By Ani Bundel
Since the decision to sell “The Muppets” brand to Disney in 2004, no one has known what to do with them. As anti-establishment agents of chaos, it’s never fit the parent company’s ultra-controlled ethos. There was a short span of success as YouTube shorts circa 2009, but The Muppets and Muppets Most Wanted never had the energy of the originals. As for the ill-conceived ABC show The Muppets, the less said, the better.
Since the debut of Disney+, the struggle has continued. Disney+ scrapped The Muppets Live Another Day before the streaming service launched. Muppets Now flopped. The arrival of the original The Muppet Show spawned controversy. Other than the Halloween special, little has worked. So fans looked askance when Disney announced yet another series in the works. The Muppets Mayhem, a series focused on the house band known as Doctor Teeth and the Electric Mayhem, will hopefully crack the code.
The cast for the new show was on hand at New York Comic-Con’s Main Stage on the event’s final day. Actors Lilly Singh, Tajh Mowry, Saara Chaundry, and Anders Holm joined Bill Barretta, the man who is the current muppeteer for Dr. Teeth, along with series writer Jeff Yorkes and executive producer Adam F. Goldberg to talk about the show.
The Muppets’ success on YouTube was mainly song-based, and one of the critical points of the original Muppet films was their musical numbers, so the choice to focus on the Electric Mayhem was the opportunity for songs (“Can You Picture That” was namechecked from the original The Muppet Movie). Singh said most lyrics she had to learn were from before she was born, confirming classic rock covers. The show revolves around the Mayhem’s recording of their first album, many of the songs written by the famous Linda Perry of Four Non-Blondes. Of course, it also means an angle Disney could get behind: marketing tie-ins. The Electric Mayhem has never released an album, even back in the 1970s and 80s, something the series will rectify.
The actors seemed oblivious to the idea viewers tuning in to see non-felt performers is patently absurd. But then again, so was Disney’s choice to send only non-felt performers to the panel. (And the inability of the small ones in the audience to focus was painful). Also, like ABC’s The Muppets, this show is set in the real world (there are no “forks in the road,” according to Goldberg). Though that’s not a great sign – Singh’s character will not have a bagel as an ex-boyfriend – it does mean the show brought in real rock stars for cameos, at least the ones who weren’t on tour. (As a show that taped just as the pandemic restrictions lifted, they had a huge problem getting talent, as everyone went out on the road at once.)
The panel said that learning to work with the muppeteers was a whole thing since the muppets are in your face, but the voices are down below, and there are monitors, so the puppeteers see what’s happening, making it very easy to lose focus. Also, the sheer level of logistics that went into each scene was remarkable. For example, it takes 40 people just to get six muppets to enter a room through the door since they don’t have legs and cannot simply walk through it. (As for how Dr. Teeth hangs out in a hot tub, the details included Barretta saying, “well, I could get into a wetsuit…”)
The Muppets Mayhem will stream on Disney+ in 2023.