The 2011 and 2014 “Muppets” movies from Disney were sweet and filled with humor and heart. But the second one (“Muppets Most Wanted”) underperformed at the box office. So The Mouse House turned to ABC for a new primetime, scripted “Muppets” TV series that debuted in Fall 2015. A number of mistakes quickly sank the show. It was simply a wasted opportunity.
But now comes a new six-episode “Muppets” series for Disney+. And I’m sure everyone involved was thinking the same thing while making “Muppets Now”: We can’t repeat what happened last time.
“Muppets Now” is a completely different concept, and one that offers some natural intrigue. Each 22-minute episode consists of four segments that are web shows. Many of the principal Muppets characters have their own shows, including Miss Piggy, the Swedish Chef and Bunsen & Beaker.
Each web show parodies a different TV program genre: lifestyle, science, cooking, in-depth interview, biography and game shows. The framework involves Scooter, who uploads everything to the internet.
In traditional “Muppets” fashion, there are celebrity guests who interact with the characters. The first “Muppets Now” episode features RuPaul taking part in an unscripted Q&A with Kermit. And that’s the other thing that makes “MN” “unique”: the majority of this series is being advertised as unscripted. And that comes across clearer in some segments than others.
I had the chance to screen the first four 22 min. episodes of “Muppets Now”. And I definitely needed a break after two because the pacing is so rapid-fire that it makes the entire experience overwhelming. Disney+ is debuting one episode a week for six weeks, so watching them that way may prove to be better. But I still think you’re going to be disappointed.
The bottom line is that “Muppets Now” just isn’t very funny. The majority of the web shows are one-note and go on way too long, including Miss Piggy’s “Lifestyle” show with Taye Diggs and Linda Cardellini, who bring almost northing the table. A Q&A with Miss Piggy and Aubrey Plaza is completely flat. The Swedish Chef cooking segments are the least successful of them all because they go nowhere. And beyond the first episode, Kermit takes a major backseat, along with the iconic Fozzie Bear, Gonzo and Animal.
The ONLY web show concept that works in “Muppets Now” is “Pepe’s Unbelievable Game Show”. Someone clearly vouched for Pepe to a host a game show instead of Kermit or Fozzie, and it ended-up being a really smart decision. Not only does this bit (which first appears in Episode 2) perfectly make fun of game shows, but it’s genuinely funny! Maybe because it stars a Muppet who we wouldn’t necessarily think of in this type of position. Maybe it’s also because there are no celebrities involved (there are civilian contestants).
Or maybe it’s because the goal of Pepe’s game show isn’t to give us advice or teach us something… but simply to entertain. And it’s the only part of “Muppets Now” that does that.
I don’t see young kids really getting into “MN” as a whole. And those who grew-up with “The Muppet Show” will probably be a little perplexed because these web shows slightly engulf the characters, causing them to lose their sense of spirit… though not quite as much as last time.