The bright side of last week’s terrible episode The Muppets is that this week’s looks downright terrific by comparison. That’s not to say “Pig Out,” our fourth venture into ABC Muppets territory, is bad television, or even good television: It’s adequate, which is a godsend after “Bear Left Then Write” failed to tell a story, or a single successful joke for twenty minutes of wasted airtime. Frankly, “Pig Out” underscores the best and worst merits of The Muppets all at once, and better than its predecessors have since the show premiered. It gets what audiences want out of a Muppet venture, while also conflating those wants with what studios think audiences want in a melange of stale trendsetting and Henson humor.
If you’re the attentive type, you can probably guess based on the title that “Pig Out” revolves within the gravitational pull of Miss Piggy drama. More accurately, it’s about Piggy’s ego and image consciousness. She’s hurt, you see, because the crew goes out drinking every night after the show, to do what employees do when they’re all together and off the chain: Bitch about their bosses. Either out of curiosity or wounded pride, Piggy pushes Kermit to secure her an invite to the post-work festivities, with the intention of declining because, hey, she’s Piggy. She doesn’t need to be invited, but she wants to be invited in service to her narcissism. But then the gang does ask her to join them, and she accepts, to Kermit’s immediate horror and the crew’s preliminary chagrin.
What happens next quite handily captures the essence of Muppetdom and what is best about the Muppets: They go out and party with Ed Helms. The Muppets hasn’t had a whole lot of meaningful human/Muppet interaction thus far, but when you think of The Muppet Show, you tend to think of Muppets and people knocking out song and dance numbers or goofy sketches that embrace the inherent kitsch factor of having flesh-and-blood performers belt out pop ballads and show tunes alongside marionettes. “Pig Out” sort of gets that, even if the joke goes on a tad longer than necessary. Helms wails “Don’t Stop Believing,” Sam the Eagle croons “Wind Beneath My Wings” to win over his office crush (surprisingly, Janice), and the Swedish Chef brings his Nordic flow to “Rapper’s Delight.” (Earlier in the episode, he also has a great GIF-worthy moment where he slow-mo ducks behind his chef’s station to avoid Piggy.)
Good times. But the revelry invites more of the conniving Kermit whose underhanded management tactics have been a big part of what’s dogged The Muppets from day one. It makes sense that Kermit wouldn’t take kindly to having his authority challenged, or to being mocked by Piggy in front of the crew. It doesn’t make sense that he’d cobble together a devious counter-action to shred Piggy’s newfound popularity with the rest of the team. If anything, the fact that he comes up with a plan at all feels decidedly un-Kermit. On The Muppet Show, or in any of the Muppet films shot to date, he’d lean on someone else for counsel and figure out a solution to his woes that makes everybody happy. In “Pig Out,” he acts like a dick and the only person who wins is Piggy, by now the series’ de facto “bad guy.” (Like it needs one.)
Part of the problem may be that Fozzie spends all of his time in “Pig Out” trying to make amends with Statler of all people puppets, after a pre-credits bit in which Fozzie accidentally takes out his longtime detractor with a T-shirt cannon. You could see that physical gag working as an endcap to an episode and proper comeuppance for half of our favorite heckling duo. Here, it’s a chance for Fozzie to peel back the layers of the Statler onion and learn why the old curmudgeon has given the bear such a hard time all these years, and oh man, who cares? Is the Fozzie/Statler & Waldorf dichotomy such a dark corner of Muppet notoriety that we needed to have light shed on it? It doesn’t go anywhere, which is both appropriate to their relationship and frustrating for the viewing experience, but Fozzie needs better things to do than be played for a fool (even though he is).
Happily, “Pig Out” is funny. It’s almost relentlessly funny, in fact, at least for its first half, where quintessentially Muppety one-liners fly like a comic fusillade. Janice’s line about astral projection, along with Sam’s hemming and hawing over Americans’ ever-expanding waistlines, fit both the characters and the Muppet brand of absurdism perfectly, though admittedly it’s a little tough to swallow the idea that the Eagle has a thing for her. (Then again, opposites attract, though Janice does end up getting kind of cozy with Helms. It’s the rare moment where we feel bad for Sam.) But “Pig Out,” just like the rest of The Muppets, doesn’t really do anything for the story. It’s a mercy that it’s better than satisfactory amusement, and a disappointment that it fails to push the narrative or the characters into newer, advanced domains.
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.