The Muppets, mercifully, are back.
Muppets Now, the first new Muppets-related content from Disney since the ill-fated faux documentary sitcom The Muppets crashed and burned after a single season on ABC, is set to debut on Disney+ on July 31. And to get everyone prepared, the company has released a new clip, described as a “Muppets Video Call,” between the Muppets and Joe the Legal Weasel, an uptight character introduced last year at the D23 Expo who purely exists to ruin the Muppets’ freewheeling fun. It is, as always, a hoot.
The clip is structured like a calamitous video call and speaks to the improvisational fun of Muppets Now, which is structured with each one of the Muppets having a different type of unscripted show, whether it’s a cooking show, talk show, game show, or whatever, with your favorite Muppet characters interacting with celebrity guests in quick, short-form bursts. After so many years of the Muppets being squeezed into different personas for different formats, Muppets Now should remind you why you love the Muppets in the first place, by just allowing them to be themselves and allowing the brilliant performers behind those characters to really have fun.
Disney’s history with the Muppets has been strained, to say the least. Initially the company intended to buy the characters and a number of key Jim Henson assets in the late 1980s/early 1990s, but with Jim’s untimely death, the negotiations were thrown into disarray and a tenuous agreement, little more than a licensing deal, was formed in the initial deal’s place. (Former Disney chairman and CEO Michael Eisner was incredibly passionate about the prospect of owning the Muppets.) Eventually the characters were sold to a German media company, EM.TV & Merchandising, but were sold back to the Henson family just a few years later after the company went through a major financial crisis. Finally, in 2004, as one of his last major decisions as the head of the company, Eisner and Disney purchased the Muppets. It was a much leaner deal than the one Jim had proposed, with many of the other key Henson characters and properties staying put at The Jim Henson Company but finally, the Muppets were now at Disney.
Since then it’s been something of a rocky path, with the company really getting invested in the characters, like for the splashy, Jason Segel-led movie The Muppets, and then immediately cooling to them. It doesn’t help that Disney canceled a number of potentially wonderful projects, like a movie based on an old Jerry Juhl screenplay that Jim personally worked on (directed by Frank Oz), a primetime Halloween special (something that, incredibly, they’d never done before) and an ambitious, mystery-tinged show for Disney+ co-written by Josh Gad and featuring songs by Frozen favorites Bobby and Kristen Lopez, that would have reenergized the brand and returned the characters to their former glory.
But hopefully Muppets Now is a set in the right direction. It certainly seems like a great way to just let the Muppets goof around on celebrities, which is a brand of wackiness that we all desperately need right now.