WARNING: THIS REVIEW, LIKE THE EPISODE REVIEWS THAT WILL FOLLOW IT IN THE COMING WEEKS, IS FULL OF SPOILERS FOR THE MUPPETS MAYHEM. YOU DIG?
Creating a new Muppet production must be a daunting task. No matter what the creators do, it’s inevitable that some fans will complain “This is not what the Muppets are supposed to be like!”
But maybe The Muppets Mayhem has an advantage because it’s so different from anything the Muppets have done before. It’s not a sketch or variety show, and it’s not a narrative story starring Kermit the Frog, Fozzie Bear, Miss Piggy, and Gonzo — characters the average Disney Plus viewer would recognize on sight and know the names of.
No, this is a music-centric sitcom in which the story revolves around Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem. The average Disney Plus viewer could perhaps name some but not all of those guys (“I love Animal and the ‘fer sure’ girl!”), and yet they’ll be happy to see them if they’ve enjoyed Muppet productions of the past.
But in this show, the Muppets are pretty much co-starring alongside a few human leads who help drive the plot. And while this episode tells a self-contained story (as Muppet TV shows have usually done), it includes the first steps in building toward the end goal of recording an Electric Mayhem album, which means this will be the most serialized Muppet show yet.
So they’re trying something different. But how different will it be? Can we trust them to deliver a new Muppet thing that won’t make us cry or roll our eyes or hide under our Muppet blankets? The first episode, “Track 1: Can You Picture That?”, gives us our first hints.
A lot happens in the first two and a half minutes of this episode, and that includes a sequence in which we see the Electric Mayhem gleefully playing to a venue packed with screaming fans who are eager to rock and roll all night (and party every day). It’s a great place to start!
Perhaps a compelling series could have been made with the band starting out as has-beens seeking to recapture their former glory, or even disbanded and in need of a reunion. But there’s something comforting about seeing these characters reintroduced as six lovable weirdos who love playing music, and who are still as popular as ever.
Soon enough we meet Nora, who works at the sad old Wax Town record label and wants to get ahead in the music biz, and whose discovery that the Electric Mayhem owe the label an album is what sets the drum rolling on the whole series. There’s also Moog, the endearingly awkward #1 “Mayhead,” and Hannah, Nora’s younger sister who’s an expert at social media.
I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of debate about whether the humans have too much screen time on Muppets Mayhem, but I think there’s a good balance in this episode. We learn a little bit about each of them — and but there’s never any doubt about the fact that the Muppets are the main attraction.
And then there’s Penny! As performed by Leslie Carrara-Rudolph, the head of Wax Town Records is unlike any Muppet we’ve seen before. The puppet is big, and though she’s not a villain, she’s quite intimidating as she expresses her initial distaste for Nora’s plan to work with the Mayhem. Their dynamic is complicated, you see, by the fact that she and Dr. Teeth used to be an item until he dumped her!
There’s a lot of new stuff that’s thrown at us in one half-hour episode. And the tone is closer to that of a 2023 sitcom than that of a zany classic Muppet production. But a lot of the jokes are funny, the Electric Mayhem is effectively presented as a real band of veteran rock stars, and all the band members are recognizably themselves — with the exception of Lips, who is given a new vibe by Peter Linz in his first performance as the character in a major production.
The show even works in an expository video hosted by Ryan Seacrest to establish the Mayhem’s place in the world of the show: They used to be the house band on The Muppet Show, they’ve been popular in the music world since the 1970s, and… that’s about it. And that feels like the right choice, with no further explanations needed.
Nora is wary of the Electric Mayhem because their style isn’t what she expected. They’re unpredictable, and they don’t like to make plans. They throw a wild party at Hannah’s place, and they repaint a stranger’s house instead of the house owned by the record label.
Nora has a moment of doubt, dismissing the possibility that they’ll be able to work together… But then, using the words of her family’s favorite Joe Cocker song, the band asks her to have a little faith in them, and she agrees to get on board.
Something similar might happen as Muppet fans everywhere watch this episode. Even if it’s not quite what viewers expected, the Muppet people are asking everyone to have a little faith and get on board for what comes next.
I’m on board. Let’s rock on.
Most Valuable Muppet: Dr. Teeth. Though he insists he’s not the frontman, he has the most to do in this episode, and with his dedication to spreading good vibes — and his (and Bill Barretta’s?) dedication to made-up words — he really does feel like the same guy we saw in those old Muppet productions. (I believe this is also the first time we’ve seen him shirtless.)
Most Valuable Human: I’m going to give it to Moog this time around. He’s a big fan of these Muppets, and so am I!
Best Joke: When Nora tells the band to leave the Wax Town office immediately, they all head in different directions… none of them in the direction of the EXIT sign.
Musical Highlight: The house-painting reenactment of “Can You Picture That?” is fine, but… we’ve seen and heard it before. “Have a Little Faith in Me” is lovely, and proves the Mayhem can be sweet when they want to. But dang, hearing the series theme song “Rock On” for the first time? That’s the highlight. I’m an intelligent person. I know this song was actually composed by Hannah Friedman and Daniel Pinnella. And yet… I feel really happy for the Muppets for having written such a great song!
Coolest Puppet Trick: One of the first shots of the series features the whole band on stage, with Floyd, Janice, Lips, and Zoot in full-body view. The effect is pretty seamless, but people who don’t like seeing Muppet legs are sure to be weirded out.
First Appearance of…: Nora, Moog, and Hannah! And Penny! And Peter Linz’s new unintelligible take on Lips! And Zoot’s Polaroid camera!
Notable Cameo Appearance: It’s fun that Danny Trejo keeps popping up in Muppet things!
Adultiest Content: Dr. Teeth drinks a mai tai. Also, the band’s old record contract was for $420,000.
One More Thing: The first document Nora shreds is stamped “The Art Garfunkel Project” and it’s addressed to Mr. Withers. Is this a reference I’m not familiar with?
Okay, One More Thing: We learn that Zoot’s last name is “Zootowski,” the implication being that “Zoot” is a nickname. Will this cause controversy and consternation among Muppet nerds? Will people take it way too seriously online, commenting “That’s Mr. Zootowski” every time a photo with Zoot in it is posted on social media? Or is it just a silly joke that we shouldn’t spend too much time thinking about? The answer to all three questions is yes!
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by Ryan Roe – Ryan@ToughPigs.com