ToughPigs Roundtable: Talkin’ Muppets Now

Published: September 8, 2020
Categories: Feature, Reviews

Muppets Now is officially “Muppets Then” – in that it’s over, and now in the past tense. The first season of six episodes concluded this past week, and despite having reviewed each one thoroughly, Team ToughPigs still has a lot to say!

We gathered some of our brightest minds to discuss the highest highs and lowest lows of the Muppets’ streaming series. Please enjoy the following thoughts by ToughPigs writers Joe Hennes, Ryan Roe, Evan G., Julia Gaskill, Staci Rosen, Matthew Soberman, and Louie Pearlman!

Muppets Now ep103_Ppes Game Show_Shot 04_ALT_3200x1800 Credit: Disney+

Let’s start on a high note: What was your favorite recurring Muppets Now segment?

Joe: It’s hard to beat Muppet Masters, even though we only got two of them.  You can’t lose with a spotlight on either Kermit the Frog or Uncle Deadly, and Walter’s enthusiasm was infectious.  Although now I wonder if Walter’s collecting his friends’ hidden talents and will somehow combine photobomby and stage combat to become some sort of master assassin…

Evan: Aside from Muppet Masters, which is the easy favorite, I want to stand up for Pepe’s Unbelievable Game Show. While often the sketches lasted a little too long, I appreciated their high energy level, weirdness, and fun pairing of Scooter and Pepe.

Julia: Although there only ended up being two segments, I really liked Muppet Masters. Watching Walter play the straight man to the other Muppets’ comedy is a lot of fun, plus allows us to get to see sides of characters we’ve never seen before. More please!

Ryan: Pepe’s Unbelievable Game Show gave me the most laughs of the series. The pacing was quick, the gags were truly unpredictable, and Scooter’s exasperation at Pepe’s refusal to play the game by the rules was always satisfying.

Staci: Mup Close & Personal was definitely my favorite recurring sketch. It was the most consistent, and I think they chose guests whose skills at improv and spontaneity worked will with those of the Muppet performers.

Matthew: Far and away, it was Pepe’s Unbelievable Game Show. The idea of a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants game show was perfect for an unscripted series, and Pepe was the perfect character to host. It’s comedy gold, I tell you!

Louie: I loved the Muppet Labs segment. Seeing those guys do real science (sort of) was a hoot. 

What was your favorite individual sketch?

Joe: Fozzie Bear trying to interview Seth Rogen while a bunch of babies attempt to drink poison.  That sentence shouldn’t exist, and yet here we are.

Matthew: As much as I loved ROGEN (please read that as a baby trying to run with scissors), I think my favorite may have been the Mup Close & Personal with Aubrey Plaza. Miss Piggy being a diva with better things to do is predictable, but having Uncle Deadly as the stand-in was priceless. And the fact that he treats it as just part of the job is great. I love how this character has gone from being a one-hit wonder to the comedic secret weapon of the Muppets.

Evan: The Muppet Masters with Uncle Deadly. I like Uncle Deadly as a counterpart to Miss Piggy, but nothing is better than Deadly getting to be an old, dramatic, Gus the Theatre Cat-type.

Ryan: I’ll go with the first Mup Close & Personal, featuring RuPaul. Kermit attempting to hold the show together while the other characters were delightfully obnoxious was good old-fashioned Muppet mayhem.

Louie: I’ll second Ryan here, there was a groundedness to Kermit and Ru Paul’s discussion that I really appreciated in the midst of the mayhem.

Staci: I laughed the most during the last episode’s Mup Close & Personal with Seth Rogen. Which is saying a lot, because I am known to be terrified of the baby Muppets (I actually covered my eyes when they first came on screen!). I think what made this edition of the sketch especially memorable was that there was more going on in the background than usual, which gave Eric Jacobson and Seth Rogen lots of opportunities to react.

Julia: Fozzie, Seth Rogen, and a whole bunch of babies doing dangerous stuff. ‘Nuff said.

What was the worst recurring segment?

Staci: I’m going to have to go with Øk?ÿ Døk?ÿ Køøkïñ. I love the premise of a real chef sharing a recipe while the Swedish Chef makes a fool of himself, but it seemed to fall flat. I was excited that they created a new female character, but character is just what Beverly Plume seemed to be lacking. She didn’t do much beyond repeating every ingredient and complimenting the real chefs. I liked hearing her inner thoughts in the last episode. It would have been really funny to see more of this sweet, composed host experiencing inner turmoil throughout the segment.

Evan: I did not enjoy a single moment of a single Øk?ÿ Døk?ÿ Køøkïñ. It was never funny and always much, much longer than it should have been. And to this day, they’ve only actually made one of the recipes available. It just was a non-starter in every way.

Julia: While it makes complete sense for Miss Piggy to have a lifestyle type segment, it was so repetitive and predictable. While Deadly and Piggy had some shining moments throughout, it often felt like it fell on its face and was trying too hard. Would it be impossible to broaden Piggy’s personality and give her a bit more to work with?

