The last time the Muppets were on the small screen it didn’t quite work as they tried to make a sort of behind the scenes series that was a cross between The Office and The Larry Sanders Show, and it sometimes felt a bit mean and lacked the warmth that you normally associate with these lovable puppet types. Now Disney+ have brought them back on to the small screen and this first episode has so far received a generally positive response, but I can’t quite work out why, it’s not bad exactly, just shockingly bland.
The show is made up of a number of segments featuring different characters, with Miss Piggy opening the episode with her lifestyle blog which is co-hosted by Uncle Deadly. It’s a very predictable affair though, Miss Piggy goes on and on about how great she is and the joke is done to death in the very short time she’s onscreen for. There are a couple of vaguely amusing moments including when she demands that Uncle Deadly tell her her biggest flaw, and a bit of violence with a masseuse worked well, but otherwise it’s by the numbers and a segment featuring some very, very gentle teasing of Linda Cardellini falls flat, and made me miss the days when celebrities turned up on the show and were sent up in a hilarious manner.
A feature called “Muppets Masters” came next which supposedly highlights the hidden talents of the muppets you think you know so well, where Kermit (who is voiced by someone far too nasally these days) is describes as “Ring leader, cheer leader, bottom feeder”, which Kermit clarifies is not an insult as he’s a frog, but either way it’s still not funny. In this bit it’s claimed that Kermit’s a great photographer but there’s been a misunderstanding as he clarifies he’s actually a “Photo Bomber” and we’re shown examples of Kermit sneaking in to photos which are mostly pretty amusing (if oddly out of character for Kermit), but then it ends with another weak piece of violence involving Piggy.
After that we’re in the kitchen with “Okey Dokey Kookin”, hosted by Beverly Plume and which is a sort of cooking competition where celebrity chef Carlina Will faces off against the Swedish Chef. He seems a bit depressed however, though I don’t think that’s meant to be the case, it’s just a quite low key appearance from the character, and when cooking he just throws in various items like popcorn, a pineapple and a live chicken, and soon his efforts are on fire. The whole time I was waiting to be amused, but no, there’s not one single funny moment here, which must have taken some doing as the Chef is normally a fantastically funny character.
The show comes to a close with “Mup Close & Personal”, Kermit’s chat show segment, with RuPaul the guest in this opening episode. RuPaul’s normally very funny and so I presumed the show would go out with a bang, but the questions Kermit asks him don’t really give him a lot of scope to be funny. Fortunately the segment’s saved when Gonzo interrupts with a couple of questions and one about spiders crawling in to your mouth is genuinely funny and caused me to laugh out loud for the first time, but then Howard interrupts and it stops being funny, he buggers off, and Piggy turns up and it’s still not amusing, and then they double down on the gag at the end and eh, it’s okay I suppose, but nothing more than that.
This latest series is a supposedly unscripted affair though quite what that is supposed to mean is open to question, structurally each and every scene has obviously been scripted for one thing, but most of the muppets dialogue and sketches which don’t feature celebrities must have been too, so I can only presume it only applies to the responses from the guest stars being improvised as the rest of it clearly isn’t. It might seem petty to comment on such a thing too, but it’s a supposedly major selling point for the show and seems a little disingenuous on Disney+’s side of things.
It’s a minor problem compared to how weak the rest of it is though, apart from Piggy and Gonzo the character’s often feel muted, and even worse the jokes are lazy. The Muppets are normally at their best when chaotic and (seemingly) out of control, but this is vaguely whimsical at best and at worst it’s just dull, and that’s something these characters never, ever should be. I was looking forward to this an enormous amount, there’s not exactly a huge amount of great comedy on right now and I’m a massive fan of the Muppets, but it really is a huge disappointment, and if anything makes the previous series look like a comedy classic in comparison.