The first episode of Muppets Now is here! Here’s the short version of this review: If the question that’s been on every Muppet fan’s lips is, “How’s the new show?” my answer, based on this episode, is “It’s pretty good!”

If you’ve been paying attention to the news around this show, you know by now that Muppets Now was originally a series of several shorts, but in recent months the Muppet people turned it into six half-hour episodes by adding some framing material. One of my concerns going into this episode was that the new material would feel shoehorned-in, or would distract from the segments that are the heart of the show.

It turns out I didn’t need to worry about that. The synopsis for “Due Date” told us about “Scooter [rushing] to make his delivery deadlines” for uploading the show, and said “he’ll need to navigate whatever obstacles, distractions, and complications the rest of the Muppet gang throws at him.”

I was picturing Scooter frantically trying to get his fellow Muppets to send him their segments, but the reality is not like that at all. Scooter already has all of the segments and he’s busily uploading them while trying to ignore the Muppets’ distracting comments. That’s all. It’s not as exciting as that synopsis made it sound, but there’s no reason for it to be. It succeeds at tying the episode together. And it’s nice to see Scooter in an important role.

The first segment is “Lifesty(le),” with Miss Piggy. The best thing about this one is that it reunites the team of Piggy and Uncle Deadly. That was one of the best elements of the 2015 sitcom The Muppets, and I’ve missed their dynamic since then. After Deadly undercuts Piggy for a minute or two, they bring in Taye Diggs for the highlight of this sketch.

I had to look up “face-slapping massage” to find out whether it’s really a real concept that it exists in real life. Strangely enough, it is. But it’s also a great setup for a gag, as a Whatnot masseuse named Margaret provides her face-slapping services to both Diggs and Piggy, with Piggy getting a decidedly more forceful treatment. You can see the punchline (slapline?) coming, but it’s still satisfying.

Hey, remember how they said this show was “unscripted?” So far, nothing has felt like it wasn’t devised by writers, but Piggy’s video chat with Janice, Rosie, and Linda Cardellini has a more spontaneous feel. It doesn’t exactly go anywhere, but Rosie is the MVP of the bit. She’s a goat who never actually speaks, and concludes the segment by knocking things over. I appreciate that Rosie is a goat. We haven’t seen Muppet goats nearly as often as we have chickens, rats, or penguins, so it’s good to see them expanding their horizons.

The next segment is “Muppet Masters,” hosted by Walter, who is exploring the hidden talents of his Muppet friends. This week, Walter tells us Kermit is a master photographer, and before Kermit can correct him, he starts going over a bunch of detailed rules of photography while taking a portrait of Sam.

But then Kermit reveals that he’s not a photographer, he actually a “photobomber.” A photo-bomber! It’s a cute joke, and it is so much fun to see Kermit’s mischievous side as he demonstrates his skill. (In fact, I want to see more of Kermit’s mischievous side!) I’m sure one moment in particular will make fans of a certain Lipton tea commercial very happy.

Also: Good for Walter for getting to host a segment! He’s pretty much the straight man to Kermit, Sam, and Piggy here, and it’s a good role for him.

The third sketch is “Okey Dokey Kookin’,” which is hosted by Beverly Plume, a turkey. The great news is that Beverly Plume is a new Muppet and she’s a female character performed by a talented female puppeteer (Julianne Buescher). The less-great news is that Beverly isn’t given a lot to work with, and this is the weakest of the four segments in this episode.

It’s like one of those cooking competition shows that seem to air 24 hours a day on The Food Network. The Swedish Chef faces off against real-life chef Carlina Will to make a recipe, and Ms. Will successfully makes a Caribbean curry, but the Chef’s is a disaster.

It’s always fun to watch the Chef clown around, but we can guess from the start that the real chef is going to cook a real dish while the Swedish Chef gets it wrong. And sure, I chuckled when the Swedish Chef tossed a whole pineapple in his pot, but this one lacks a real element of surprise. Despite the whole “unscripted” thing, it all feels pretty rehearsed.

But then! Atl the very end, the Chef calls a delivery guy to bring the food he failed to cook (addressed to “S. Chef”), and then he refuses, loudly and inexplicably, to tip the guy. Now that was unexpected, and that made me laugh. 

The final segment is “Mup Close & Personal with RuPaul,” which feels the most like it might be truly unscripted. It’s also the best segment of the episode.

The premise is simple: Kermit tries to interview RuPaul, but he’s interrupted by Gonzo, Howard Tubman, Piggy, and Fozzie. Each of them is obnoxious in their own special way, with Gonzo stealing the show. I wouldn’t mind if there was a “Mup Close” sketch in every episode of this show.

So now we’ve seen the first episode of Muppets Now, after much eagerness and anticipation. And it’s pretty good! And that’s good! It’s so nice to have the Muppets doing a new thing that’s silly and full of our favorite characters. Now we just have to wait another week until the next episode!

MVM (Most Valuable Muppet): I’ll give it to Kermit, who gets to show off both his comic side and his straight man side.

Best Joke: Gonzo, asking RuPaul an important question: “You know how they say spiders crawl in your mouth while you’re sleeping? Are you also disappointed that you’re not awake for that?”

Best Puppetry Trick: There’s a moment where Kermit hops up and down while talking to Walter — and look, Ma, no arm sock! And a minute later, Walter talks to Kermit while lodged in a hedge.

Missed Opportunity: There’s no theme song. Also, there’s no musical number. Muppets gotta sing, man. Let them sing!

Another Missed Opportunity: In “Muppet Masters,” Sam holds still for a time-lapse photo, unaware that Kermit and Walter have abandoned him. It would have been great if the episode ended by cutting back to Sam, still holding still.

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by Ryan Roe – Ryan@ToughPigs.com

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