This review contains spoilers for Episode 1 of Muppets Now.
Jarrod Fairclough – Finally, the wait is over. Muppets Now has crossed over from Muppets Soon, and you can now head to Disney+ and get your fix of Kermit and the gang in their brand new improvised show. It’s been a long time coming, the show was filmed around 12 months ago, and we’ve had glimpses but no idea what really to expect until today. And the results are generally pretty good!
The show is broken down in to 4 segments, so that’s how I’m going to be breaking up these reviews. So, without further ado, let’s crack on!
Lifestyle with Miss Piggy
Miss Piggy is such an interesting character, in that I adore her and can’t stand her simultaneously. I love what she stands for, and when she gets to relax a little bit and be a little more vulnerable she’s all the better for it. On the other hand, when all her shtick is being loud and obnoxious, less is more. Which is why I’m glad they’ve partnered her with Uncle Deadly again, with their dynamic being one of the best parts of the 2015 series. Piggy needs to be taken down a notch, and Deadly seems to have taken on the role of devils advocate. The Muppets have tried fighting her attitude with love, and that didn’t get them far. So Deadly, not just in this segment but across the series, fights her cattiness with cattiness, but the underlying respect between the two somehow still shows. It’s a strange relationship, and yet Eric Jacobson and Matt Vogel really make it work.
Piggy’s segment is a send up of those lifestyle vlogs we’ve all seen. Some rich white woman tells us how to live our lives as she’s paid thousands from make up companies and active wear brands. Yet Piggy taking it seriously as Deadly and her special guests realize the insanity of the situation around her is what allows it to work. Taye Diggs makes appearances in the first 4 episodes at least, trying different beauty regimens with the porcine princess. This week it’s a face slapping massage. Of course, we all know where this is going. Taye gets a soft tickle from beautician Margaret, while Piggy gets the living daylights beaten out of her. Even before it happens, with Margaret’s soft ‘Slap slap’ on Diggs, I started giggling. The added sound effect and Margaret’s casual ‘Slap’ added to it exponentially.
In my spoiler free review on Tuesday, I mentioned that Linda Cardellini is a scene stealer, and her first episode gives a little glimpse at what’s to come in future episodes. Piggy’s webcam based discussion panel is a weird mis-match of characters, with sheep Rosie there just to fill out the numbers. This was the first part of the show so far that actually felt ‘unscripted’, with the rest feeling pretty rehearsed. But I’ll get to that shortly. All in all, Lifestyle is a fun segment, but a lot of that is to do with Deadly and Cardellini, who provide that nice balance to Miss Piggy’s attitude.
It’s so refreshing to see Walter. He hasn’t been around a tonne recently, but in Muppets Now he gets his own segment which showcases his fandom without overwhelming it. In Muppet Masters, Walter gets to shine a light on his heroes and their hidden talents, with Kermit the Frog up first. What hidden talent could Kermit possibly have that we haven’t been privvy to after 60-odd years? Why, the Frog is into photography!
Wait, no, hold that. He’s into photobomby. Kermit has been a secret photobomber for years, adding a hilarious and cheeky new hobby to a character we thought we knew. Similar to Barney Stinson’s capability to never take a bad photo even in the midst of a sneeze, Kermit is able to defy physics and photobomb a picture without even seeming like he has moved an inch – even Walter exclaims ‘How are you doing this!?’. It’s a great bit of cartoony comedy, which The Muppets have sometimes lacked the past couple of decades. He’s been photobombing people around the world, even appearing in one couple’s Egyptian holiday pics. I’ll add that they haven’t just used stock photos of Kermit either – no fat flat faced Kermit in sight!
I’ve been very vocal about my support for Matt Vogel’s Kermit the Frog. I genuinely think he’s the right man for the job, and I find myself becoming increasingly aggitated at the tedious comments all over social media, to the point where I’ll gladly delete pointless comments now (if you want to argue about that, feel free to email me). Truly, guys, if this is all you have to complain about – consider your lives blessed. Kermit feels like Kermit in this whole show, and this segment really solidifies it. Vogel has the ability to take facets of what Jim Henson did and facets of what Steve Whitmire did, and blend them together with his own ideas of the character while still making him recognisable. Seriously, it’s been three years, give the guy a chance, would you?
