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Muppets Now Episode 3 - Getting Testy

What did you think of the "Muppets Now" episode "Fever Pitch"?

  • Absolutely positively! This episode was great!

  • Bork bork! This episode was good.

  • Mee mee. This episode was so-so.

  • You're all weirdos! This episode was disappointing.


Results are only viewable after voting.

Grumpo

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Well, after watching and re-watching everything again, i don't feel there is much difference in the quality of all 3 episodes so far -- each one gets solid 6/10 for being good at what it is.

I FOUND this quote about Star Wars fans on quora which i think fits us here too:
Dorothy Bourgeois said:
They don't complain about new movies, they complain about them not being their personal version of what should be.
That cooled off my inner Statler quite a bit. =) I think there is the same kind of "Star Wars effect" in action, where the marks for Muppets are set so high that anything new they do will inevitably fall short of expectations, being compared to the legend they grew to be in people's minds.

There is also that generational thing. There is a whole generation of fans introduced to the Muppets via more modern 2011-2015 productions, who might find TMS, TMM and such a bit old-fashioned and full of obsolete references to properly get into. I'm looking at it from the other side -- I rather miss the original TMS, but we have to face it, the times and styles do change, and Muppets do have to adapt to stay current.

Besides, views and opinions differ wildly. Whatever it is, half of the viewers are bound to be complaining -- about exactly the same thing that makes happy the other half. There are different opinions on more/less music numbers, more/less soap opera storylines, more/less modern styling -- such is the way of the world. "More backstage gags" is the only thing that everybody agrees upon, i think.


IT IS WHAT IT IS. Folks, what we got here is neither TMS nor m2015, it is a new kind of YouTube-like upload show, and i guess it should be judged by how well it succeeds at that (e.g. Stranger Things is pretty good as Stranger Things, but would seem rather weird as a Harry Potter sequel) -- and when compared to the closest thing, Muppets YouTube channel, it's holding up quite well, to say the least.

Plus, come to think of it, Muppets Now feels like (not sure whether by design or de facto) it was done on pretty tight budget with core resources only. Maybe that's why there is no musical numbers, though the section title music sounds really good. Who knows, maybe the whole series is a pilot, a chance for Muppets to prove their ability to hold public interest in order to get more funding. Good thing the general reception is much kinder than back in 2015.


THE GOOD PART is seeing Muppets being Muppets in their muppety ways. Apart from Kermit coming out as photobomber in ep.1 (does he also do prank calls at 3am? these days i wouldn't be surprised), and an occasional wince when Chef gets more screen time than they know what to do with (fixed in ep.3 at the cost of his skit becoming 'Denise The Turkey Culinary Show'), the characters are mostly true to their modern days selves, especially the 'original' ones (Pepe, Joe and Uncle Deadly) whose presence outshines the rest.

Kudos and great respect to all the guests -- they know how to act around Muppets and do their best indeed! I was pleasantly surprised by comedic timing and acting ability of Mr. Trejo in ep.2, who, along with Mr. Mole, enhanced their skit quite a bit, but pretty much everyone is being a good sport worthy of the original shows.

The overall feel of the show -- lighthearted PG entertainment, pleasant and unassuming, manages to be different from previous series and fun to watch at the same time -- fits Muppets well. (Don't get me wrong on m2015 -- I'd love to see a muppet sitcom, but it should be sitcom rethought by Muppets, not muppets bent out of shape to fit sitcom stereotypes in an "everything you knew about muppets was wrong" style.)


HOWEVER, compared to earlier periods, I feel that the Muppets are becoming more... diluted, somehow. I can't quite put my finger on it, but compared to MT (Bowl/O2 comparison is probably unfair, because of all those "the best of" bits and songs, and TMS/original productions are in the league of their own), the performance seems somewhat muted, less sharp, like a joke with a muffled punchline.

What is different? Interestingly enough, there are great old-style Muppet gags, e.g. whenever Gonzo is present, take Camilla bit in ep.2 and the fuse in ep.3 for example (conceived by Dave or Jim, i wonder?). Both would work perfectly in any previous muppet show, both got a laugh out of me -- though for some reason it was afterwards, as i was remembering the bits -- somehow it did not quite strike the spark during the episode itself. Maybe it's in the editing, so that switching the camera angle and editing half a second here and there would help? Or maybe muppet humor itself is changing and somehow it did not match the modern style of the rest of the episode?

