3 out of 5
Produced by: Brian Henson, Vince Raisa, Joseph Freed, Allison Berkeley
covers season 1
Earth to Ned is a brilliant extension of the Muppets formula, bringing back the classic “live” feel of the celebrity / puppet mash-ups of the original show with the modern quirk of Muppets Now. Unfortunately, it ports over the latter’s issue with tone: being a Disney+ show, Earth to Ned can’t seem to figure out if it’s okay with being a little risque, or if it needs to always be kid-geared. It also, uh, has a problem with being… funny.
Set up as a talk show as hosted by Ned, a multi-armed alien who’s “researching” Earth (and its celebrities), pending an invasion, guests are beamed on to Ned’s ship and interviewed / included in sketches for a few minutes, surrounded by Ned’s co-host, Cornelius, his AI announcer, B.E.T.I., and little gremlin type creatures called Clods. While the non-sketch bits are apparently improved, the first half of the season is frustratingly unfilled with laughs, as guests (whether practiced comedians or not) can’t figure out how “in” on the gag they’re supposed to be, leading to some spectacularly bland interviews with generally funny people, and the puppets’ voice actors – Paul Rugg as Ned, Michael Oosterom’s Cornelius, Colleen Smith’s Betty – haven’t really settled in to their characters; jokes frequently don’t land, or are just North or South of being amusing.
But the visual concept of this live-action, giganto puppet, and the spaceship set with its scurrying Clods, is so rich with potential, that you can’t help but keep watching with hope…
And the hope is rewarded in the season’s latter half. Everyone just… relaxes. Guests are able to ditch the faux-surprise at being on a spaceship. The humor is allowed to wander more (and be a bit more openly coded toward an adult audience), and the improvised nature of the interactions feels more like a blessing – allowing for a natural flow – than a curse, encouraging actors to fill silence with misfired silliness. There’s still the overbearing taint of Disney+ family goodness upon the thing, and the half-hour runtime for two guests and a sketch means that the moments that are vibing can only last for like a couple minutes before we have to move on, but the show ultimately warms up into something to look forward to, hopefully in a second season that irons out even more of the kinks.