Ryan: Yeah, in theory it should be fun to see Miss Piggy as a lifestyle vlogger, and there were some good jokes (the face-slapping massage remains a highlight), but I got pretty tired of Lifesty by the end of the season.

Joe: It’s weird – The Swedish Chef should have his own cooking show.  It seems so natural!  And yet, Øk?ÿ Døk?ÿ Køøkïñ was such a crash and burn.  Beverly Plume was a dull character, the celebrity chefs were dull, and the Swedish Chef’s antics were dull and uninspired.  It made me lose my appetite. Dullllllll.

Louie: I think that Miss Piggy’s segment suffered from typical recurring sketch burnout. Too much of a good thing each episode that went quickly sour. I love Miss Piggy, but this segment really limited what she was able to do. And you don’t limit the Pig. The sky should be the limit for her. Because she can fly. Or am I mixing up my metaphors?

Matthew: Øk?ÿ Døk?ÿ Køøkïñ had exactly one accurate word in its title. There was cooking. Beyond that, it was far from ookey dokey. It’s convinced me that the Swedish Chef only works when you meet him on his level. The whole crux of the character is that he makes things ridiculously, so if you have someone working competently independent of him, the bit doesn’t work.

Who was your overall favorite Muppet in the series?

Ryan: We didn’t end up seeing a lot of Kermit, but all of his featured moments were entertaining. Especially his photobomby in Muppet Masters and his indiscreet appearances in front of the camera in the final Øk?ÿ Døk?ÿ Køøkïñ. Which I just realized is a lot like photobombing!

Matthew: Wow, this is hard. Joe is a great addition to the roster of one-note characters that manage to still work again and again, but on the other hand, Scooter actually gets a meaty part for the first time in a while, Uncle Deadly gets to be funnier and sassier as ever, and Kermit actually gets to be silly! Good performances by Muppets all around.

Joe: Gonzo had so little screentime, but he still stole the show every time he popped up.  It goes to show ya, Dave Goelz is a brilliant improviser.

Evan: Oddly enough, Walter was the only Muppet in the entire show who never felt annoying. Good for you, Walter!

Julia: For the first time ever, I think it might be Pepe. While I would’ve liked to see his segment pushed in more directions, I liked the fun absurdity Pepe brought to his bits.

Staci: I loved Joe the Legal Weasel. His lawsuit pun… ‘nuff said.

Louie: Let’s throw some love to Scooter, working tirelessly to put this mess of a show together. Even messier than normal for Muppets standards.

Pick one of the celebrity cameos – what made them work or not work well with the Muppets?

Joe: Taye Diggs must have quite the cushy life.  Not because he got to test out all those relaxation methods with Miss Piggy, but because he got paid to sit around and look handsome without feeling the need to, I dunno, speak or act or be funny.

Evan: Yeah, I think the show struggled a lot with the “improvised” bit. Obviously, we know there was some writing involved and it wasn’t fully improvised by any means, but a lot of the celebrities just didn’t know how to react to the Muppets’ weirdness. In my review, I mentioned that Aubrey Plaza basically did nothing, and that was such a disappointment. I think we need more dedicated improvisers (like Marc Evan Jackson, Griffin Newman, etc.) if they’re going to keep this format alive.

Staci: Even though I didn’t love Lifesty, Linda Cardellini was really natural.

Matthew: Going back to my thoughts on the Swedish Chef, as much as I disliked Ookey Dokey Kookin, Danny Trejo was the lone bright spot in that whole series of sketches. He got what the character is all about, and he played off him and Beverly beautifully. He actually made that bit tolerable, and that’s no small feat.

Julia: The only celebrity cameo that A) I could believe was actually improvising and not reading directly off a script, and B) seemed to actually know how to riff off of the moments? Seth Rogen. I already mentioned that his interview with Fozzie was my favorite sketch, and I really do mean that. It just seemed like he was having a delightful chat with Fozzie while the babies were suddenly coming up to him with poison, scissors, swords, and sneezes – and all of his reactions were wonderful. More celebrity cameos in that vein would elevate the show.

Ryan: RuPaul was obviously having a great time. That was fun to see.

What was Muppets Now missing to help make it more of a hit?

Evan: Variety is always important, especially for characters whose peak was on a variety show. Absolutely nothing about Muppets Now was varied: the same characters, the same kinds of sketches, even the same celebrities. Songs, for that matter, would’ve gone a long way. Even the old standbys.

Julia: Music, music, music, music, music!!!

Ryan: I agree whole-heartedly with Evan and Julia. This show should have had more different elements, and one of those elements should have been songs.

Staci: The Muppets are at their best when they’re interacting with each other. I would have liked to see them bouncing off each other more. And I also wanted music!

Matthew: You know what? I think I’ll say music. It’s part of the Muppet DNA. Every Muppet series, from The Muppet Show to The Muppets, have used music in some fashion. Ignoring it is ignoring part of the characters’ history. Also, I miss parodies, but music is more important.

Joe: Did anyone say music yet?  My toe remains untapped.

Louie: YUP. No musical numbers. Argh.

WHO was Muppets Now missing??

