Review: The Muppets Carpool Karaoke

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Jarrod Fairclough – Say what you will about James Corden as a talk show host, but you can’t deny that he has a hit on his hands everytime he steps into a car and turns on the radio.  His recurring ‘Carpool Karaoke’ segment reguarly gets millions of views and has become one of the most beloved things on television.  So it was inevitable that it would be adapted into a series, with Season 2 of the show airing on the Apple TV app over the past couple of months.

This season sees a range of celebrities, from Weird Al Yankovic to Megan Mullaly to Rashida Jones, all getting behind the wheel and singing along to songs from past and present.  But episode nine is what has us excited the most, because alongside actor Jason Sudekis is none other than The Muppets!  For 21 minutes, Kermit and Jason are joined by The Electric Mayhem, Pepe, Gonzo, Fozzie and Miss Piggy in the Mayhem Van, harmonizing to a whole bunch of hits.  Let’s take this review segment by segment, shall we?

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Kermit and Jason sing ‘Break My Stride’
The storyline is established in the first few moments, as Jason’s car has broken down and Kermit has come to the rescue.  Jason must drive around picking up the Muppets for their Carpool Karaoke audition, totally unaware that what they’re doing is the actual show.

Jason Sudekis is a wonderful choice for Karaoke partner, and it’s genuinely surprising watching it that this is his first time working with these characters.  There’s an immediate chemistry between Jason and Kermit, and it’s hard to believe this is the first time we’ve seen them together.

Their first song is ‘Break My Stride’ by Matthew Wilder, a song I don’t think I’ve thought about since 1998.  I always wonder where these song choices come from, whether it’s the celebrities or producers picking them.  Jason says here that they sound good together and that’s true, but Sudekis isn’t much of a singer, though he also doesn’t pretend to be.  Matt Vogel is an accomplished singer in his own right, and his Kermit manages to be a great blend of his own voice, while still sounding like what we came to expect from Jim Henson and Steve Whitmire.

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Kermit, Jason and The Electric Mayhem sing ‘I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues’
Dr Teeth, Janice, Floyd and Zoot are picked up on the side of the road, then joined by Animal who is on the roof.  These shows can always have a bit of forced comedy to them, but it’s nice that they’re letting The Muppets be The Muppets, and playing in to the wild and zany behaviours they’ve been exuding for 40 years.

The opening moments of this section highlight one of the only issues I have with this episode of Carpool Karaoke, and it’s that it needed one more run in the audio department during post-production.  Obviously Vogel is busy here performing Floyd, and whoever is in the backseat performing Kermit is doing a fine job.  The issue is that Kermit talks a couple of times (though never the focus of the scene) and yet doesn’t say anything.  They needed Vogel to come in for an hour in the audio booth just to add a little but of atmosphere to the thing.  It’s moments like this where I lose the illusion that these characters are actually alive.  The same can be said for Janice.  She doesn’t say a word, and she doesn’t add anything to the scene.  It’s painfully obvious that David Rudman wasn’t present during the shoot, which is fine, but then why bother including Janice in the first place?  Animal, Floyd, Zoot and Dr Teeth all have funny lines and moments, but Janice is just there to fill up the frame.

All those issues aside, everyone is in fine form singing ‘I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues’ by Muppet Show guest Elton John.  The new generation of performers are a great group of singers, and everytime The Electric Mayhem is around these days is proof of that.  Bill Barretta’s Dr Teeth has a singing voice that shouldn’t work, but somehow he makes that gravelly voice smooth.
It’s also nice to see them letting the performers improvise a little here.  Sudekis’ genuine reaction to Animal yelling lyrics is delightful, and then his little riff about the ‘pills in the glovebox’ with Dr Teeth when the cop shows up is a great bit of improvised comedy.  I’m glad Disney isn’t as precious about these characters always being ‘child friendly’ because that was a pretty adult joke.

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Kermit, Jason, Pepe and Penguins sing ‘Under Pressure’
It’s also nice that Disney aren’t as precious about these characters being seen as puppets, because there’s a great gag once the Mayhem leave where Kermit, in the backseat, ducks down and then immediatly pops back up in the front seat.

There’s a reason Pepe was the only Muppets Tonight character to make it big, and it’s because of how much fun Bill has playing him.  Here, Pepe is in fine form, as he rushes the others to get things started, pronounces ‘Jason’ as ‘Stacey’, and uses his unimaginable strength to open and shut the huge heavy van door.

