It’s astonishing to think Jim Henson’s loveable muppet creations have been a feature of our screens for over forty years now; achieving pop culture phenomenon (or rather “Mahna, Mahna”) status with numerous iterations in both film and TV. As a child of the 90s, I grew up with the iconic films Muppets Christmas Carol, along with Muppets Treasure Island and really rather enjoyed the more recent The Muppets with Jason Segal and Amy Adams. However, the previous attempt to bring the gang back to the small screen with ABC’s The Muppets, the mockumentary-style workplace series, proved a surprising flop.
So with Disney announcing an original ‘unscripted’ series, produced by The Muppets Studio and Soapbox Films, aiming for a back-to-basics approach with a similar format to the original Jim Henson’s 70s comedy sketch/variety show, should equal a sure fire hit right? Well this latest iteration is definitely in a familiar structor to the weekly musical/comedy at The Muppet Theatre, but there are some noticeable differences.
The Disney+ original series is comprised of six episodes, with each twenty minute instalment featuring four distinct comedy segments/sketches. Rather than setting the Muppets in a workplace environment, the gang are now attempting a digital YouTube/reality show series, with unofficial editor/producer/uploader Scooter trying to upload the sketches to a strict deadline. But this is The Muppets, so there’s always some wacky reason for events to go wrong, with Scooter facing a number of issues along the way.
The recurring segments include “Lifestyle With Miss Piggy” a self-improvement/beauty/influencer type sketch featuring guests Taye Diggs, and Linda Cardellini, along with cooking competition “Okey Dokey Cooking” with Beverly Plume, Swedish chef and celebrity guests. There’s also “Pepe’s Unbelievable Gameshow”, chat show “Mup Close and Personal” with Kermit and my personal favourite, the Mythbusters-esque “Muppet Labs Field Test” with Dr. Bunsen Honeydew and Beaker. The guest celebrity stars so far have included Ru Paul, Danny Trejo, Carlina Will (AKA Cooking with Carlina), Aubrey Plaza and Roy Choi.
With such a wide variety of themes in each sketch, there’s should be something for all the family in the show, but they do appear to vary in quality. Personally I think “Muppet Labs Field Test” is the strongest aspect, with the melt or burn segment proving a really fun scientific experiment. The silly chaotic nature of “Pepe’s Unbelievable Gameshow” closely captures the spirit of The Muppet Show, and depending on how engaged the celebrity chef is, “Okey Dokey Cooking” can be quite fun (but pretty gross!), particularly with Danny Trejo.
There are a couple of key elements that feel missing however, namely a central host or figure which brings each of the sketch shows together (I’m looking at you Jason Segal). A lot of the segments also only seem to feature one or two of characters, it’s only in the Ru Paul “Mup Close and Personal” interview do we get a good group together. Personally I think they work best as an ensemble, riffing off eachother, particularly when it leads to a musical segment. And yes the new Kermit voice from actor Matt Vogel will definitely take a while to get used to!
As much as I wanted to love this, Muppets Now feels overall a bit of a mixed bag. In an attempt to bring the loveable characters to a new YouTube driven audience, the writers may have just alienated the older fans, particularly as favourites Rizzo, Animal and Gonzo hardly feature at all. However there is that nostalgic pull of seeing the Muppets together in a sketch show again, and I’m sure I’ll warm to the comforting silliness and escapism of it all soon.
“Muppets Now” premieres Friday, 31 July, streaming only on Disney+ with new episodes released every Friday.