Julia: Who weren’t we missing? Having hardly any Gonzo was a big blow, and waiting to bring Fozzie in until the very last episode was so strange? But also: Sweetums, Rowlf, the vast majority of the Electric Mayhem, Lew Zealand, Crazy Harry, Sam the Eagle, and basically everyone else were sorely missed. Heck! I ended up really liking Joe from Legal in the last episode and was bummed he wasn’t used more throughout the show!

Evan: Uh, everyone who isn’t Scooter, Piggy, Pepe, Deadly, the Chef, Bunsen, or Beaker? (What a weird show where this is the core gang.) Kermit, Fozzie, Gonzo. Muppet things tend to be better when those four are present for more than maybe ten total minutes.

Matthew: I have to concur with Evan and Julia. Because of how the sketches were set up, it felt like a limited roster of characters. Gonzo, Fozzie Bear and the Electric Mayhem have little screen time, and that’s a shame. Even Kermit gets the short end of the exposure stick. I think we need more Muppets in Muppets Now.

Joe: I feel like Lew Zealand is the benchmark for the proper amount of silliness for any Muppet production.  If he’s sitting at a desk in a plaid shirt deep in the background (ala The Muppets sitcom), then there’s not nearly enough wackiness.  If he’s throwing fish at oblivious movie patrons (ala Muppets Take Manhattan), then we’ve got some good silliness happening.  Muppets Now needed some Lew.  And the return (ha) of his boomerang fish.

Ryan: I get that not every Muppet can have a spotlight in every Muppet thing, but it would have been nice to see a little more Gonzo.

Staci: Rowlf.

Louie: The fact that it’s 2020 and we still don’t have a grown-up Muppet version of Skeeter is such a shame. Let’s make the fans happy already, Muppet Studios!

If Muppets Now gets a second season, pitch an idea for a new recurring segment!

Evan: It’s called Veterinarian’s Hospital, and it’s the continuing story of a quack who’s gone to the dogs. Either that or Fozzie Bear telling his jokes to random real people around the city, like a sadder version of Billy on the Street.

Julia: I feel like there must be a segment Sam the Eagle can host. Something that always ends with him disappointed in his guest. That seems like a pretty easy get.

Ryan: Unboxing videos are still popular, right? To continue the YouTube-inspired motif, how about an unboxing series hosted by the Newsman, and every box he opens (a spring-loaded boxing glove! a beekeeper starter kit! a high-voltage battery!) somehow leads to him getting comically injured. But every segment should be no more than about 30 seconds long.

Matthew: Here’s an idea: Øk?ÿ Døk?ÿ Køøkïñ, but no Beverly, no guest chef, and no challenge. Just let the Swedish Chef do his thing. Something tells me it will work. But on a more serious take, I’d just love to see the Muppets outside of the studio lot and in the real world. I think letting the Electric Mayhem loose around Southern California could be a lot of fun.

Louie: I kinda want to see Swedish Chef do video game playthroughs? Is that totally crazy?

Joe: Gonzo the Great discusses theories for what happens after you die.  Come on, you can’t tell me you wouldn’t watch that.

Okay, one more thing: Final thoughts on Muppets Now?

Louie: Disney clearly wanted to pivot these individual sketches to more of a modern variety show format, so let’s do it. Let’s get a modern Muppet variety show. Some of these season one recurring segments can remain, but let’s get more Muppets involved doing lots of different things to give it more… oh I don’t know… variety? How about sports segments, dance segments, ahem: MUSIC, movie reviews. Sort of the front page of YouTube, but with Muppets.

Evan: I’ve said it in my review, but it’s sad. This is an all-star puppetry team, great writers, talented celebrities, and the power of the biggest studio around and yet it often felt like a chore to watch. The second half of the season was definitely better than the first half, but still, if this comes back, it’s going to need some major retooling.

Julia: I am hopeful that the show is gonna come back, taking the things we like and doing away with what doesn’t work. (Fingers crossed that means a whole lot less Swedish Chef.) Also, could we get Nicole Byer on as a cameo? Or Jason Mantzoukas? Or Lauren Lapkus? Funny people who know how to improvise!

Ryan: There are a lot of great performances, good ideas, and big laughs in the season. Unfortunately, there’s often too much time between those big laughs. But I look forward to the next Muppet project, whether it’s another season of this or something else — and hopefully with more time to work on it and a bigger budget!

Staci: I’m glad they’re making new things. I don’t want to stop making new things. ABC’s The Muppets got better as the season went on, which shows that it can take some time for a show to find itself. I have some critiques, but I think this show has a lot of potential. I’d love to see what they can do with another season knowing in advance that this is the format.

Joe: Muppets Now was a great start.  We needed to see Muppets on a weekly basis again.  We needed those short-burst Muppet sketches.  We needed to see Kermit and Piggy and Beaker and Pepe doing silly things to remind us who they are and what makes them great.  Even if the series didn’t give us everything we ever wanted, Muppets Now is a good stepping stone to whatever comes next.  And if that next thing is a resurgence of The Muppet Show, then it was all more than worth the journey.

Matthew: Rogen.

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