ONE THING which could be improved in my opinion is the general drive, the groove, the flow of the episode. You know, that park ride feeling where things gradually pick up involving us more and more, until we are delivered to the final fanfare. We don't even need a strong story lines for that -- Matt was right saying that Muppets are primarily a vaudeville comedy troupe dealing with sketches and gags -- but we need a feeling of something rolling thunderingly on, while Muppets weave their vignettes into the process. In older TV series that engine moving the episodes forward was usually 'the show' everyone was working on (so yeah, all those music numbers did help after all), while muppet movies had other more traditional plots. Maybe things would be better if we could buy more into Scooter uploading woes (and were given more time to process all those pop-up messages he gets). Or maybe if the bits started slow and got faster and funnier, that would do the trick.


WHAT WORRIES ME is the gradual metamorphosis of core Muppet characters from their original sympathetic nature, almost as if they are becoming diluted as well. And it's not a problem of Muppets Now, it's something that has been there for a while. Take Miss Piggy -- i'd be happy to see her struggling self during TMS period, but these days her diva persona just does not have that much "Yaaaayy!" factor. In spite of brilliant acting by Eric, her best moments are mainly providing cues for Uncle Deadly to deliver his killer comments upon. Maybe it is an inevitable and necessary phase of her character development, but to me her bits seem more of "ok next" kind lately -- it's as if she's there, she's good, but somehow it doesn't matter as much anymore.

Matt's Kermit is definitely getting better -- whenever script has him acting kermity, there is no more feeling that I am looking at a generic talking frog. Kudos to Matt's artistry and to however wrote the segments (Jim?). However, his appearances also seem kind of diluted in the same way, especially when you imagine how much more on a roll Constantine would be, same segments. (Who can define kermit-ness though... one can only have some sort of a rough idea. Come to think of it, i guess real Kermit-ness might be looking at things through Jim's eyes, if that makes any sense.)

It looks more and more like Frank was right in his thoughts here, no matter how much i want him to be proven wrong (hey, he predicted the Legal Weasel in this interview as well =)):
And I’ve become a director, and I love it — but I love my characters. And by the way, these are good friends of mine who do the characters, and they work really hard. But they can never be as good as me. Just like I could never be as good as them. If they did a character called Joe, and I took over, there’s no way I could do Joe as good as them. Because Joe was in their hearts and their soul.

So they’re in a difficult situation. They’re doing their very best, and they really are trying to be true to the characters. And they actually are. But because they’re not inside me, they don’t know the soul as much. So it’s not fair to them to expect any more than that, because they’re already just trying to do the best job they can. And they’re doing a great job. This is Eric and everybody, these are all my friends.

So this is a long-winded answer, but nevertheless, can the characters evolve, continue without the people who do them? Yes, they can. Will they be as good? No. Will they be as touching and soulful? No. But they will be as quotation marks “good”? Yes, in my opinion.
Could this be remedied by better writing? Maybe, if the writers are willing to take advice from somebody with tons of Muppet hands-on experience, not just being a lifelong fan. Or maybe it can be helped by pushing the current 'original' characters more center stage, something Muppets Now seems to be carefully doing already? (Good thing Jim is there. Btw, where's Kirk? Do we know anything about the rest of the story team?)


REVIEW WISE, I totally agree with this one by David Bianculli, for whom TMS was "one of the first shows I ever reviewed and raved about as a TV critic."
BIANCULLI said:
My own criticism is short and sweet. My advice if the staff of "Muppets Now" convenes for a second season is simple. Cut the sketches by half, sharpen the writing, keep the weasel and, by all means, bring back the music.

TL;DR: GOOD. CONTINUE.
 

MuppetSpot

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Kirk Thatcher was the director and writer I believe but he’s under a surname
 

Oscarfan

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He just was a director (for the Piggy, Pepe, and Muppet Labs bits). He had to use a fake name because these were non-union shoots apparently.
 

Muppet Master

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To be honest, Vogel's Kermit still doesn't really sit with me. There have been a few times (like his Sesame Street appearance) where I thought it worked but his vocal performance is very odd and inconsistent. I can understand why they decided to make Scooter the main character in this one and let Kermit take on a subdued "Muppets Tonight-esque" side role. Pretty amusing considering Scooter was absent for almost the entire 90's decade and is now more prominent than he ever was even in the Richard Hunt days.
 

Grumpo

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To be honest, Vogel's Kermit ... vocal performance is very odd
IMHO, it's not mostly vocal, as long as the "feel" of the character is right -- did you notice that nobody complains about Beaker's meeps being half a tone lower? And that people don't even think of comparing the vocal frequencies of Rowlf, Floyd and Uncle Deadly?

