Muppets Now could have done with the script it boasts about not having, since the final result is uneven and fails to recapture that old magic.
Jim Henson’s muppets rose to prominence in a 70s variety show and became a deserved furry phenomenon. Kermit the frog and Miss Piggy are household names all over the world thanks to decades of syndication, movie adaptations, and timeless sketch-show imagination – so what does the Disney+ revival Muppets Now mean for the puppets… well, now?
As it turns out, it mostly means that they’re not as good as they used to be. It’s a totally stripped-down approach here, with all the extraneous additional concepts boiled away; it’s just a comedy sketch-show littered without famous faces that runs across six breezy episodes, but it makes some damning decisions in attempting to be meta, tech-savvy, and too contemporary. Skewing towards children and aiming to poke affectionate fun at reality television and YouTube culture – two words that, as we know, don’t belong together – Muppets Now betrays its conceptual origin as a series of online shorts that have been stapled together mad surgeon style for a streaming release.
The classic Muppets material – like all the best family entertainment – was framed for the kids but had a wry appreciation for the adults who had to watch as well. That knowing nudging and winking for the benefit of the parents is notably missing from a reimagining of enduring characters with a focus on the “now” more than anything. Hence we get fashion vlogger Miss Piggy, something the world has no use for and would be better off without.
It’s a shame, really, but at least Muppets Now uses its down-with-the-kids attitude as a Trojan horse to sneak in and hopefully normalize more open-minded representation; Howard Tubman is clearly gay, and easily the funniest part of the first episode is him gate-crashing Kermit’s interview with RuPaul and fawning all over him. There are other highlights as well, but just as many duds – certainly enough that you have to wonder why the magic is missing.
On the one hand, it might be the lack of Jim Henson and Frank Oz. On the other, it might be the lack of a script. Muppets Now bafflingly wants to do without one, and while that can very occasionally result in a bit of improvisational magic, roughly 90% of the material would have been improved by being written in advance, given multiple editing passes – ideally by professional comedians – and structured like something resembling a television show. A script would have also gotten more out of the smattering of celebrity cameos.
Your mileage with Muppets Now, then, will be determined by many things, chief among them nostalgia. Some of the contemporary styling – and an unfamiliar new voice actor – chafes up against that lovely sense of what once was, but there’s just enough of it here that the lovable core of the muppets is still close enough to see, if not to touch. But it’s wildly uneven, frustratingly hip, and could have very much done with the script it boasts about not having.
Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.