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The best part of Disney Plus’ Muppets Now is the oddly relevant framing device

Somehow Kermit, Fozzie, and Piggy knew we’d be ready to Zoom

kermit and miss piggy talking to rupaul Image: Disney
Petrana Radulovic is an entertainment reporter specializing in animation, fandom culture, theme parks, Disney, and young adult fantasy franchises.

If Miss Piggy was a YouTube star, she’d be a beauty vlogger.

In her segment of Muppets Now, the new unscripted Muppet series now on Disney Plus, she’s a lifestyle and beauty guru, giving her beloved audience unsolicited advice about all things lifestyle. Also, Taye Diggs and Linda Cardellini are there. Sometimes they’re funny — but it’s mostly the Piggy show.

“Lifesty-le with Miss Piggy” is a pretty standard example of how the many individual segments of Muppets Now work: let the Muppet do what they do best, give it a modern twist, toss in some celebrity guests, then cross your fingers and hope for magic.

Each episode of Muppets Now contains a handful of sketches, though not always the same ones or in the same order. They’re generally a hit or miss, depending on the particular combination of human guest, Muppet banter, and activity. But where Muppets Now really excels is the uncannily relevant framing device that links all the segments together.

fozzie bear alone at a table Image: Disney

For a show filmed entirely last year, Muppets Now feels tailor made for the current moment of isolation. In a barrage of video calls, instant messages, and emails, each episode follows Scooter as he fields suggestions from the other Muppets, and scrambles to upload the episode on time. The remote framework should be more than a little familiar to anyone who now finds himself in a work-from-home situation.

Muppets Now is a vestige of the Before Times, and COVID-19 doesn’t exist for the Muppets, so any resemblance to real life chaos is just an uncanny coincidence. Despite being totally unintentional, the gimmick works super well. Fozzie keeps bugging Scooter about outlandish segments he wants to add, sending emails with deceiving subject lines and pestering him in DMs. It’s a way of communication we haven’t seen much from the gang, which makes it fresh and ripe for new twists on standard Muppet situations. In one episode, The Muppets need to run an episode by a focus group. Of course, Statler and Waldorf judge the segments.

The success of various segments has less to do with the individual Muppet or particular guest then it does with chemistry. A Swedish Chef sketch in the second episode has wonderful moments where the veteran Muppet and costar Danny Trejo try to out-compete each other with their cooking ability and moustache prowess. Another bit with chef Carlina Will, where she calmly makes curried chicken and laughs at the Chef’s antics, is more pleasant than laugh-out-loud funny. Meanwhile, Miss Piggy’s segments routinely feature Diggs and Cardellini, who will often just sit and nod, reacting to Muppet antics, whereas other times they’re able to banter with the on-screen Muppets.

If there’s a segment that’s a hit every time, it’s “Pepe’s Unbelievable Game Show,” which excels with contestants’ bewildered reactions, the high-energy Pepe, and the ridiculous game show scenarios. The King Prawn calls his contestants by the wrong name, asks them oddly intimate personal questions, and assigns points and activities at random. When they stammer and laugh awkwardly, he’s able to riff off of that even further.

uncle deadly talking to pepe the king prawn, who wears a suit Image: Disney

The interactions with guests are a hit or miss, but when the Muppets just do their own thing together — banter in person or through digital means — it’s enjoyable. The celebrity segments are usually only as good as their respective celebrities ability to riff quickly and not look like sitting ducks when Miss Piggy dramatically pulls a costume change. There are exceptions: A RuPaul guest appearance is hilarious because RuPaul is absolutely bombarded with questions from curious Muppets.

Actual funny guests can be actually funny, but just a nonchalant shrug emoji from Kermit popping on screen as Fozzie FaceTimes Scooter with a full pitch deck reaches comedic heights celebrity guests can’t achieve. The Muppets excel when they share electric banter with one another. Muppets Now manages to rewire Jim Henson’s original sense of humor for the digital age.

The first episode of Muppets Now is streaming on Disney Plus. New episodes drop on Fridays.

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