Doing Kermit properly is probably the toughest thing any muppet performer had to do, ever. Kermit is by far the hardest Muppet character to emulate, because he is not as much defined by specific character traits as most other characters, but rather is a long-evolved reflection of Jim himself, a central staple character trying to keep in balance the whirlwind of quirkiness around him. That's why for every "Kermit has to act like this" example there is usually a "no he doesn't" example as well.

I don't think inheriting original character of that complexity can be fully taught -- you should either have it already as a part of your own nature, and/or it is something you can pick from working with the previous performer for years, like knowing instinctively exactly what the other person would say if you slap them on a shoulder, and applying this knowledge to performing their characters.

If i had my way at choosing the Kermit performer, i know who i would resurrect as the first option. I know who i would reinstate as the second choice. If both are unavailable, i would have a hard time deciding between Matt and Peter, and would probably do the same as they did -- give Kermit to Matt, and other characters to Peter, to keep them all going on in the best way under the circumstances.
 

MWoO

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I think you don't see a lot of fans complaining about other "wrong sounding Muppets" because of how their performer changes were handled. Frank Oz's characters were voluntarily handed over by him and he has worked with them. Jerry basically did the same thing. He helped shape his replacement and Matt basically had his full blessing. Rowlf was gone for so long that his return was welcome. Same with Scooter.

Kermit, however, was immediately replaced after Jim's untimely death. It took a while for people to accept Steve as Kermit. Now we have a whole generation that only knows Steve as Kermit. Then Steve was involuntarily removed as Kermit's performer. He didn't just get fired either, he went kicking and screaming and literally begging for the part back. It was an awful transition, the first one we have seen with The Muppets. I think it soured a lot of fans, knowingly or unknowingly, on Matt's Kermit from the start.

Personally, I like this Kermit. He is calm without being wimpy. He doesn't always look afraid and Matt doesn't do a lot of exaggerated mugging for the camera. Again, I really would have liked to see Matt's Kermit on The Muppets 2015 show.
 

Grumpo

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Well, come to think of it, i agree -- there probably would be as much scrutiny for Miss Piggy if Frank was "kicking and screaming" to have her back. Just the same, i know where my sympathies would be in that case -- with full respect to Eric talent and his immense efforts and contribution to keep her alive. Also, with full respect for other opinions.

I like Matt a lot and have a great admiration for his efforts to keep Muppets alive and well. He is perfect replacement for Jerry and Caroll, and just as wonderful on his own. He is doing his best for Kermit, and that's saying a LOT! Speaking of which, ep.3 has him with more expression fluidity and the echo of 2015 attitude towards Miss Piggy (check) -- something that i would prefer to do without, myself -- but it sure does help for character continuity. Let's see where he takes Kermit from there.

My point being simply that you can't just judge muppets by the tone -- the gestures and facial expressions and pauses they make -- and writing! mean just as much, and even more, than vocal frequencies.

Anyway, back to the topic. MUPPETS NOW -- Way better than nothing, eh? =)
 
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rexcrk

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Well, after watching and re-watching everything again, i don't feel there is much difference in the quality of all 3 episodes so far -- each one gets solid 6/10 for being good at what it is.

I FOUND this quote about Star Wars fans on quora which i think fits us here too:

That cooled off my inner Statler quite a bit. =) I think there is the same kind of "Star Wars effect" in action, where the marks for Muppets are set so high that anything new they do will inevitably fall short of expectations, being compared to the legend they grew to be in people's minds.

There is also that generational thing. There is a whole generation of fans introduced to the Muppets via more modern 2011-2015 productions, who might find TMS, TMM and such a bit old-fashioned and full of obsolete references to properly get into. I'm looking at it from the other side -- I rather miss the original TMS, but we have to face it, the times and styles do change, and Muppets do have to adapt to stay current.

Besides, views and opinions differ wildly. Whatever it is, half of the viewers are bound to be complaining -- about exactly the same thing that makes happy the other half. There are different opinions on more/less music numbers, more/less soap opera storylines, more/less modern styling -- such is the way of the world. "More backstage gags" is the only thing that everybody agrees upon, i think.


IT IS WHAT IT IS. Folks, what we got here is neither TMS nor m2015, it is a new kind of YouTube-like upload show, and i guess it should be judged by how well it succeeds at that (e.g. Stranger Things is pretty good as Stranger Things, but would seem rather weird as a Harry Potter sequel) -- and when compared to the closest thing, Muppets YouTube channel, it's holding up quite well, to say the least.