‘Under Pressure’ isn’t a song I’m overly big on, if I’m going to listen to Freddie Mercury I want ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’.  But again, Bill is having a wonderful time as Pepe singing along, and Kermit’s ‘bass line’ is a highlight of the entire episode.  Also a highlight is Kermit and Jason’s reaction when Pepe announces that he had lunch with Mercury the previous day.

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Kermit, Jason, Gonzo and Chickens sing ‘Runaround Sue’
Gonzo and Jason’s interaction is another example of the improvised nature of this show.  Dave Goelz has been performing Gonzo for over 40 years, and he knows him as well as he knows himself.  If they’re ever going to let anyone do their own thing, it’s him.  Here he introduces his chicken companions as his ‘posse’, which is a word you can tell Dave heard one day and loved.

This segment, though very quick, allows Gonzo the chance to have the best of both worlds.  As he sings ‘Runaround Sue’, a song I’d not heard of before, he gets to show off that heart and passion we get to see occasionally.  But then, he also gets to be wild and weird, as he ends his segment not by waving goodbye like the others, but by jumping out of a moving vehicle.  Now, it’s clear throughout this entire thing that the Mayhem Van isn’t really being driven by Jason Sudekis.  He takes his hand off the wheel multiple times to dance and sing, or do magic tricks with his fingers.  But they are still on real roads, even if they’re being towed on a flat-bed.  So to have the doors really open while Muppet performers are in the car is a stunt in itself, and shouldn’t be fobbed off as movie magic.  That actually happened!

Kermit, Jason and Fozzie Don’t Sing
Fozzie gets a quick segment, where instead of singing he wants to do jokes.  They aren’t funny.  When are they ever?  But it’s always nice to see the bear.

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Kermit, Jason and Miss Piggy sing ‘Rhythm of the Night’
Before Piggy hops in the van, we’re treated to a fun little segment where Kermit and Jason attempt to buy a cake from The Swedish Chef, only to have him walk off with a hundred dollar bill after destroying the dessert.  Occasionally The Muppets do something where they’ll see each other out in public, and it always adds to the illusion that they are in fact real, and that if I wanted to, I could drive around Los Angeles and bump in to them.

Miss Piggy is an interesting case.  I’ve said before how I feel like she’s been flanderized in the past 15 years or so as a diva, and has lost the ‘humanity’ that fed her ego.  Now, she’s all ‘id’.  Still, Eric Jacobson does all he can with the writing he’s given, still giving her a little more character than just ‘Diva Star Who Says Moi’.  When I interviewed Frank back in March, he told me that stardom doesn’t appeal to Piggy.  She just wants to be loved.  I really wish those writing for her would remember that.  That said, her bit about confusing Jason with all the other famous Jason’s was a funny bit, especially her gloating about being on SNL and assuming he was an audience member.

Eric Jacobson’s Piggy is a damn fine singer, as was shown when she sang the-should-have-been-nominated-for-an-Oscar ‘Something So Right’ in Muppets Most Wanted.  And she elevates this rendition of ‘Rhythm of the Night’ to maybe the best song in the entire 21 minute running time, her high pitched squeal towards the end not-withstanding.

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The Muppets and Jason Sing ‘It’s Tricky’
Suddenly, Kermit, Piggy and Jason are joined by Pepe, Gonzo, Animal, Fozzie and a penguin, and everyone bar Kermit and Jason groan when he suggests singing ‘Rainbow Connection’, a great punchline considering that song has been everywhere the past couple of years.

Instead they sing ‘It’s Tricky’ by Run-D.M.C, an interesting choice but a funny one.  Again though, this segment suffers from same issue that plagued the Electric Mayhem’s song, in that Animal sits in the back obviously singing at the wrong time (as he did in the earlier segment), and yet he clearly isn’t saying anything.  Yes, Eric’s busy playing Piggy, but I can’t imagine the puppeteer did this on their own accord, and was presumably directed to do it by someone.  It just needed one more pass through the audio department.

The episode ends as The Muppets find out this wasn’t an ‘audition’ after all, but an actual episode of Carpool Karaoke.  Jason bails, taking the car keys with him, as the others are left to deal with the fall out.

This was a fun way to spend 21 minutes, and it’s great to see Disney letting The Muppets do different things.  I’m still not sure what their game plan is with these characters, but as long as we get to keep seeing them on our screens, I’ll be happy.

This episode of Carpool Karaoke can be found here, and can be viewed on any Apple device with the Apple TV app.