In this golden age of television, late night has become a stronger presence on the media landscape. Now, following in the footsteps of Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Fallon, and Miss Piggy, Elmo steps into the hallowed format with The Not-Too-Late Show with Elmo, premiering on HBO Max on May 27th. We watched three episodes of the show – featuring Jimmy Fallon, Kacey Musgraves, John Mulaney, Lil Nas X, and The Jonas Brothers, so naturally, we had to review them, but what’s late night without a little banter? ToughPigs’ own Matthew Soberman and Evan G. got on our couch to talk about the new show.
MATTHEW: Good evening/morning/whatever time you’re reading this, Evan! (Because the show will be streaming, so you can watch it whenever you want… and time is an artificial construct.)
EVAN: Hello Matthew! Imagine I’m saying that with the enthusiasm of Elmo right now.
MATTHEW: Ahahahaha! Imagine I laughed like Elmo. Anyways, I have to say, of all the things Sesame Street has parodied, this might up there with the best. I had reservations that they could pull off a late night-type show, but it far exceeded my expectations. What did you think?
EVAN: Elmo’s Not-Too-Late Show isn’t perfect but it is probably the best reimagining of the Muppet Show the Muppets have ever done. I enjoyed it a lot.
MATTHEW: “The Muppet Show?” That’s a big comparison. How come?
EVAN: I mean, this is in many ways what we’ve always said the Muppets should do. Quick sketches, interacting with celebrities, backstage antics, a full song, and then move onto what’s next. It’s not the same by any means, but it reminds me a lot more of The Muppet Show than any other piece of Sesame Street media.
MATTHEW: Huh, that’s a really good comparison. I suppose my mind went immediately to the “Up Late with Miss Piggy” component to The Muppets, but yeah, it does have a lot of Muppet Show elements to it. I suppose the biggest difference is that there are multiple guests in an episode (mostly, The Jonas Brothers notwithstanding). But I think you’re right, it is reminiscent of a variety show, which I suppose a lot of late night is.
EVAN: Yeah, I mean, in our post-Fallon world, more and more late-night shows feel like the modern variety shows, which I remember being an observation we all made about The Muppets sitcom back then. But this isn’t about Kermit and his friends. This is about Elmo. So let’s talk specifics. What worked the most for you about these episodes?
MATTHEW: Believe it or not, the fact that the episodes are only fifteen minutes long. It’s a perfect running time to be a version of the format, but not have to be a straight-out late night show. It’s the perfect length of time for something like this. It holds attention, but doesn’t overstay its welcome. There’s only so long a talk show hosted by a three-year old monster can go before it gets annoying.
EVAN: Yeah, this is the perfect length for this. You get just enough of everything to want more, but not so much that you’re like “oh no, another knock-knock joke?” Elmo is on fire though. I love it whenever Elmo gets the opportunity to cut loose like this. One of the best recurring bits is how terrible (but adorable) his questions for guests always are.
MATTHEW: Yes, they don’t compromise the character for the format. Elmo’s always going to be three, so why would he be asking the Jonas Brothers about why they got back together? He wants to know about the silliest faces they can make, so that’s what he’ll do. I think that’s what makes this a great show for kids and parents to watch together. There’s plenty in this for both groups.
EVAN: Yeah, and I think that’s honestly why John Mulaney is the best guest. He really understands how to walk the line between adult humor and kid humor in a way a lot of celebrities don’t. But everyone in these episodes was good. Except maybe for whenever Lil Nas X isn’t singing.
MATTHEW: Hey, I’m just happy to hear “Elmo’s Song” again. It feels like for a while, that was co-opted by a certain World. But you hit on a good point: they picked the right people for the show. The Jonas Brothers know how to play to a kid-friendly audience, as does Jimmy Fallon and Mulaney.
EVAN: Yeah, and related: they also picked a good bunch of Muppets to appeal to both kids and adults. If Prairie Dawn shows up these days, it’s usually a good sign that you’re going to get some “adult” humor (you know what I mean, like about jobs and stuff).
MATTHEW: That was another thing I loved: it’s a show run by Sesame Street characters, so that allows for a lot of favorites to appear in some capacity. I mean, Mama Bear is the drummer. Mama Bear!
EVAN: I’m just glad to see my boy Herry getting work again. Speaking of, Wolfgang! He was there! They called him Wolfgang!
MATTHEW: (Flaps hands and barks in celebration.) But it does allow for the backstage antics you mentioned. If it were a human crew, there wouldn’t be that potential. It also creates a “B” story that will keep viewers engaged. It’s a brilliant choice.
EVAN: Yeah, again, it’s echoes of The Muppet Show for sure. But also, I personally thought this is one place the show could use a little fine-tuning. Some of the backstage, b-plot-y jokes didn’t feel like they ever reached an actual final button or punchline. They were good, but a lot of them could’ve used maybe one or two more lines to really land. Cookie’s big sandwich is a great example of a bit just not going anywhere.
MATTHEW: That feels like a punchline without a setup. But the beauty of the running time is that if it doesn’t land, it doesn’t linger on it too much. So we’ve covered bits, but we haven’t really touched on the games they play. This definitely feels like a page from the Fallon playbook.
EVAN: Yeah. I don’t have a ton of patience for Fallon’s games, but these worked for me. I think because they’re so clearly targeted at kids, and because we all love the Muppets so much. Like, I would’ve cringed at a tricycle race on Fallon, but John Mulaney and Elmo sold the heck out of it. I can also imagine lots of kids wanting to freeze dance with the Jonas Brothers and the band; I hope they try more subtly interactive things like that in the future.
MATTHEW: Absolutely. What might not work as well with humans work great with Muppets. And it does make me curious to see what future episodes may look like. What game do you play with Batman?
EVAN: Hopefully Ernie and Bert’s “I-One-The-Sandbox” counting game.
MATTHEW: One more thing: a conceit I find brilliant is that Elmo is hosting a late night show just off of (or maybe even part of) his house, right before he goes to bed. It’s a great play on the fact that late night shows aren’t exactly in the repertoire of a kid that goes to bed at 7:30. It’s something that’s perfect for kids to watch before they get ready for bed.
EVAN: Yeah. It feels like the next logical step after Elmo imagined a whole world. But yeah, I’m not a parent, but I can imagine this actually being a pretty fun way to wind a kid down at the end of the day.
MATTHEW: Speaking of winding down, was there anything else you wanted to say?
EVAN: Well, I think everyone who has access to this show should definitely check it out. I also think all our readers will enjoy the audience shots a lot. Keep a close eye on them, there’s a number of fun cameos from both old-school and new-school Sesame Street (and even a Muppet performer or two).
MATTHEW: Yes, this is definitely a good way to spend fifteen minutes. Thanks for stopping by, Evan!
EVAN: Eh, I’m tired. Baby David and I are going to brush our teeth and go to bed.
MATTHEW: Evan G, folks! Stay tuned for “Sesame Rewind.”
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by Matthew Soberman and Evan G.