It’s a segment like this where I’m not sure how ‘improvised’ some of this show is. This segment rarely ever feels made up on the spot until perhaps the Piggy/Deadly part. It’s possible that someone went ‘Kermit is a photobomber’ and Vogel, Peter Linz, Eric Jacobson and the director then rehearsed for an hour. But while the segments with guests definitly has that feel of improv, things like this do not. And it still works, but as I said in my review Tuesday, I’m just not sure the show needed this gimmick to be advertised so much, when I think it would have done just as well without it.
Okey Dokey Kookin
I didn’t make it much of a secret the other day that the Swedish Chef moments in this show aren’t my favorite. In Okey Dokey Kookin, Chef competes against a celebrity chef to create the best dish. Sounds good in theory, yes? The segment is hosted by a new character, Beverly Plume, performed by Julianne Beuscher. I’m so glad The Muppets are introducing new female characters. Especially female characters PERFORMED by females. I just found Beverly in this episode a little underdeveloped, but presented as if we’re supposed to know all about her. She’s obviously there to interact with the celebrity chef while Swedish Chef does his thing, but she isn’t much of a foil. And the gobble while she talks isn’t my favorite thing.
Chef’s opponent today is Carlina Will. She’s a sweet presence on the show, as she cooks Caribbean Curry against Chef’s… umm… well, it has popcorn, a pineapple, salt and chicken in it? My issue with Okey Dokey Kookin is that it just kind of chugs along, and Swedish Chef doesn’t seem to be the star of his own segment. But neither is Carlina. And neither is Beverly. Okay, maybe they don’t need a star, but it also doesn’t feel like an ensemble either. And this shouldn’t be an issue, and likely for those watching casually it won’t be. But we get Okey Dokey Kookin in every episode (at least the first 4) and after watching all my screeners in the space of a few days, I found myself a little put out that ANOTHER one of these was coming up. But perhaps I’m looking at it too closely, and I need to remember that these are coming out weekly, so that burn out likely won’t happen to many others. Running a fansite is hard, you guys!
I did enjoy the ending, though. Chef getting a take away curry delivered, only to be a real tool to the delivery man made me laugh a lot. Demanding someone else pay, and ensuring the delivery man gets ‘No tippen’ was what this segment was missing all along – the controlled chaos.
Mup Close & Personal
Mup Close & Personal, the interview segment where Kermit talks to a celebrity guest, is Muppets Now at its absolute best. This is when it feels peak Muppety – chaotic, hilarious and at times, downright bizarre. Back on The Muppet Show Kermit would take some time to chat to the guest star, and would be rudely interupted by any number of characters. And in this segment? That happens again, and it’s excellent.
RuPaul is the perfect choice for a guest, willing to roll with whatever the hell is going on. And it’s clear that he has ABSOLUTELY no idea what’s happening. This is what they mean when they say Muppets Now is unscripted – Matt Vogel clearly knows the trajectory of the scene, but even he doesn’t know what Piggy or Gonzo or Howard Freakin’ Tubman is going to say. And that’s how it needs to be to work. Gonzo’s weird question about how many pennies would fit in the room is such a Gonzo thing to wonder. He’s not just asking to be weird – he genuinely wants to know. Gonzo gets a few moments through Muppets Now, and you can see that Dave Goelz is having the absolute time of his life.
Howard Tubman, ladies and gentlemen. How I have missed that gigantic boar of a man. Howard is such a larger-than-life presence, and he is heavily underutilized in this franchise. Though I’m not sure exactly how he’d hit in, I implore Disney to give Howard more to do. His fanboying over RuPaul is played huge but not over the top, some of Bill Barretta’s best work. Him answering RuPaul’s questions about his life – brilliant.
Kermit feels like his old self again, trying to be the boss in a group of crazies. Miss Piggy is fearless and funny, being told by a genuine RuPaul that she is an important female figure in the industry and rubbing that in Kermit’s face. Fozzie trying to save the day by getting everyone else out at once, that feels like old Fozzie just trying to help. Mup Close & Personal is the spritual ancestor to The Muppet Show. There, I said it.
So we come to the end of Episode One of Muppets Now, and it’s a relief to see The Muppets being insane again. Kermit is in charge. Piggy is in the spotlight. Gonzo is weird. Fozzie isn’t funny or helpful. They’ve stripped the characters back just a little while keeping them the same, which is a tough job but just shows you that the current batch of Muppet performers are the right people for the job. Next week we’ll see the first episode of Pepe’s game show, Fozzie break some lockdown laws, and Bunsen and Beaker return!