Since ABC began running The Muppets, a good chunk of the reception has been mixed towards the creators’ decision for a mockumentary format, as opposed to the variety style of predecessor The Muppet Show. It would appear, however, that the writers are taking these criticisms into account, as The Muppets return from winter break. “Swine Song,” feels like a slow, but sure, transition towards a modern twist on The Muppet Show‘s diversity. Where this will head exactly is anyone’s guess, but if this episode is an indicator of future gags and celebrity cameos, we’re optimistic.
This week’s episode begins with all our favorite Muppets returning from vacation and back onto the studio set. Miss Piggy enjoyed a getaway to Argentina and Antarctica, where she managed to pick up a little penguin companion along the way. Pepe and Rizzo had an undisclosed amount of “fun” in Amsterdam together and Kermit enjoyed a nice little stay-cation playing board games with girlfriend Denise. Yet, despite everyone having found a new sense of rejuvenation, all that is thrown out the window when their studio president wants to make the show more relevant. While Miss Piggy deals with her personal crisis of no longer feeling young and in the spotlight, the group must find a way to update their segments without resorting to “selfie sticks and twerking.”
As far as mid-season openings go, “Swine Song” feels like it hits just enough of the right notes, jokes and cameos to keep the show both fresh and funny. Miss Piggy’s experiences post Argentina help bring a few good laughs to the table, and it’s hard to argue against how cute and quirky the little penguin she brought back is. With the episode’s focus on reinventing the formula, this allows for some pretty funny gags about our modern day idiosyncrasies, which was definitely something the season before felt lacking in. Not all of them land, however. Pepe’s “Uber Driver” bit could have lasted longer and provided more laughs in the process. Yet, for every joke that doesn’t work, there are two that work really well. Thanks to the decision to not only bring back the old of the original Muppets, but to mix in our present day twists, crafts this episode into an overall funny opener. Not to mention, older fans of the franchise get a nice little song at the end to help them remember why we fell in love with Jim Henson’s characters to begin with.
At the center of the show’s best moments are, without a doubt, one of The Muppets‘ best cameos yet, Key and Peele. Their dynamic works just as well as ever, and their bounce off of the characters is even better than you would think. On account of the pair’s ability to never shy away from poking fun at each other and themselves, is where a lot of the episode’s best jabs stem from. That’s not to say these jokes will be converting any Key and Peele detractors anytime soon, but for those looking to get a good laugh, you will definitely find it with them. With this in mind, however, their screen time ends up feeling a little too limited for a pair so dynamic and engaging, with a joke writing them out of the final act altogether. They certainly left their presence while on screen, and we hope to see them come back in future episodes, it just would have been nicer to see them stick through to the end.
The only real major detraction from the episode as a whole is the drama that erupts between Kermit and Denise. Without going into spoiler territory, it’s really only there to help transition more of Miss Piggy into the show later on in the season. It feels more forced than anything else, instead of a genuine reason these two should be clashing at the moment. While every show needs its dramatic points to help keep things moving along, it would just make more sense to see said points feeling like they served a real purpose to the story at hand, instead of what may or may not come in the future.
Nonetheless, “Swine Song” just might indicate a bright future for the series’ critics that felt betrayed by the new format. Sure, not every joke lands and not every plot point feels genuine, but there’s enough humor and chemistry here to keep regulars entertained and newcomers interested. Only time will tell if the series is really being reinvented to encompass the variety genre, but as a chapter in the series that blends the two genres together, “Swine Song” is a good sign that the series has always been in the right hands.