by Ray Keating
August 13, 2020
Like many others during a pandemic and period of economic woes (toss in a looming presidential election), I need a break now and then. While I enjoy all kinds of storytelling, sharp wit and general silliness tends to fit the bill during troubled times. Therefore, I was excited to see that two of my favorite founts of fun – The Muppets and the television show Psych – were returning via the Disney+ and Peacock streaming services, respectively.
While the Psych 2: Lassie Come Home movie provided joy, I came away from the first two episodes of Muppets Now actually kind of sad.
Let’s go to the good news first. Psych, which ran for eight seasons on the USA network (from 2006 to 2014) and followed by Psych: The Movie in December 2017, is a comedy-detective show focused on Shawn Spencer (James Roday Rodriguez), a fake psychic with acute observational skills, and his close friend since childhood, Burton Guster (Dule Hill). Via their “Psych” business, the two work with the Santa Barbara Police Department to solve murders. The humorous, silly, pop-culture-filled (with stuff from the 80s to present day) banter and interplay between Shawn and Gus stand out as the treasure at the center of this show. The two never fail to make me smile and laugh out loud.
But there’s more, including a wonderful cast of supporting characters. They are Detective Juliet O’Hara (Maggie Lawson), Detective Carlton Lassiter (Timothy Omundson), Henry Spencer, Shawn’s dad and a retired cop (Corbin Bernsen), Police Chief Karen Vick (Kirsten Nelson), Woody, the funny and creepy coroner (Kurt Fuller), and Officer Buzz McNab (Sage Brocklebank).
Psych 2 manages to hit all the right notes, as Shawn, Gus and Company try to help Lassiter and along the way get involved in a case perhaps involving the supernatural. The movie overflows with quips, wordplay and refreshing humor. Plus, at its best, Psych made clear the love and friendships shared by the characters, and that comes through in various touching ways in Psych 2. This is 5-star fun for all.
Now for the bad news. Muppets Now misses nearly every note.
One of the great things about The Muppets – from their original television show to the various movies, as well as Muppet Vision 3D in Walt Disney World – has been that they accomplished what only a few other vehicles have over the years. That is, something on the surface meant for children manages to also provide humor that clearly flies over the heads of little tots but lands sweetly for adults. In this way, The Muppets stand side by side with such wonders as Looney Tunes, Animaniacs, Phineas and Ferb, and The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends.
Alas, though, Muppets Now comes up woefully short – for the young ones and for adults. To me, The Muppets worked thanks to an odd mix inspired by comedy classics, such the Marx Brothers and the Bob Hope and Bing Crosby “Road” movies, brought up to date. And the fact that all of this was being delivered by puppets that many of us have come to know and love as their own characters, simply adds to the zaniness and warmth of The Muppets.
Unfortunately, little of this can be found in Muppets Now. The humor is flat, and sometimes even painful. And the core of the characters has been lost. It’s all rather bewildering as to how this poor rendition of the beloved Muppets came to be. It seems like someone at Disney+ was snoozing during the pitch meeting.
If you want a reminder of just how good The Muppets were and could be, you can, of course, watch the old show and the movies. Interestingly, though, you also can catch an episode from another Disney+ streaming show – Prop Culture (read our review of this excellent show). In the eighth episode, host Dan Lanigan takes us on a hunt for props from The Muppet Movie. Along the way, we get glimpses of just how delightful The Muppets have been – with a few clips from the movie – and can be, as Dan has an amusing chat with Gonzo the Great.
Alas, though, none of that delight can be found in Muppets Now.
By the way, is a Psych 3 movie coming? Some interviews indicate that it just might. For example, Decider.com reported:
“I definitely think that there’s a better chance that we do a third movie than that we don’t,” Roday Rodriguez told Collider in a recent interview. “The reason I say that is because I think our fans are still very much with us.”
Added Hill, “In the midst of all the crazy stuff that goes on in the world, and with all of the drama and pandemics and issues that are out there, as long as we can keep delivering a moment of levity for families, I think there’ll be more stories to tell. When we stop delivering the laughter, that will be time for us to pack it on up.”
Count me in! I want to see more of Shawn, Gus and the rest of the Psych gang. As for more Muppets, my heart says “yes,” but my head tells me that after seeing Muppets Now, Kermit and Company need someone at the helm that actually understands or recalls what The Muppets are about in the end.
Ray Keating is the editor, publisher and economist for DisneyBizJournal.com, and author of the Pastor Stephen Grant novels. He can be contacted at email@example.com.
Also, get the paperback or Kindle edition of Ray Keating’s new book Behind Enemy Lines: Conservative Communiques from Left-Wing New York.