The Muppets are back on TV! Muppets Now just premiered on Disney+, and the first episode is available for you to watch…now! I know a lot of us Muppet fans are going to be thrilled that we are finally getting some brand new content featuring our favorite felted frog, but if you haven’t started watching it yet, I want to temper your expectations just a bit, and if you have started watching it, I really want you to know, it gets better after episode one.
Episode one is rough. Now I don’t think it’s HORRIBLE, but it is exceedingly mediocre and occasionally bordering on cringey. From their overuse of their new internet-y YouTube-esque schtick, trying to be trendy and current, to jokes that just fall flat, episode one is kind of a jumbled mess of ideas that don’t really mesh well together, and only occasionally got more than a slight chuckle out of me. But I think that has a lot to do with how the show was first envisioned.
When Muppets Now was first announced, it was billed as a short-form, unscripted series, featuring guest stars and…not much else. There was almost nothing known about this show for the longest time, but everything I’d heard made me think they were going to try to re-create their YouTube successes but on Disney+.
For awhile, the Muppets were extremely successful in their short-form content for YouTube. From their collaborations with celebrities like OK GO, to their Music Videos where they put their own spin on classics like Bohemian Rhapsody, just about everything the Muppets did online went viral. Then they started focusing more on their movies, then their sitcom for ABC, and their online presence never really recovered.
After their 2015 show flopped, it seemed like they just kind of stopped trying. On their YouTube channel they started doing their “Muppet Thought of the Week” series, where various characters would come in and give some kind of wisdom, or tell a joke, but there was nothing that great about it. It was an amusing way to spend 30 to 60 seconds, and that was about it.
So when they announced a new short-form series for Disney+, I was hoping for a return to form, as far as their online presence went. But then something must have changed, because a few months ago, they started talking about the show in terms of episodes. Specifically six episodes. I don’t know about you, but six episodes doesn’t sound like a whole lot to me, especially if we’re talking about a series that is essentially going to be YouTube length videos but on Disney+. So what happened?
Well, from what I can tell, they made the show they announced. They made a whole bunch of YouTube-style content, from short cooking shows, to celebrity interviews, to vlog-style beauty tutorials; however, instead of releasing the shows as they were intended, I’m guessing there was some executive meddling involved, and they ended up gluing all the videos together into 20-ish minute long episodes, using a loose narrative featuring Scooter being pressured into uploading the shows before they were quite ready. And the results are…mixed.
Episode one is by far the worst example, so on the one hand, I feel like they wanted to burn off the worst content at the beginning and get it over with, but on the other hand, I wish we’d had a better effort for their first television episode in almost five years. The first segments included a vlog from Miss Piggy, with Uncle Deadly as her assistant, as he was in the recent sitcom. While I was really happy to see this, (Uncle Deadly is currently one of my favorite characters, thanks to the way they re-imagined his character for the 2015 show), the vlog show itself was not the greatest.
Episode one also included a weird, unfunny segment with Kermit photobombing people and a mildly amusing cooking show with the Swedish chef. The last segment with Ru Paul did end the episode on a high note, but it didn’t have to try that hard, since the rest of the episode was so meh.
Things do pick up a lot in episode two. There’s a science show with Bunsen and Beaker and a game show with Pepe the King Prawn, which was bizarre but in the best way possible! There’s also another cooking segment, but this time it was hilarious! Danny Trejo was the guest chef, and his rivalry with the Swedish Chef made me laugh out loud multiple times!
Downsides include a continuation of the weird, “Scooter has to upload the episode, through the whole episode” format that they went with last time, as well as another beauty vlog from Miss Piggy. These vlogs do have amusing moments, and of course I love Uncle Deadly, but so far they’re just not as crazy as I would like.
Episode three actually switched up the format! I was afraid that the Scooter Uploading shtick was just going to be how every episode was, but thankfully I was wrong! This time, each segment has to be run through audience testing before being finalized, so after every segment, Statler and Waldorf give their thoughts on what they just saw!
Segments here include another cooking segment, which wasn’t as laugh-out-loud hilarious as the Danny Trejo segment, but it was still way funnier than episode one. There’s another science segment, another beauty vlog, and another game show. Overall, like the cooking segment, the whole episode wasn’t as good as the second one but way better than the first.
Episode four was about on the level that three was. Unfortunately, we have more Scooter uploading stuff, but it’s really not that much of the episode, so it’s not that big a deal. Miss Piggy gets two segments here, her vlog, which is actually a lot funnier than it had been, and an interview with Aubry Plaza. Uncle Deadly is always on hand as well, and he is hilarious during the interview. There’s another cooking segment, and another science segment, and they are both thoroughly entertaining.
Overall, Muppets Now is kind of a mixed bag, but it’s still funny, especially after the first episode. The show is at its best when the Muppets are being their weird, crazy, Muppety selves, and it’s at its lamest when they’re trying to be trendy and current. Sometimes they can make trendy and current work, but they have to put enough of that Muppet magic in to do that, and so far, there’s not quite enough, especially for the beauty vlogs.
I think the biggest downside to this show comes more from what it’s missing, rather than what it has. The two biggest oversights so far seem to be heart and music. And for the Muppets, those two elements usually go hand in hand.
Everything that the Muppets has ever done that has stood the test of time has had music and heart, and there wasn’t really either of those in any of these episodes. There was a lot of zany Muppet humor, which I love, but I really wanted at least one song, and I didn’t get it. There are still two episodes coming that weren’t included in my advance screeners, so maybe there’s still something on the way. Here’s hoping.
The series as it is now is definitely not perfect, but very few shows are amazing right out of the gate. Muppets Now already showed a vast improvement between episodes one and two, so hopefully it will keep going and be the next great Muppet show we all want to see.
This iteration of the Muppets may not have had a Rainbow Connection, but it did have a woman digging an old fashioned telephone out of Big Mean Carl’s stomach, Uncle Deadly dressing up like Miss Piggy to interview Aubry Plaza, Beaker murdering a malevolent AI with a blowtorch, and the Swedish Chef glaring furiously at Danny Trejo’s mustache before wrapping an adorable mole in a taco shell and cramming cilantro into its mouth, so even if it’s not perfect, it’s still entertaining, and it’s still the Muppets, and I still had a lot of fun.
Have you watched Muppets Now yet? What do you think of the new show?
Jonathan North is writer, photographer, video editor, and animation fan from Iowa. He studied advertising and design at Iowa State University, and also has degrees in multimedia and art. His favorite movie is Fantasia, and his favorite cartoon is Gravity Falls. Or maybe Steven Universe. He can’t decide. You can find more of his work on his blog, as well as his Podcast and YouTube channel, where he reviews animation, movies, TV, or whatever else his guests feel like talking about. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, @jonjnorth.