“The Muppets” Episode 1.2, “Hostile Makeover” Starring Steve Whitmire, Eric Jacobson, Bill Barretta, Dave Goelz, Matt Vogel; Guest Starring Josh Groban, Laurence Fishburne, Jay Leno, Lea Thompson, Reza Aslan. Written by Bill Prady, Paul Kushell; Directed by Randall Einhorn. (8 out of 10)
Last week's premiere of "The Muppets" was good. But there were a few missteps in the tone. A few times where it felt like they were being edgy for the sake of being edgy, instead of telling the best joke. I mean, there were some not-kid-friendly jokes that worked, and were funny. But a few that misfired too. "Hostile Makeover," this week's episode, is funnier than last week's, and more coherent as an episode of an ongoing series, instead of a series pilot.
The episode starts with Miss Piggy on a rampage, because she's needing a date for the People's Choice Awards. Kermit happens to know how her needs work, so he hooks her up with Josh Groban. They may have met on the set of "Muppets Most Wanted," where Groban was a gulag prisoner kept in a box. Josh and Miss Piggy fall for each other fast. On a piano. On the set of her talk show. That scene was a meisterwerk of puppeteering, by the way. In the first two episodes we've seen some examples of puppetry that I've never seen with the Muppets before--not just greenscreening, not CGI, but actual puppeteering. That's awesome. Uh. Anyway. Groban and the Pig. He wants to class up her talk show, booking guests like biographer Reza Aslan instead of the more lowbrow (and popular) guests she usually gets.
Another storyline follows Fozzie Bear as he visits his hero Jay Leno's house (I know, right? Ugh.) and finds a...unique way to show his appreciation at being at Leno's party. Basically he steals stuff. A candy dish. And while the kleptomania seems a bit out of character for Fozzie, his excitement at being loved enough to be invited is very much in character. This felt more authentic than Fozzie's storyline last week, which had some angry flareups at his girlfriend's father. It felt weird. This was still weird, but funnier. Beware of bears wearing hats.
Also bears selling Girl Scout Cookies, because Bobo the Bear and the Muppet Newsman end up in a fierce competition to sell the most cookies for their daughters (no, I didn't know they had daughters either, and that's part of what makes this great). They try one-upping each other until they find an elegant solution that's funny for the kids on one level, and the adults on another. Munchies, man. Munchies.
It looks like one of the features of this quick cut, edited-together format is going to be a lot of plots, a lot of one-liners all put together. This affords us tiny glimpses and gags that we might not get in a different format. I love seeing Kermit huddled together with Uncle Deadly and Scooter under his desk -- a pair of characters who were forgotten (Deadly) or voiceless (Scooter) for decades. Seeing the Muppet Newsman, and a full Electric Mayhem band, and Rizzo and Yolanda the rats -- it's good. The Muppets need a critical mass of characters to reach full chaos, and they're getting it here. They could use more chickens, some singing food, a boomerang fish -- but this is good. You need those minor characters to fill in the spaces between Kermit and Miss Piggy and Fozzie Bear and Gonzo. Some of them may even develop their own storylines. Rizzo the Rat used to be a background character. Hell, Miss Piggy used to be a background character. It will be interesting to see if this series lasts long enough for those to emerge through writing and performances.
Also, Lips - the trumpet player on the far right - had his third line ever on this episode. Muppet history, man. Muppet history.
If you miss any episodes of "The Muppets" you can catch it streaming here: http://abc.go.com/shows/the-muppets ...or on my DVR if you're around. Call ahead first. Pretty far ahead.