Plus, come to think of it, Muppets Now feels like (not sure whether by design or de facto) it was done on pretty tight budget with core resources only. Maybe that's why there is no musical numbers, though the section title music sounds really good. Who knows, maybe the whole series is a pilot, a chance for Muppets to prove their ability to hold public interest in order to get more funding. Good thing the general reception is much kinder than back in 2015.


THE GOOD PART is seeing Muppets being Muppets in their muppety ways. Apart from Kermit coming out as photobomber in ep.1 (does he also do prank calls at 3am? these days i wouldn't be surprised), and an occasional wince when Chef gets more screen time than they know what to do with (fixed in ep.3 at the cost of his skit becoming 'Denise The Turkey Culinary Show'), the characters are mostly true to their modern days selves, especially the 'original' ones (Pepe, Joe and Uncle Deadly) whose presence outshines the rest.

Kudos and great respect to all the guests -- they know how to act around Muppets and do their best indeed! I was pleasantly surprised by comedic timing and acting ability of Mr. Trejo in ep.2, who, along with Mr. Mole, enhanced their skit quite a bit, but pretty much everyone is being a good sport worthy of the original shows.

The overall feel of the show -- lighthearted PG entertainment, pleasant and unassuming, manages to be different from previous series and fun to watch at the same time -- fits Muppets well. (Don't get me wrong on m2015 -- I'd love to see a muppet sitcom, but it should be sitcom rethought by Muppets, not muppets bent out of shape to fit sitcom stereotypes in an "everything you knew about muppets was wrong" style.)


HOWEVER, compared to earlier periods, I feel that the Muppets are becoming more... diluted, somehow. I can't quite put my finger on it, but compared to MT (Bowl/O2 comparison is probably unfair, because of all those "the best of" bits and songs, and TMS/original productions are in the league of their own), the performance seems somewhat muted, less sharp, like a joke with a muffled punchline.

What is different? Interestingly enough, there are great old-style Muppet gags, e.g. whenever Gonzo is present, take Camilla bit in ep.2 and the fuse in ep.3 for example (conceived by Dave or Jim, i wonder?). Both would work perfectly in any previous muppet show, both got a laugh out of me -- though for some reason it was afterwards, as i was remembering the bits -- somehow it did not quite strike the spark during the episode itself. Maybe it's in the editing, so that switching the camera angle and editing half a second here and there would help? Or maybe muppet humor itself is changing and somehow it did not match the modern style of the rest of the episode?

ONE THING which could be improved in my opinion is the general drive, the groove, the flow of the episode. You know, that park ride feeling where things gradually pick up involving us more and more, until we are delivered to the final fanfare. We don't even need a strong story lines for that -- Matt was right saying that Muppets are primarily a vaudeville comedy troupe dealing with sketches and gags -- but we need a feeling of something rolling thunderingly on, while Muppets weave their vignettes into the process. In older TV series that engine moving the episodes forward was usually 'the show' everyone was working on (so yeah, all those music numbers did help after all), while muppet movies had other more traditional plots. Maybe things would be better if we could buy more into Scooter uploading woes (and were given more time to process all those pop-up messages he gets). Or maybe if the bits started slow and got faster and funnier, that would do the trick.


WHAT WORRIES ME is the gradual metamorphosis of core Muppet characters from their original sympathetic nature, almost as if they are becoming diluted as well. And it's not a problem of Muppets Now, it's something that has been there for a while. Take Miss Piggy -- i'd be happy to see her struggling self during TMS period, but these days her diva persona just does not have that much "Yaaaayy!" factor. In spite of brilliant acting by Eric, her best moments are mainly providing cues for Uncle Deadly to deliver his killer comments upon. Maybe it is an inevitable and necessary phase of her character development, but to me her bits seem more of "ok next" kind lately -- it's as if she's there, she's good, but somehow it doesn't matter as much anymore.

Matt's Kermit is definitely getting better -- whenever script has him acting kermity, there is no more feeling that I am looking at a generic talking frog. Kudos to Matt's artistry and to however wrote the segments (Jim?). However, his appearances also seem kind of diluted in the same way, especially when you imagine how much more on a roll Constantine would be, same segments. (Who can define kermit-ness though... one can only have some sort of a rough idea. Come to think of it, i guess real Kermit-ness might be looking at things through Jim's eyes, if that makes any sense.)

