Muppets Now

3 out of 5

Directed by: Kirk Thatcher

covers season 1

I understand why I was in the minority for liking the previous attempt at revitalizing the Muppets in 2015, but I also accept (and believe) that Muppets Now – Disney’s Disney+ pseudo-improved, half-hour sketch comedy version of Muppets – is the righter way to go for a modern take on the series, and although my laugh ratio was probably lower overall as compared to 2015… it’s a better show, and certainly has a lot more potential.

Muppets Now features short, reoccurring bits, often with celebrity guest stars, like Linda Cardellini and Taye Diggs. And if that sounds familiar to Muppets shows prior to the scripted / plotted scripted / plotted 2015 one, well, yes, that one was maligned, and previous iterations were enjoyed, so there we go. But MN is great at dialing things into a very modern vibe without thinking that means coding the show for a more “adult” audience: its format is exactly what it is – a streaming show, with each episode framed by Scooter harried at trying to upload that ep’s segments – and hashtags and memes and whatnot are carried into the comedy without it feelings too winky or obnoxious. So it works like all great Muppet shows really should: as accessible and puppet-funny to youngsters, but with wit that crosses over into gags that are enjoyable for adult viewers as well.

And it really works sometimes – like belly laughs. Pepe’s random antics during his “Unbelievable Game Show” are hilarious, and an early sketch with Kermit demoing how to photo bomb is fantastic. The other bits – Miss Piggy’s fashion-focused show; cook-offs with Swedish Chef; “Mup Close and Personal” celebrity interviews – are hit and miss, but what really prevents those belly laughs from being what sticks out is that the hit and miss sketches tend to be the ones that repeat in every episode, making their jokes run thin. Linda Cardellini and Taye Diggs guest star with Miss Piggy!… every episode. Swedish Chef botches the dish!… every episode. And it’s unfortunate when a short, 20ish minute sketch show always has one sketch which makes you want to fast-forward, which to me was “Muppet Labs Field Test,” with Professor Honeydew and Beaker. These were the most obviously kid-geared ones, with educational tidbits about science sprinkled over experiments where things go boom, but the reason these didn’t work is because things never went boom all that impressively. Kids like it when messes are made, especially in slow motion; it’s puzzling that they went with the experiments they did, as not much of a mess was made. It was actually, like, pretty professional.

But: yes, this is the right direction. And I sense production on this was limited by COVID, and maybe by Disney just wanting to test the waters on the idea first, hence the short six episodes. With more variation, the misses won’t stick out nearly as much, and maybe it would also mean we’d get more Kermit, since he was only in one sketch…