Here we are, mere days away from the debut of a brand-new Muppet series, and the excitement is palpable. Indeed, The Muppets Mayhem has given us much to probosculate upon, between the unique spotlight on The Electric Mayhem and the fact that we’re about to see ten whole episodes of new Muppet stuff on our screens. The question on everyone’s mind, of course, is: Will it be good?
Don’t worry, we won’t clickbait you and make you scroll through an entire article just for one morsel. (What are we, a recipe blog?) Yes, The Muppets Mayhem is a very good show. It’s fun, it’s funny, and despite some minor flaws, it’s a terrific addition to the Muppet canon.
Before we spill the beans on what this show’s all about, it’s worth looking back at how Disney has handled Muppet TV series since the acquisition almost 20 years ago. In a crazy twist, The Muppets Mayhem is only the third Muppet series Disney has produced, after The Muppets and Muppets Now. Both of those series have their defenders, but for the most part they’re looked down upon by the fans. If this were a trend, I’d be worried for The Muppets Mayhem, but I’m very pleased to report that the new show blows them both out of the water. But more importantly, Disney (as well as the producers and performers) certainly seem to be learning from their missteps.
The Muppets Mayhem is nothing like any other Muppet series, so it’s easier to say what it’s not. It’s not The Muppets sitcom, which raised the question, “What are the Muppets’ real lives like?” The show resulted in a far-too-grounded and definitely-too-jaded visage of the Muppet troupe. The Muppets Mayhem asks some similar questions about the Electric Mayhem, but it manages to avoid all that nonsense that makes real life dull. Instead, we’re treated to a glimpse behind the curtain of a silly fictional rock band that doesn’t always comply with the laws of physics. We still get that “real world” environment, as well as a balance between serialized and episodic storytelling – both things The Muppets did well. But unlike The Muppets, the Muppets are allowed to be Muppets, and not just real people who happen to be short and fuzzy.
It’s also not The Muppet Show, arguably The Electric Mayhem’s most recognizable project. As much as we’d love to see a new Muppet Show, this is not a variety show catch-all for skits and songs and goofball chaos. Despite it being a narrative sitcom, it still finds inspiration from the O.G. Muppet Show, with ridiculous moments, terrific celebrity cameos, and hyper-specific parodies that evoke the Muppets’ sensibilities.
The Muppets Mayhem follows Dr. Teeth, Floyd, Janice, Animal, Zoot, and Lips as they jam together to try and record their first album after 40+ years on the road. I genuinely love the simplicity of this plot, as it’s in line with what we know and expect from the Mayhem without throwing too many monkey wrenches into the works. There’s no rebooting of continuity, no rehashing of “we gotta get the band back together”, and no artificial antagonism that would feel out of place in any other Muppet production.
But the series isn’t just about the Mayhem. Nora (Lilly Singh) stars as the lead human and producer of their album. We spend a decent amount of time with her sister Hannah (Saara Chaudry) and ex-boyfriend/rival JJ (Anders Holm), but my favorite human cast member is Moog (Tahj Mowry), who acts as a surrogate for superfans like us. A self-proclaimed “Mayhead”, Moog follows the band around like a Deadhead on tour with Phish. He geeks out over the type of stuff we’d go nuts over, and he very quickly gets welcomed into the inner circle with the band. Truly, a dream come true for any of us. But Mowry plays the balance between “drooling fanatic” and “responsible human” really well, keeping us from questioning why this weirdo is allowed into the studio. Plus, he has a lifetime of sitcom experience under his belt, which allows him to deliver some hysterical line readings without being too hammy.
Of course, all of this begs the question: Did we come to a Muppet show just for the humans? Unfortunately, that’s likely going to lead to the biggest complaint, which is that the show decides to spend a lot of time with Nora, Hannah, and Moog. Inevitably, these are the dullest moments of the show, forcing us to try and care about love triangles and the record industry as much as we do Janice’s yoga or Zoot’s camera. It’s an impossible balance, because no one in their right mind would ever choose to watch a human over a Muppet, but I’m pleased to note that despite this uphill battle, the human actors do very well with the challenge.
On the flip side, it’s a necessary evil for a series about The Electric Mayhem to make sure there’s not too much focus on them. We’ve expressed some fear in the past about a Mayhem-centric story, as (with the more recent exception of Animal) none of the band members have been given the spotlight in this way before. Before seeing The Muppets Mayhem, I was convinced that the band should only be seen in short bursts and cameos. I’m now on the other side, thanks to the quality of this show, but it’s still true that the Mayhem has the potential to wear out their welcome in a way that we might not feel in regards to Kermit or Gonzo or Fozzie Bear. So the human element needs to be there for a bit of a balance, especially if the conceit is to keep the puppet cast to a minimum (which they do – you’ll be able to count the non-Mayhem Muppet characters seen throughout the season on one hand).
Another worry I’ve heard from our fellow Muppet fanatics (or, “Mayheads”, as I guess we’re called now) is that maybe we don’t want to know too much about them. Over their immense history, we’ve only had teases of who they are beyond the surface, and they thrive in the abstract. Previous elements like Janice’s non-started relationship with Sam the Eagle or Floyd’s conspiracy theories in The Muppets sitcom fell flat, and we certainly don’t want more of that. I’m pleased to say that the Mayhem still feel and act like the Mayhem without too much baggage to change their innate personalities. We do get backstories for a few of them (but not all – gotta leave something for season 2, I guess!), and they succeed in making them more interesting and three-dimensional without anyone being painted into a corner.
The question I’ve been asking myself since I previewed the series is, “Is it good?” And it’s very easy to respond to myself by confirming that yes, it is good. But we want Muppets Mayhem to be more than a good show – we want it to be a good Muppet show. That’s a much bigger ask, as it forces us to envision how it fits in along with The Muppet Show, Muppets Tonight, and The Jim Henson Hour. It certainly has all the right elements, including hilarious moments, a smart script, terrific performances, and classic Muppet-style humor and music. But since it rightfully exists as a singular project unlike any previous Muppet series, it might not instantly resonate with die-hard fans. But give it a few episodes, and I’m sure you’ll get on board.
I mean, come on. It’s the Electric Mayhem. It’s gonna be loud, it’s gonna be electric, and it’s gonna rock.
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by Joe Hennes – Joe@ToughPigs.com