‘Muppets Now’ is missing the best thing about the Muppets–the songs. Here are some classic clips.
‘Muppets Now’, which debuted on Disney+ a couple of weeks ago, is the latest attempt to revive the Muppets on television that lacks the best thing about the original Muppet Show: the songs. Everyone loves it when the Muppets sing. Yet the disastrous ABC Muppets revival from a couple of years ago reinvented the show as an Office-style sitcom where Fozzie Bear had a relationship with a human woman. The show lacked warmth and wit and felt like a churn from the Hollywood hipster comedy factory.
Muppets Now brings back the sketch style of the original Muppet Show, but the sketches are too long and often not funny. Celebrity guests appear and don’t do much. RuPaul bantering with Kermit the Frog is fine, but not for six minutes. A taco-cooking competition between Danny Trejo and the Swedish Chef is a great conceit, but not when moderated by an unfunny turkey character, and, again, not for six minutes. Most of all, the show lacks music. If you’re going to get RuPaul anyway, why not have him sashay away with Miss Piggy? On the original Muppet Show, even the most tuneless guests would do a little soft-shoe with some rats. You’re telling me Linda Cardellini wouldn’t be game for a little chorus with her penguin friends?
This is the Muppets we’re talking about. Everyone wants to sing with the Muppets. Why isn’t Lizzo singing Truth Hurts with a bunch of jilted chickens? Taylor Swift is the ultimate woke Muppet. Maybe she might be too expensive of a get, but I bet you they could have persuaded John Mulaney to do a number. Regardless, it’s obviously not happening. Instead we had a long game-show sketch where a couple of humans threw dirty socks into a monster’s mouth and then the monster did a gross burp.
The ultimate failure of Muppets Now got me thinking about great musical moments in Muppets history. There are too many to count, but here are some of the infinite number available on YouTube.
The ultimate Muppet musical number and one of the great nonsense songs of all time, Mahna Mahna should be the template for Muppets Now. You can watch this four times in a row and always find yourself entertained.
Movin’ Right Along
The Rainbow Connection gets all the memories from The Muppet Movie, but this peppy number is actually my favorite. A frog and a bear, seeing America!
Muppets Now purports to be a show where a beleaguered Scooter is trying to upload videos to YouTube for the streaming generation to enjoy. The irony is that the Muppets were actually an early adopter of viral YouTube videos. For years, they mainlined some of the best content on the service, including this incredible version of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody that is way better than anything Rami Malek ever lip-synched.
Ode To Joy
It would be so easy, too, for Muppets Now to make great viral music content. This simple conceit, of the wordless Beaker singing Ode To Joy all by himself, is a YouTube classic, though maybe a little annoying to watch more than once. And let’s not forget the classic Muppet singing chickens, heard here bawk-bawking their way through Joy To The World.
Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)
This is the kind of glorious nonsense that once passed for entertainment in America, and could again, if the Muppets would only have the guts. Harry Belafonte, the most righteous celebrity of all time, sings a song about banana-republic wage slavery while backed by pig sailor puppets and a bumbling Fozzie Bear. The first person to have the guts to stage something like this again will make $70 million.
Man Or Muppet
The 2011 Jason Segel Muppet reboot movie was kind of weird and way too Jason Segelcentric, but it did feature a load of great songs by Bret McKenzie from Flight of the Conchords, including this knockout Oscar winner.
Pretty Much Any Song
This delightful hour-long compilation of Muppet Show songs shows how cheap it would be to get this done. Most of the songs here are public-domain. Yes, there are guest stars like Peter Sellers, Zero Mostel, and what appears to be Louise Fletcher, but most of them are total puppet jobs. Jim Henson clearly had an affinity for banjo music, and you’d probably have to do away with the toothless hillbilly motif, but what’s to prevent them from doing a number like Grandma’s Featherbed, like the one they did with the late John Denver? Or a stupid pirate song? Or a creepy nursery rhyme? Anything would work. The Internet is full of dopey little musical content. When will the Muppets give it to us again?
Someday we’ll find it.