Disney’s reboot of Jim Henson’s beloved creation in “Muppets Now” is going to be compared to the classic films and TV show, and in that sense it will come up a little short. However, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to laughing multiple times in each episode. Maybe I’m just a big enough fan of these characters and this brand of humor that minor Muppets still works for me, but it’s hard to believe people with a similar affinity for Kermit, Ms. Piggy, Gonzo, and the rest of the gang won’t react similarly. Especially in this garbage fire of a summer, there’s something comforting about the way the writers here blend in the familiar beats that strike a nostalgic chord for those of us who grew up with these characters. Like any sketch comedy show, it’s a hit-and-miss proposition, but it hit way more for me than I expected it to.
The odd thing about “Muppets Now” is that it really looks like a product of the pandemic structurally, even if that’s mostly a case of serendipitous timing. With the original concept in which The Muppets spoofed variety shows no longer making sense to young viewers, the structure has shifted to spoofing online culture with short films creating the recurring sketches. For example, there’s an online health & beauty show with Ms. Piggy, a game show improvised by Pepe as its host, a Swedish Chef cooking show, and so on. And each segment allows for special guests like Taye Diggs, Linda Cardellini, Rupaul, and more. Once again, interaction between celebrities and Muppets prove to be some of the series highlights. Whether it’s Diggs undergoing slap treatment with Ms. Piggy or Danny Trejo showing off his skill with mole, the guest stars get the sense of humor and play along well in largely improvised sketches.
Like any sketch show, some bits go on too long—there’s a Mythbusters-esque segment with Bunsen and Beaker that drags surprisingly—and the wraparound segments built on Scooter uploading segments of the show often feel thin (with the exception of a Waldorf & Statler focus group episode that will shine for fans of those cantankerous characters). However, the batting average is higher than a lot of non-puppet sketch comedy shows. It’s not quite as consistently wonderful as the 2011 feature film reboot with Jason Segel, but there are moments that approach that kind of charming hilarity more than anything in the 2015 ABC iteration. Almost everything the Swedish Chef does in the four episodes screened for press made me giggle and Pepe’s game show is the best thing the character’s ever done.
There are elements of The Muppets that I missed when watching “Muppets Now.” The “let’s put on a show” aspect of these characters feels almost entirely gone given the lack of backstage humor that was the backbone of the original series. And most sketches feel again almost quarantine-esque in their insularity—each one only has one or two Muppets and a celebrity, as if Kermit and the Swedish Chef have been forced to social distance from one another. Some of the bits were pandemic produced, and so that could explain why Linda Cardellini isn’t in the room with Ms. Piggy during their beauty chats, but the concept of the entire program feels built around dividing the Muppets into bite-sized segments when camaraderie among the gang was always central to their appeal. (Also, just not enough Animal in the first four episodes. I always need more Animal.)
Many subscribers have complained that the original “The Muppet Show” isn’t on Disney+, especially given that basically everything else is there, including six feature films, the 2015 ABC version, and even “Muppet Babies.” Until then, even if it’s less consistent than the best of Muppets history, “Muppets Now” will have to do. Maybe they didn’t want their new show to exist in the shadow of the original? For real Muppet fans, even with the familiar laughs, it’s going to do that anyway.
Four episodes screened for review.