It’s time to play the music! It’s time to light the lights! It’s time to hit me like a hurricane, electricity through my brain on The Muppets Mayhem tonight!
Let’s kick off with this fact: I love this show. While it’s not perfect, and a lot of times (as we’ll get into soon) the episodes are a bit too focused on the humans and not enough on the Muppets, I think Muppets Mayhem has a whole lot of heart and humor, something that maybe (for me) has been lacking in other Muppet projects in recent years. This show manages to feel both in tune with the rest of the Muppet productions while also being a thing entirely of its own making. I’ve watched it twice all the way through now, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it each time.
That said, as I am reviewing episode nine (“Drift Away”), I do think this is one of the weakest episodes of the season. This is not to say it’s a bad episode, it’s perfectly fine. But in comparison to the rest of the season, not a whole lot happens in this one. This being the penultimate episode, it serves as more of a steppingstone to get to the season one finale.
After an opening of all the Mayhem being glued to their phones in the car and retching as carsickness strikes (the best part being Animal looking on and yelling “UH-OH!” multiple times), we get a continuation of the previous episode’s setup. Nora tries to tell the band they’ll be playing the Hollywood Bowl, but they’re all too busy with online life.
Janice has amassed a million Instagram followers (the Forsureleans), Lips has a whole speech writing team helping him in his endeavors to save the world, Animal is going viral on TikTok, and Dr. Teeth and Penny are doing their own version of Hot Ones (I really need Sean Evans to bring these two on as guests now). It seems for a second like Floyd is the only one not tied to other sudden obligations, when he reveals he actually wrote a (pretty stellar) jingle for soup that plays in ads before YouTube videos.
With the album produced and the band falling apart, Moog takes off, defeated. JJ swoops in and hooks the band up with a spot on Charlamagne tha God’s show. The band starts talking about their separate passions, prompting Charlamagne to ask if the band’s breaking up. While at first they deny this, they eventually decide that maybe they are at the point of “lovingly comin’ together to hastily go in [their] separate directions.” When Nora tries to interject about the Bowl the following week, Dr. Teeth tells her that Penny literally just booked them a cruise to Finland, so no dice, Label Lady.
When Nora goes to see her boss, she finds Penny psyched about the band because now she gets her “Teethy” all to herself. Penny reveals that she’s handing all of Wax Town Records to Nora. For a moment it feels like a dream come true for our human protagonist, until it’s revealed that it was JJ’s idea for Penny and Teeth to leave town immediately. Nora does not take this well.
Aaaannnndddd that’s kind of it. Nora tells Hannah her crisis about the band breaking up, Hannah gets so frustrated by TikTok loving Animal more than her that she deletes all their social media, they make a scrapbook of Zoot’s photos, and then they make amends with Moog to help get the band back together. That’s pretty much it.
While this whole episode does revolve around the Mayhem (finally getting them into the Hollywood Bowl! trying to get their attention! the band breaking up! rallying to get the band back together!), we follow Nora exclusively the entire time. In most of the episodes, I really don’t mind Nora being the human we’re tagging along within all the Mayhem’s stories. In this one though, I find myself wishing for more Muppets on screen. And maybe that’s on purpose – the band breaks up, after all, so it’s possible we’re supposed to be in this state of wanting to see them come back.
The overarching theme of this episode is the allure of social media. When you’re in a place of having all eyes on you, it’s easy to get sucked into your phone. Despite the band being together for fifty years and spending the previous eight episodes putting an album together, when Instagram followers, TikTok likes, and YouTube views are brought into the mix, it’s enough to make them throw everything out the window.
I do think this episode hits us over the head a little too hard with this lesson about the dangers of social media. If it had just left us with the Mayhem’s personal ties to the Internet, that would work great, but watching Hannah freak out in the end and delete her personal accounts, along with a speech about how awful social media is, felt like a bit much.
After all, social media is literally her career. She could have acknowledged that the Internet is “shallow and pointless” without throwing her entire life in the trash. Plus, while influencer-ing can certainly become a vapid pursuit, this ignores the fact that a whole lot of good can come from social media (education, hearing about experiences different from your own, connecting with Muppet fans all over the world, etc.).
