Patrick Freyne: The Muppets are back. But why is Kermit, the straight white guy, still in charge?

TV review: No wonder Miss Piggy, a career women in a male world, is so full of rage

Muppets: some have no Earthly analogues; some resemble the four main Earth species: bear, human, frog and pig

Muppets: some have no Earthly analogues; some resemble the four main Earth species: bear, human, frog and pig

 

It’s been so long since there’s been an actual Muppet Show on television I’d forgotten it wasn’t just a descriptive term for our parliamentary democracy. When I was a child it was a variety show hosted by beings called Muppets. Nobody knows what Muppets are. Some have no Earthly analogues – Gonzo, Uncle Deadly, Taye Diggs – while some resemble the four main Earth species: bear, human, frog and pig.

The Muppets now perform their shenanigans not on a televised stage like carnies, Ted Talkers or school debaters but on the streaming service Disney+. The conceit with Muppets Now is that it’s an online magazine show uploaded by bespectacled dogsbody Scooter while the unelected “head Muppet”, Kermit the Frog, sends him unhelpful show notes. I’ve watched two episodes that I will now proceed to describe confusingly unchronologically.

Miss Piggy, whose name contains helpful demographic information (like my nephew, Mister Humanny), hosts a lifestyle segment called Lifesty in which she does hot yoga with her fellow muppet Taye Diggs and is violently slapped by a purple masseuse. Elsewhere there are cameos from Linda Cardellini and RuPaul, although, as is their wont, the modern celebrity is basically just a stage prop in human skin from which Muppets riff.

My favourite segment is Okey Dokey Kookin. I didn’t know the Swedish Chef being cradled in Danny Trejo’s muscular arms was what I needed in my life. But it is

My favourite segment is the educational cookery show – Okey Dokey Kookin – in which the Eurocentric social democrat Swedish Chef wastes perfectly good food competing with the Mexican-American actor Danny Trejo. They both make a mole taco, but only the Swede uses an acquiescent Muppet mole and ends up being comforted in Trejo’s muscular arms. I didn’t know the Swedish Chef being cradled by Danny Trejo was what I needed in my life. But it is.

However, I also can’t help noticing that the Swedish Chef now has human hands rather than felt ones. This makes me worry about the provenance of the Muppets – are they an evolutionary offshoot of man? Also, I’m not sure he’s really speaking Swedish.

In contrast, Beaker’s Donegal accent is very pleasant. His segment with his boss, Bunsen, focuses on what things melt and what things burn when subjected to a flamethrower, and it is both educational and inspirational. But I am distracted a little during Pepé the King Prawn’s Unbelievable Gameshow by an appearance of Gonzo and his three chicken pals because I’ve just realised something. Are... are the chickens meant to be Gonzo’s wives? Has this been the subtext all along? How did I miss that? At least they don’t have human hands. At least there’s that.

Why aren’t there more female Muppets? Surely Miss Piggy, one rat, a guitarist and Gonzo’s three chicken wives can’t be the hopeful future of their species. It’s like the troubling Smurfette conundrum all over again

Then, during a bit in which Kermit the Frog interviews RuPaul and various other Muppets try to interject (a camp pig I’ve not met before, the polygamist adventurer Gonzo, the needy, underemployed Fozzie Bear and the RuPaul peer Miss Piggy), I also feel uncomfortable. Why is the straight white guy in charge of this interview? (Yes, I know he’s a green frog, but he’s also definitely a straight white guy.) And isn’t he a little patronising to Miss Piggy? Isn’t her frequent rage not understandable coming from someone who was a career women in male-dominated Muppetry in the late 20th century? And why aren’t there more female Muppets? I know very little about the Muppet reproductive cycle, but surely Miss Piggy, one rat, a guitarist and Gonzo’s three chicken wives can’t be the hopeful future of their species. It’s like the troubling Smurfette conundrum all over again.

Anyway, I’m probably overthinking it, because otherwise it’s great to have the Muppets back, even if some of them do have human hands.

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