Jim Henson clearly found something special when he created the Muppets. Kermit and the gang have been part of growing up for multiple generations, despite the fact that the characters have had at least as many successes as failures in their many chances on the big and small screens. The Muppets have won and lost on television and in the movies and now, your favorite felt characters are making their Disney+ debut in a new streaming series titled Muppets Now, and while there are hints of greatness, and no major missteps, I'm not sure the new series will be quite what long time fans are hoping for.
Throughout history the Muppets have looked for success via whatever was medium was popular at the time. The original 1970s series was framed as a variety show because that's what was popular on television in that era. The Muppets TV series of a few years ago went for the fake documentary style of The Office. The new series, Muppets Now is actually presented as an online streaming production. Each episode has a framing device where Scooter, apparently the entirety of the Muppets IT department, is responsible for uploading each segment of the show for streaming.
As each piece is uploaded, we watch it, and what we get are the Muppet versions of the sorts of things one might actually fnid on YouTube right now. Miss Piggy hosts a show giving health and wellness tips. The Swedish Chef appears in a cooking competition against actual chefs. Bunson and Beaker are back with the classic Muppet Labs, but a version of it that feels more like a reality TV science show, Muppet Mythbusters or something similar. It all works pretty well. If there's a downside to the structure it's the fact that so much of it involves people communicating via video chat applications that it all feels a little too modern.
I grew up watching the Muppet films of the 1980s on endless repeat and own The Muppet Show on DVD, the seasons that were released anyway. I love the Muppets so much I'm one of the few people that will defend the 2015 The Muppets ABC series. As such, I thoroughly enjoyed Muppets Now and fully expect that anybody who has been waiting to see more of the characters will enjoy the show. I'm just not sure the pleasure will last long after each episode is over.
As I write this, it's been several days since I watched the first four episodes of Muppets Now and beyond the broad strokes, there's little I actually remember from the series. There's no particular joke that still has me laughing to myself when I think about it. No moment I feel a need to go back and watch again. With Miss Piggy and the Swedish Chef getting a segment in each of those first four episodes, with the identical gimmick, there's just not as much room for other ideas. Part of what made The Muppet Show so much fun was that you never really knew what you were getting. Completely bizarre ideas would show up and they weren't all winners, but sometimes the Muppets would stumble on gold, and it would all be worth it.
Still, while I'm not sure Muppets Now is a home run, it's still, ultimately, fun, and that's what the Muppets should be. There's nothing wrong with simply being a fun distraction for a half-hour at a time. Right now, we could probably all use that.
I recently had a chance to speak with Scooter, Pepe, and Walter, and they are clearly having fun. Check out the highlights of my interview below.
Part of the problem is that with The Muppets Show the Muppets have an incredible legacy to live up to. I'm not sure anything can ever be quite as great as that show. Muppets Now certainly isn't an improvement on the classic series, but once you come to terms with the fact that's simply not possible, you can enjoy it for what it is. Muppets Now debuts on Disney+ July 31.