Roush Review: Newfangled ‘Muppets Now’ Trades on Classic Humor
Putting on a modern-day Muppet show now requires uploading sketches digitally to a streaming audience. But even as the Muppets once again adapt to the technological times in the new Disney+ series Muppets Now, with Zoom-esque chat rooms and texts keeping everyone connected, some things never change.
Look closely at the list of 100 ideas that the proudly corny Fozzie Bear pitches to tech-savvy Scooter in hopes something will make it to air, and one stands out: Agents of S.C.H.T.I.C.K. Sounds about right.
Self-described as “unscripted” and “filled with improv comedy,’’ the freewheeling and often frantically rib-tickling Muppets Now is as close as these puppet masters have come in a long while to recapturing the joyfully anarchic spirit of the classic The Muppet Show of the 1970s. Behind-the-scenes antics are kept to a minimum as Scooter tirelessly works to keep the gags flowing.
“Breathe. Laugh. Repeat” is the mantra of the premiere episode’s celebrity guest, RuPaul Charles, who’s understandably giddy to be in Kermit the Frog’s company. But Kermie’s earnest interview keeps being interrupted by eager fans, including, naturally, Miss Piggy, who demands to know: “Diva—it’s a positive term, right?”
Piggy is the undisputed star of the new series, commanding attention and adoration in weekly lifestyle segments with a title that’s too delicious a pun to spoil. She tries hot yoga with recurring guest Taye Diggs while complaining, “Sweat is something that happens to other people” and engages in regular remote visits with the adorable Linda Cardellini. Which is fine, even when we might wish for a little more variety in a puzzlingly formula-driven variety show.
For me, there’s too little Kermit in Muppets Now—after the opener, he’s mostly relegated to bantering with buzzkill Joe the Legal Weasel—and too much Swedish Chef. (Though I did love the bit where Danny Trejo prepares a chicken mole taco while the Chef wraps a mole Muppet in a tortilla.) Dr. Benson Honeydew and hapless sidekick Beaker are also a regular presence with their slapstick scientific experiments, including an alarming interlude in which Beaker believes he’s being replaced with an Alexa-like “smart assistant.”
Of all the regular routines, I’m all in on “Pepé’s Unbelievable Game Show,” starring the excitable prawn who makes up the rules as he goes, to the consternation of uptight Scooter but the delight of human contestants. Pepé’s is the kind of hysterical shtick worth sticking around for.
Muppets Now, Series Premiere, Friday, July 31, Disney+