Kermit the Frog was sad and Lady Gaga was bringing him down.
The moment, relatively late into ABC’s “Lady Gaga and the Muppets’ Holiday Spectacular,” was one devoid of spectacle. It was intimate and unexpected, and answered a question that seemed unlikely for a Muppets and Lady Gaga special to even address: What would happen if Lady Gaga and Kermit the Frog had a heart-to-heart conversation about life in showbiz?
“I wouldn’t want anyone to be lonely on the holidays,” Kermit said, seemingly at a loss for words at Gaga’s admission that she misses her family this time of year.
It was actually a little awkward. There were long pauses, Kermit regularly looked down at the floor and the Muppet appeared genuinely shy in the presence of a pop star. When Kermit confessed to getting “blue” himself, Gaga reminded him that “frogs aren’t blue.”
It was goofy and sweet and led to a Gaga-Kermit duet of her “Gypsy.” It was also one of the few moments where this mash-up of pop eccentricities actually made sense. Like Lady Gaga’s recent “Artpop,” Thanksgiving’s “Lady Gaga and the Muppets’ Holiday Spectacular” promised weirdness but more often than not delivered the routine.
There were appearances from Gaga’s pals Elton John and RuPaul, which would be fine if this were a Lady Gaga special, but this was a Lady Gaga and the Muppets special. And there was a stunning lack of Muppets. When the Muppets and Gaga were on screen together, the former were often relegated to backing crew. Cute, but hardly worthy of 90 minutes.
Consider it an opportunity lost. Who (or what) better to celebrate Gaga’s message of all-inclusive anything-goes self-expression than a cast of friendly, furry freaks? Despite her penchant for showing some skin, Gaga hits such as “Born This Way” aren’t too far off from family-friendly messages of positivity, as it’s a self-esteem boosting anthem that encourages all of us to let go of our insecurities and our inhibitions.
Yet this was a commercial for “Artpop,” and the songs of “Artpop” aim more for titillation than individualism. That makes them less fit for a Muppet-like music special, and no one seemed willing to stray too far from the show’s message of selling a product. Rather than aim for holiday timelessness, this was self-promotion, with the Muppets often coming to Gaga’s world than the other way around.
Opening number “Venus” was one of two large ensemble Muppet-Gaga performances, and while there were problems from the start it hinted that this special could provide the requisite amount of kookiness to justify its length. Muppet Animal was flailing away on the drums, Kermit and Co. were going nutso as they screamed the vocal hook and the Muppet band outnumbered Gaga’s own. Quite frankly, they looked cooler.
It was, however, a little discomforting to see the Muppets play along to Gaga’s orders to “act sleazy,” and just because the Muppets can go pants-less it doesn’t always mean the humans that pal around with them should go for the same look. But those questions of taste would have been rendered moot if this had been more of a full-on Muppet-Gaga collaboration.
Considering the Muppets’ 2011 film “The Muppets” is full of cheeseball renditions of popular tunes, it was a disappointing that they didn’t get to fuss with the arrangement and lyrics. Only on holiday standards such as “Santa Baby” and “Deck the Halls” did we get to see the ol’ Muppet charm when it comes to music composition, and then there was no sign of Gaga.
The special did contain one rather clever Muppets routine, as Kermit and Scooter hosted auditions to perform with Gaga. The shaggy monster Carl demonstrated how his appetite can make critters disappear, Gonzo was creepy, Pepe figure-skated and Sam the Eagle was too proud to bother with the festivities.
When Shakespeare’s Ramlet -- a sheep reciting Shakespeare, of course -- quoted the bard, Kermit dropped the night’s biggest laugh by declaring it a “tad too classy.” But it was all a tease. If the joke was that no Muppet could actually get the gig, as the bit led to a Muppet-less performance of Gaga’s “Applause,” then it was fair to question why any of us were here in the first place.