It looks more and more like Frank was right in his thoughts here, no matter how much i want him to be proven wrong (hey, he predicted the Legal Weasel in this interview as well =)):
And I’ve become a director, and I love it — but I love my characters. And by the way, these are good friends of mine who do the characters, and they work really hard. But they can never be as good as me. Just like I could never be as good as them. If they did a character called Joe, and I took over, there’s no way I could do Joe as good as them. Because Joe was in their hearts and their soul.

So they’re in a difficult situation. They’re doing their very best, and they really are trying to be true to the characters. And they actually are. But because they’re not inside me, they don’t know the soul as much. So it’s not fair to them to expect any more than that, because they’re already just trying to do the best job they can. And they’re doing a great job. This is Eric and everybody, these are all my friends.

So this is a long-winded answer, but nevertheless, can the characters evolve, continue without the people who do them? Yes, they can. Will they be as good? No. Will they be as touching and soulful? No. But they will be as quotation marks “good”? Yes, in my opinion.
Could this be remedied by better writing? Maybe, if the writers are willing to take advice from somebody with tons of Muppet hands-on experience, not just being a lifelong fan. Or maybe it can be helped by pushing the current 'original' characters more center stage, something Muppets Now seems to be carefully doing already? (Good thing Jim is there. Btw, where's Kirk? Do we know anything about the rest of the story team?)


REVIEW WISE, I totally agree with this one by David Bianculli, for whom TMS was "one of the first shows I ever reviewed and raved about as a TV critic."



TL;DR: GOOD. CONTINUE.
You brought up a lot of good points in this post, but I really wanted to focus on that quote about Star Wars that you posted. I’m a lifelong fan of Star Wars and I really hate seeing all the extreme hate that the newer movies get. They’re not even bad, but that quote absolutely nailed it. Whether they admit it or not, I’m sure that 99% of the people who act like these movies are so bad, are people who wanted those old stories from the ‘90s retold in the movies (which obviously was never going to happen). So many complaints just come off as “angry nerd fanboy whining” to me. And let’s not leave out the fact that the once-reviled prequels are now seen in a better light, which says a LOT.

I definitely used to be more of an “angsty angry nerd” but I grew out of that in my teens lol, life’s too short. This new Muppet show may not be exactly what *I* want, but it isn’t offensively bad either. I’ll always be bitter about the 2015 show getting such bad publicity from pathetic women who don’t understand the Muppets, but I’m not going to let that completely sour me on further Muppet projects (though I really would love it if they tried a more story-focused sitcom approach again!).
 

Muppet Master

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IMHO, it's not mostly vocal, as long as the "feel" of the character is right -- did you notice that nobody complains about Beaker's meeps being half a tone lower? And that people don't even think of comparing the vocal frequencies of Rowlf, Floyd and Uncle Deadly?

Doing Kermit properly is probably the toughest thing any muppet performer had to do, ever. Kermit is by far the hardest Muppet character to emulate, because he is not as much defined by specific character traits as most other characters, but rather is a long-evolved reflection of Jim himself, a central staple character trying to keep in balance the whirlwind of quirkiness around him. That's why for every "Kermit has to act like this" example there is usually a "no he doesn't" example as well.

I don't think inheriting original character of that complexity can be fully taught -- you should either have it already as a part of your own nature, and/or it is something you can pick from working with the previous performer for years, like knowing instinctively exactly what the other person would say if you slap them on a shoulder, and applying this knowledge to performing their characters.

If i had my way at choosing the Kermit performer, i know who i would resurrect as the first option. I know who i would reinstate as the second choice. If both are unavailable, i would have a hard time deciding between Matt and Peter, and would probably do the same as they did -- give Kermit to Matt, and other characters to Peter, to keep them all going on in the best way under the circumstances.
Well Rowlf and Floyd are pretty much non-existent in this series and no one complains about their voices because they are close to the ones made by Henson and Nelson and because they barely ever get any screen-time to begin with. As far as Uncle Deadly goes, he was barely even a character from 1981-2010. I don't even see it as Vogel taking over the character, he pretty much crafted a new persona for him entirely.

The problem I have with Vogel's Kermit is that it's incredibly off. Not by a half a tone. If I closed my eyes and listened, I'm not sure I'd even be able to recognize the voice as Kermit's at times. And I mean no disrespect to Matt Vogel, he had the difficult job of taking over a wildly popular character and is doing his best. I suppose I'm just still not over Steve being fired the way he was too.
 
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