(Also, hot take, while everyone else is sucked into their phones, the thing Lips is hyper focused on is saving the world. Which, I would argue, is maybe more important than being in a band????)
Lastly, I want to talk about one other thing: JJ vs. Moog.
As much as a part of me wants to ship Nora/Moog, there’s just no romantic chemistry there. The two have good friend chemistry and are a great fit in the series, but I have zero desire to see them smooch. Also, we get so much on Nora’s career and learning to heal from her broken childhood, I wish the show chose to focus more on those parts of Nora and leave romance out of the script.
And while I don’t ship Nora/JJ either (there’s also no romantic chemistry there, y’all), I don’t mind JJ being around. What’s more, I actually appreciate parts of the JJ subplot. A person can have the world’s best glow up and still, at the end of the day, that doesn’t make them your person. I’m glad that we see Nora in this episode start to realize that maybe just because someone is perfect on paper doesn’t mean your goals and wants align.
I wish I had more to say on the Muppet characters for this episode, but outside their opening segments and their scene with Charlamagne (and Janice whispering at Nora that she has soft skin), they’re sparse in this one. Again, I like this episode, but it mostly feels like its only purpose is to introduce the band’s break up. But sometimes you need these in-between episodes to carry you from one big plot point to another – which is exactly what you’ll get in the next review when ToughPigs wraps up this series!
Most Valuable Muppet: It’s hard to pick one this episode since we’re somehow both following everyone and following no one. I am going to give it to Zoot though, because his photo album is what ultimately sets Nora, Hannah, and Moog on the journey to bring the band back together by episode’s end.
Most Valuable Human: In any other episode, I would say Nora is a shoo-in for MVH. But for this one, despite being only in the beginning and end, I’m gonna give it to Moog. He’s the only one who sees that the Mayhem have been thrown off course. Normally a woman crawling to a man begging for his help is a pretty “meh” plot point for me, but Moog has already proven himself as the ultimate May-Head, so it feels justified.
Musical Highlight: Soup de doup! How I love my soup!
Best Joke: Dr. Teeth painstakingly spelling out “http://www.youtube.com” for Charlamagne got me good.
Weakest Joke: While I understand the need for it, I got tired of the “Animal is a dancing TikTok star who goes viral when he scratches his butt” bit fast.
Coolest Puppet Trick: AND YET. While I got tired of the TikTok stuff, I will admit that the green screen work of Animal dancing is impeccable.
First Appearance of…: Lips’s speech writers!
Notable Muppet Fan Easter Egg: We got to see a small clip from Elton John’s episode of The Muppet Show (though the audio that plays is from the album recording, not The Muppet Show episode).
Notable Cameo: The only real cameo in this episode is Charlamagne tha God.
Adultiest Content: Look, I was raised in a religious household, and while I understand that the word “hell” is pretty tame compared to all the other profanity out there, that was a word I would get grounded for saying up till I was 14 years old. So watching Dr. Teeth say, “My body is trapped in a blazing chip-induced hellscape of my own making,” made the inner child in me go wild.
One More Thing: I know I’m coming in late to these reviews, but I just want to say: that theme song? It slaps! It slaps so hard! I can’t wait to see it listed in my top 5 most listened to songs in my Spotify wrapped this year!
Okay, One More Thing: As the person who has no doubt written the most rants on ToughPigs about my desperate want of female representation when it comes to the Muppets, I want you all to know that it is not lost on me the strides this show has taken. In fleshing out the world, they brought in three regular female characters (Nora, Hannah, and Penny), and between those three and Janice (and one amazing episode featuring Dr. Tina Teeth), every episode of this show passes the Bechdel test.
Are some of the conversations between these ladies about men? Sure, but they’re also about careers and aspirations and Forsureleans and hot sauce and teeth and social media and a whole bunch of other things. These women contain multitudes, y’all! I would love to see this continued in other Muppet productions that pop up in the future!
Click here to start a Team JJ vs. Team Moog shipping war on the Tough Pigs forum!
by Julia Gaskill