Warning: Storyline and character spoilers ahead for the series premiere of The Muppets.
After mountains of advance hype (and a very public break-up), Kermit, Miss Piggy, and the whole Muppet gang are finally back on TV with ABC’s new fall comedy The Muppets. Critics have been bitterly divided on the show so far, but we really enjoyed tonight’s premiere: It had all the charm and heart of previous Muppet incarnations, and established a rock-solid template for future episodes to follow.
Related: Ken Tucker Reviews ‘The Muppets’
But yes, if we’re being honest, there were also a few unfortunate wrinkles in the premiere that we hope get ironed out in the coming weeks. So let’s take a closer look at what worked, and what didn’t, in the Muppets series premiere.
What We Liked: The premise — a behind-the-scenes look at a late-night talk show hosted by Miss Piggy — lets the show dish out plenty of sharp showbiz satire, 30 Rock-style, and sets up each Muppet to do what they do best. Miss Piggy is in full diva mode right away (“I’m not happy with the janitor knowing what I throw away. Can you have someone put a layer of generic trash over my private trash?”), and Kermit is in his element as her harried, perpetually flustered executive producer. (Remember The Muppet Show? He was always harried then, too.)
The rest of the gang have roles perfectly suited to them: Fozzie is the warm-up comic; Gonzo, Rizzo the Rat, and Pepe the King Prawn (an early standout) are on Piggy’s writing staff; the Swedish Chef handles craft services; Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem is the house band; and the always-stern Sam the Eagle is the network’s standards and practices guy, protecting our sensitive ears from dirty words like “crotchety” and “gesticulate.”
You just get the sense that co-creators Bill Prady (The Big Bang Theory) and Bob Kushell (The Simpsons) are lifelong Muppet fans, and love these felt-covered weirdos as much as we do. Their affection for the Muppet gang is obvious, and they bring a newfound depth to the Muppet relationships we’ve known for years.
Case in point: We get to witness the actual moment that Kermit and Piggy split up, captured by paparazzi cameras. Piggy’s insistence on taking endless selfies with her adoring fans makes the couple miss a movie, and that’s the last straw for Kermit. It’s a surprisingly poignant moment; Kermit and Piggy have been a beloved couple for decades now, and it’s nice to see their relationship taken seriously for once.
What Didn’t Work: Fozzie’s new relationship with a human woman (Another Period’s Riki Lindhome) mostly fell flat, especially the over-the-top anti-bear sentiments of her father (Jere Burns). Lindhome is a fine comic actress, and somehow totally believable dating a Muppet (we mean that as a compliment), but we need to see this romance develop a bit more before we can get onboard.
Speaking of romance: We like the idea of Kermit having a new girlfriend, post-Piggy, but Denise, the new pig in Kermit’s life, doesn’t really have much of a personality yet. (She just kind of giggles and reassures a stressed-out Kermit in the premiere.) Here’s hoping she eventually develops one to serve as a counterpoint to Piggy, and Kermit isn’t just dating her to make his ex jealous.
The premiere’s celebrity guest stars were a little ABC-centric: Modern Family guest star Elizabeth Banks, and Dancing With the Stars host Tom Bergeron (gamely poking fun at his own D-list status). But never fear, reinforcements are on the way: Josh Groban has an amusing whirlwind romance with Miss Piggy in Episode 2, and Reese Witherspoon is set to appear later this season. Reportedly, Kermit is a big fan. (Watch out, Denise!)
We’re getting greedy here, but we’d like to see more of our favorite Muppets: We barely saw Gonzo at all in the premiere, and no sign at all of Rowlf the Dog. (He’s a key member of the ensemble!) And it’s been over a decade now since NBC debuted The Office, so the show’s mockumentary conceit, while good for a few laughs, is maybe a bit stale.
Our Burning Questions: Will Fozzie ever win over his girlfriend’s prejudiced father? How long before Piggy and Denise cross paths? (And what kind of fireworks will ensue?) And after many long nights working on the show together, will we eventually see Kermit and Miss Piggy fall back into each other’s arms… er, hooves?
The Muppets airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on ABC.