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December 12, 2016

Why Does Everyone Love Pigs in Space So Much?

Filed under: Commentary,Feature — Tags: — Ryan Roe @ 8:00 am

How many times have you watched the new “Pigs in Space” video so far?  Three?  Fifteen?  61,000?  Fans all over the world are watching it and digging it, and it’s not surprising, because it manages to feel exactly like a 2016 version of the classic “Pigs in Space,” which was one of the most beloved elements of The Muppet Show. Seriously, people love “Pigs.”  When we’ve shown clips at our Muppet Vault events, or when the Henson Legacy shows a “Pigs” sketch in one of their screenings, it’s not unusual for the audience to erupt into cheers and applause, even moreso than they do when a “Muppet Labs” or “Veterinarian’s Hospital” pops up.

But why?  Why do people love “Pigs in Space” so much?  I’ve been asking that question all over town for the past week, and no one will give me an answer, so I thought about it myself.  Here are the reasons I came up with.

The comedy

“Pigs in Space” is funny.  That, of course, goes a long way toward making a fan-favorite sketch.  I mean, first of all, they’re pigs.  And they’re in space.  That’s one of those things that I always forget is inherently funny because, unlike the majority of the population, I think about Muppets every day.  So there’s that.  They’re pigs and they’re in space and they wear uniforms and they fly around in a spaceship shaped like a giant pig.  But they’re not actually that good at their space-jobs, because if they were, nothing would ever happen, and then you don’t have a sketch.  I think that’s Chapter 17 in the Comedy 101 textbook: “Make Sure Stuff Happens.”

Sometimes it’s just the three pigs (no relation to the Three Little Pigs) uncertainly facing an external threat.  Sometimes they’re just fighting among themselves.  Sometimes another Muppet or a guest star will wander onto the ship.  Sometimes there’s puppet trickery or TV technology trickery involved.  On a show full of wacky ideas, “Pigs in Space” was especially fertile wacky idea ground.

The science fiction setting was also ripe for great material.  The writers could always introduce a crazy alien like Chopped Liver or a malfunctioning scientific device like the Dissolvatron.  Speaking of which…

Science fiction is timeless

When the “Pigs in Space” sketches debuted, movies like Forbidden Planet had long since gone out of style, Star Trek and Lost in Space had been cancelled for a few years, and Star Wars had not yet come along to kick off the Late 1970s Outer Space Stuff Craze.  Come to think of it, “Pigs in Space” probably deserves 100% of the credit for making sci-fi cool again.

[UPDATE: Or does it?  As Tough Pigs’ own Anthony Strand points out, the second season of the Muppet Show started production the same summer that Star Wars was released, and the first “Pigs in Space”  was produced a few weeks after the movie came out.  So it was probably on the writers’ space-radar when they conceived the sketch.]

And it’s never really gone away since then.  Today, we’re up to our snouts in sci-fi… The last time I went to the movies, I saw trailers for three different films that take place in outer space.  Four, if you count the thing with the little red AMC blobs pouring a cold, refreshing Coca-Cola on a space station.  Everyone understands outer space tropes, and that partially explains why everyone responds so readily to “Pigs in Space.” You see a spaceship and some people in space-clothes, and you immediately space-understand what it is.  That familiarity with the spoof material is also why “Pigs in Space” would almost certainly win a Muppet Show recurring sketch popularity contest.  Sci-fi is forever, unlike, say, hospital melodramas.  Or ballroom dancing.

But I feel like there are still more reasons for the sketch’s popularity.  Let’s see…

First Mate Piggy

Miss Piggy was already featured in a recurring sketch on the show by the time “Pigs in Space” premiered in the second season, and she had already become the breakout star of The Muppet Show.  In fact, if not for Piggy’s proven popularity, the show’s spaceship sketch might not have even starred pigs! Can you imagine “Chickens in Space?”  Of course you can’t, because that would be ridiculous.

Piggy was the perfect character to anchor the sketch.  Besides her undeniable star quality, which is essential for a segment that takes place in the stars, she’s a tough pig, who doesn’t take crap from Link and Strangepork even when they’re being dumb jerks.  Speaking of which…

Captain Link Hogthrob

Link is the captain of the ship.  Presumably, that makes him the boss of the other crew members.  But he’s dim-witted and immature and vain, and generally unfit to be the boss.  We’ve all known people like that.  Usually we can’t stand people like that, but Link was performed by Jim Henson, so he’s endearing rather than off-putting.

Also, “Link Hogthrob” is a fantastic character name, and “What is the full name of the captain from ‘Pigs in Space?'” is an excellent trivia question.

Dr. Julius Strangepork

“Strangepork” sounds like an entree you might get served in a school cafeteria (HA!), but it’s also the name of the Swinetrek’s science officer.  Okay, so he’s nobody’s favorite Muppet, but he’s a vital part of the crew.  The new sketch is his first significant appearance since a cameo in a “Bay of Pigswatch” on Muppets Tonight 20 years ago, and it’s good to have him back.

Come to think of it, Strangepork has always been the least-utilized Pig.  Piggy, of course, was all over The Muppet Show. Link became a reliable supporting player who even nabbed a role in the “Bear on Patrol” sketch with Fozzie.  But Strangepork was rarely seen away from the bridge of the ship.  Was it because the show already had enough pigs?  Or maybe because they already had a silly science guy in Bunsen Honeydew.

The announcer

This might be the number one reason people love “Pigs in Space” so much.  Jerry Nelson’s announcer voice was put to good use in a ton of Muppet productions, but “Pigs in Space” may have been the best fit for it.  His perfectly sincere, energetic introductions, recaps, and outros were just the thing to set the tone of the sketches.

And the way he exclaimed the title of the sketch every time… Well, that’s all you need.  That’s what draws us into it and gives us a little thrill in anticipation of what we’re about to see.  If you watch a “Pigs in Space” sketch with a room full of people, it doesn’t matter whether they’re geeks or casual fans.  At least 83% of the audience will announce along with Jerry.  And in the new video, Matt Vogel does a great job of recreating the intro while putting his own spin on it.

Go ahead.  Wherever you are right now.  Shout it out loud: “Piiigs in SPAAAAAAACE!”

Yep, that’s it.  So to any Disney people who are reading this: More of these, please!  And if you’re not convinced, just go back to the previous paragraph and try shouting again.

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by Ryan Roe – Ryan@ToughPigs.com

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