single All the Way” continues in that vein by examining the characters’ platonic and romantic relationships. Just about everyone on The Muppets is looking for love: Sam has his crush on Janice, Scooter is taking it slow with Chelsea Handler, Gonzo gave online dating a shot that one time, Fozzie and Becky are seemingly going strong, Kermit has replaced Miss Piggy with Denise, and Piggy herself tried to get her groove back by having a short-lived fling with Josh Groban.
“Single All the Way” touches on a few of these bases and ignores others. Mostly, it’s concerned with the Kermit/Piggy split, a plot point that has been visited and revisited several times since the series’ debut. If you thought that The Muppets resolved their unresolved break-up with “The Ex-Factor,” then prepare to feel like a big stupid idiot, because “Single All the Way” has more to say on the subject. Maybe that’s a cheat. Maybe “The Ex-Factor” really did put an exclamation point at the end of Kermit’s longstanding attachment to Piggy, and left no door open for a potential rekindling of their feelings for each other. But maybe it doesn’t matter. You can’t divorce Kermit from Piggy without it eventually becoming a big screaming deal.
finds a clever way of returning us to the subject of the Kermit/Piggy separation by having Becky dump Fozzie. That’s rough. If anybody doesn’t deserve to have his heart broken, it’s Fozzie, that lovable, goofy, incorrigible, and comically inept bear. And if there’s one thing kids shouldn’t see around Christmas time, it’s a hysterically weeping Santa Claus. Fozzie is so torn up about being rejected by Becky that he can’t even pull off his Saint Nicholas act for Up Late with Miss Piggy. Normally, this is where Kermit would come in: As the series has often reminded us, they’re best friends, and best friends look out for each other. But how can Kermit help out Fozzie? He might know a thing or two about ending a relationship, sure, but in the case of Piggy, he’s the one who called it off, not her, which makes him a crappy source of counsel for ol’ Fozzie.
Having Fozzie turn to Piggy is a smart move. Not only does it give Piggy a rare chance at showing compassion, it also opens her up and makes her vulnerable. The Muppets hasn’t made as big a deal out of the fact that she’s the aggrieved one in the break-up, not Kermit, and “Single All the Way” decides to examine how she actually feels about the whole thing. “No one should be alone on Christmas.” That’s the driving theme here, the idea that people don’t deserve to be by themselves on the most heavily commercialized holiday of the year, but The Muppets gets at the core of what Christmas is really about through Kermit’s climactic tête-à-tête with Piggy. This is a time for kindness, forgiveness, and reconciliation. “Single All the Way” stops short of getting the pair back together—they don’t even go in for the expected kiss in Piggy’s dressing room as Kermit reassures her that her stardom and her group of friends mean that she’s never alone—but it’s pretty obvious that their confrontation shakes both of them up.
Clearly, The Muppets has future plans for our star-crossed lovers. In the meantime, the sweetness of their A-plot seeps into the episode’s B and C-plots: Yolanda, we learn early on, rigs the office Secret Santa so that everyone draws her name, while Sam tries to get Janice under a mistletoe. You can see how sideways these might have gone earlier in the season. The idea of Sam plotting to snatch a kiss from Janice is straight-up creepy, for one thing, and in any other episode the Muppets would probably get even with Yolanda instead of getting introspective with themselves. Turns out they left her out of the gift exchange last year, so instead of seeking comeuppance, they shower her with presents and apologies; Sam, on the other hand, is foiled by Chip’s social ineptitude, but impresses Janice by talking to him instead of shunning him. He gets the smooch he wanted all along by earning it, rather than with trickery.
There’s so much warmth here buttressing Kermit’s talk with Piggy and Fozzie’s rapprochement with Becky that “Single All the Way” nearly flies right off the “heartwarming” chart. Even Kermit’s solution to Up Late with Miss Piggy’s guest star—a tone-deaf Mindy Kaling who insists on doing a musical number on the show—feels charitably gentle. We’re a long way off from when these characters sniped at and backstabbed each other, and the further we get from that, the better. Who knows what The Muppets will bring in its Spring reboot? And who cares? What we have now honors what the Muppets are all about, and for now, that’s better than good enough.
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.