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29 July 2020 22:49

Jack Branning EastEnders Scott Maslen

‘Muppets Now’: Scooter Reveals What It Takes to Manage Muppet-Level Chaos for Disney+

Jim and Jane Henson rolled out the first Muppets in 1955, and the ensuing 65 years have given the franchise time to expand into virtually every medium, from film and TV to music and theater, and on to internet memes, Vines, and an AR app. As the newest Muppet TV series, Muppets Now, heads to Disney Plus on July 31, Polygon's entertainment writers are spending the week looking back on the Muppet creations that have meant the most to us over the years. A big part of my love for the Muppets comes from the wonderful music Paul Williams wrote for Jim Henson's creations. Williams has a knack for coming up with music that really sounds heartfelt — just listen to his compositions for Phantom of the Paradise — which makes him a perfect fit for the sincere world of the Muppets. He's one of the only Muppet Show guests to have puppets in his likeness for a reason.

Since its debut in The Muppet Movie, the song "Rainbow Connection" has become inextricably linked with the Muppets, to the point that it's recurred in many other Muppet productions, including the 2011 movie. It's a perfect song, which Williams describes in the liner notes for the album Music, Mayhem and More! The song's performances at the beginning and end of The Muppet Movie, sung first just by Kermit, then by almost every Muppet up to that point, drive home the scope of the song — that it's meant for everyone — and turn it into an anthem of hopefulness. If I had to pick a Muppet to marry, it would have to be Kermit, because he's neurotic in a way I generally find appealing, plus he's good at playing the banjo. The egg shape of his body, especially paired with his slightly gawky, dry spaghetti-like legs, befits his well-meaning but also awkward personality, never more so than when he's riding a bike — his bike-riding in The Muppet Movie is particularly charming, and people loved it so much that The Great Muppet Caper put a whole crowd of Muppets on bikes.

Just when it looked like he might be getting out for a career in tech, he was dragged back for the most recent Muppet films, and now he's practically tethered to a haphazardly arranged computer desktop for Muppets Now, the gang's latest foray into television. But as Scooter told us in a recent interview, he took the job because no one else wanted it. Michael and Alex conducted the interview with the Muppets stars via video link on the BBC show, with both Kermit and Miss Piggy streaming live from different homes. The bizarre chat between the four on The One Show had plenty of memorable moments, including an update on their romantic status and their upcoming show Muppets Now on Disney+, but when Michael made a joke about dueting with Miss Piggy, the Muppet cut the interview short. Muppets fans will be all too familiar with Miss Piggy's love for theatrics, including the occasional sing-song every now and then.

And after discussing the pair's upcoming venture with Disney, Alex couldn't help but see if the Muppet star would be up for joining Michael in a special duet. The Muppets return with a Disney+ series that's closer to their variety/sketch roots than the disappointing 2015 ABC sitcom. Described as The Muppet Studio's first "unscripted" series, Muppets Now has a healthy number of laughs, reasonable all-ages appeal and a handful of memorable moments through the four half-hour episodes sent to critics. The premise of Muppets Now is pretty clean: The Muppets are doing a digital series of unscripted segments and Scooter, as something of an editor-producer, is entrusted with uploading said segments on a tight deadline, while facing regular distractions. Instead, with four sketches per episode, each of the episodes I've seen features "Lifesty With Miss Piggy," a self-improvement show she insists should be "Lifestyle," and a cooking competition in which the Swedish Chef goes head-to-head with a celebrity chef making the same dish.

Three episodes include a "Muppet Labs Field Test" segment with Dr. Bunsen Honeydew and Beaker destroying things in the process of exploring a single scientific concept, while there are multiple "Mup Close and Personal" interviews and several installments of a game show hosted by Pepe the Prawn. The mark of a good Muppet celebrity is a willingness to get down-and-dirty with the synthetic stars, while middling guests mostly tend to just smile and nod. I'd put Taye Diggs in the latter category, which is a problem since everybody's favorite Star Who Follows You on Twitter is in all four "Lifesty with Miss Piggy" segments (as is Linda Cardellini, a somewhat more engaged participant). First among equals in the cast, Miss Piggy and Kermit — their ABC-featured breakup remains a thing — get to double dip and appear in multiple sketches, but the number of Muppet favorites gathering dust in somebody's sock drawer is way too high. Other Muppet all-stars like Rizzo, Sweetums and Rowlf the Dog — so frequently wasted in recent incarnations that I wonder if Rowlf has a history of problematic Tweets nobody wants to let become public — make only token appearances or aren't seen at all.

The world can never have too much of The Muppets in it, and it's a welcome sight to see the gang back together for Muppets Now, their first unscripted original series for Disney+. Scooter's always rushing to make the deadlines that the Muppets never seem to be able to meet in the most timely of manners, but whether it's in the lifestyle tips from the diva herself Miss Piggy, the zany experiments with Dr. Bunsen Honeydew and Beaker, a game show hosted by Pepe the Prawn, cooking tips from the Swedish Chef, or the calming balance of Kermit the Frog, the chaos, silliness and fun that comes with widely varied personalities of all the Muppet characters, big and small, is definitely present. To promote this new series, Scooter took time out from his new role as a producer to chat 1-on-1 with Collider. During the interview, which you can either watch via video or read below, he talked about how excited the Muppets are about this new show, which showcases what they do best, the challenge of getting the Muppets to meet deadlines, what it's like to work with Pepe the Prawn, tricks for keeping Miss Piggy happy, having some other projects in development, and what it's like to have to deal with the Muppet legal department. It's our first unscripted series, too. Why was now the right time for The Muppets to get into the streaming business, and to do something unscripted? SCOOTER: That's why we called it Muppets Now because people can watch it when they want to watch it. And it's all about Muppets doing what we do best, you know? Was it a challenge to get The Muppets together and to keep them on track, to shoot this new series? What are the tips and tricks to working with someone like Miss Piggy? SCOOTER: Lots of nodding. SCOOTER: We have some things in development that I can't bring up right now, but personally, I'm liking this producer role, trying to wrangle all these guys. We've never had to deal with anybody like that before, so it's been interesting. Muppets Now is available to stream on Disney+ on July 31st.