Ryan Dosier - Last night on ABC, the Muppets co-starred in a new television special with Lady Gaga, erroneously billed as Lady Gaga & the Muppets' Holiday Spectacular, since there was very little holiday-related and less than half of the special featured Muppets. This 90 minute special left me completely baffled and more than a little ambivalent towards what I just watched. Overall, it was a big heap of brightly colored, pop-flavored confusion with some truly solid Muppet bits thrown in haphazardly.
I was truly pleased with almost every bit featuring a Muppet in the show. 90% of the sketches and jokes landed and the special gave a chance for some characters recently shoved to the side to shine bright. Bobo, Rizzo, Gonzo, Pepe, Swedish Chef, Dr. Honeydew, Big Mean Carl, and the Electric Mayhem (including Lips) all had wonderfully fun and funny moments--a lot more than any of them had in recent productions. Bobo's dancing scene with Kristen Bell might have been the most genuine and funny moment in the special.
The Muppet moments before every commercial break were another welcome addition. They all felt very natural and they were all a lot of fun. It was especially wonderful to see the team of Gonzo and Rizzo reunited, that alone gave these bits a sense of purpose. Adding in The Leprechaun Brothers (Beaker, Swedish Chef, and Animal)? Stroke of genius. Throwing in the Electric Mayhem was just icing on the cake. The band has really gelled with their new performers, and for once Zoot got two of the best jokes in the special. His line about cleaning his spit valve had me in stitches.
The sketch (sort of sketch, I guess) in Lady Gaga's dressing room was very funny and I don't understand why the whole special wasn't similar to this--Muppets and Gaga trying to put on a show. Kristen Bell's puppet idea was hilarious. Bunsen's Bubble Wrap Dress tested out on Beaker was pitch perfect. And it's always nice to hear from Lew. Later on, I really dug Kermit's duet with Lady Gaga and Miss Piggy's solo number. In Piggy's number it was especially nice to see her not diva-out on the backup singers and instead just let them do their thing... behind her. It was very refreshing and Eric Jacobson was in top form. Oh, and Statler and Waldorf kept the funny when there was none to be found.
But everything else in this special was severely confusing. None of it was bad, necessarily, but I just did not understand what Lady Gaga was trying to get across here. What part of this was a Holiday Spectacular? Who was the target audience for this when it aired at 9:30pm? Why not include the Muppets in every single part of the special that you can? Why bring in huge talents like Elton John and Joseph Gordon-Levitt and not let the Muppets participate? I know this was first and foremost a Lady Gaga special, but when you invite the Muppets and you put their name in the title you'd think they'd get used more.
I think mostly I'm just perturbed and confused by the marketing of this special. We were led to believe that the Muppets played an equal part in this amalgam of confusion, when that was just not at all true. There are two ways that I think my feelings on this special could have improved: one, remove "the Muppets" from the title and just call them special guest stars--which they basically were already; two, throw random dancing or backup singing Muppets in the background of every Lady Gaga solo. That alone would have solved so many of the issues in this special. Look how much better Gaga's duet with Kermit was than any of her other performances. Look how much better the "Applause" finale was just because Muppets were aimlessly dancing.
From the very opening of the special, it had an extremely thrown together feel. Poor Kristen Bell was the highlight of the special but she was tossed in there with no purpose. Kudos to her for running with it and making the most of her confusing screen time. There was no through-line to this at all. Was it a concert? A Muppet show? Why were the Muppets there? Why were the Muppets auditioning other Muppets for a sketch we never see? Why, why, why? I have to stop asking because I'm just confusing myself even more.
All in all, this special was harmless enough. It didn't make the Muppets do things they wouldn't normally do. In fact, it played to their strengths and their characters extremely well (veteran writer Jim Lewis is probably to thank for that). The Muppets and the Muppet performers were excellent. The Leprechaun Brothers should've had their own special. The Muppet bloopers at the end were dynamite, of course. Auditioning Muppets were very funny... None of it was inherently bad, the Muppet parts were good, Gaga is a talented performer (actor... not so much), but the special was just extremely... meh?
In closing, I think this fact speaks volumes about the special: #MuppetsThanksgiving was trending on Twitter last night and nothing about Lady Gaga was. Doesn't that just say it all?
The Muppet Mindset by Ryan Dosier, email@example.com