IR TV Review: MUPPETS NOW – EPISODE 2 (“Fever Pitch”) [Disney+]

The continuing evolution of “Muppets Now” in its second episode “Fever Pitch” seems to a find a little more texture in its wackiness and starts to loosen up. It doesn’t lean so heavily on Kermit but for a brief bit which gives a lot more room for the smaller characters to shine. The aspect that is evolving here, unlike the movies, is that it is not a “nudge-nudge-wink-wink” approach. It is simply them going about their day and not breaking the 4th wall per se. From the first skit which is a game show, one of the smaller characters really takes the scene for a ride which is why it works and yet there is always heart. Two or three segments from the 1st episode are repeated but with much better results. But you need the right human talent, either to play off of or just bounce off of. Danny Trejo, who is promoting his taco restaurant without saying it, is the perfect foil for the Swedish Chef but still keeps it kosher. Some really funny bits revolve through this segment both because of the irony but also the visual. Muppet Labs also makes an appearance but again the strength comes out of heart, awkwardness and, in a way, heartbreak which always seems to see characters feeling different things. If “Muppets Now ” can find this balance, this show can really work. There will be misfires but as long as it can keep this off-kilter feeling and start bringing in those left field characters (like the Italian rat who riffs with Linda Cardellini and references a cat in his frame rummaging in the background) then this might be a Muppet foray that can actually survive beyond the season.

A-

By Tim Wassberg

IR TV Review: MUPPETS NOW – EPISODE 1 (“Due Date”) [Disney+]

Trying to find a new structure inside the idea of The Muppets in an interesting quandary. These are old school puppets who find themselves in a new world and yet they need to be a product of it without seeming antiquated or behind the times. “Muppets Now” is a direct reference to that. It takes into account that some of the most successful elements of The Muppets recently have been their You Tube shorts playing to music video covers and such which plays into vignettes. It is a different beast from the original “Muppet Show” nearly 40 years ago where it was more about what was going off stage as it was on stage. This is inter-played here to be sure but it is not really the same thing. However, it does approach it in a parallel way. Scooter is still doing the tech elements but now with a computer instead of a stage. It incorporates the internet/social media angle and it has the guest stars in many ways in a similar way While it does incorporate some of their personality, pop culture is different now. It would be neat to see how music and comedy plays in but it is not quite there. There is no “Pigs In Space” moment. No Steve Martin plays the banjo. Kermit does on-on-ones that go awry. Miss Piggy has a fashion segment. The Swedish Chef has a cooking show that goes wrong. The show seems to have its ducks in a row but it is not overtly thinking outside the box but it is a tricky line. A lot of the stuff that could be done in the late 70s on a UK produced show perhaps can’t quite be done in close to a similar way on Disney+ in 2020. It will be interesting to see how “Muppets Now” evolves.

B-

By Tim Wassberg

IR TV Review: DISNEY GALLERY – THE MANDALORIAN – EPISODE 8 (“Connections”) [Disney+]

With the final entry in the “Disney Gallery: The Mandalorian” and its behind the scenes perception in Episode 8: “Connections”, it all comes back to fan service in a way but doing so that is relative to the people making it. Dave Filoni, in many ways, is The Archivist since it integrates to everything that George Lucas is about. He is of Lucas’ temperament and yet regards each facet and detail as sacred. Jon Favreau has the same fandom but because he came at it as an outsider with both a studio and indie sensibility, his approach definitely is an diametrically opposite one but it works since Filoni gives his respect to him (though Filoni has done numerous things that Favreau has not and vice versa). But it is Favreau that calls the shots here. He doesn’t throw it around too much but his presence is felt much like Kathleen Kennedy though it is a different energy.

His approach to obscure lore and separate parts of the “Star Wars” universe is admirable although there is one point in which he asks Lucas on screen “Do you remember this?” Lucas says “Not really” in regards to a weapon in the “Star Wars Holiday Special”. There is a bit of maybe being too close to the material. Lucas remembers every detail even though he might not admit it but that is his secret to keep. One might never know what Lucas thinks overall as it was both the best thing to let it go but also what might have been different? It is good to pass it along to others. Filoni and Favreau seem to have got what Star Wars is about. It is about simplicity but also those differing themes.

The difference is that the world have changed so much since the original “Star Wars” came on the scene. And yet, it is one of the few shows that the entire family including Mom (as seen in many blogs and posts) can see with her children, husbands, etc. on family night because it is not boring, not too crass, not too childish and yet learning in a way. “The Mandalorian” works that way but it will be interesting to see how “Obi Wan” and the Cassian Andor series work out. If it is about story and not necessarily racing to the end, it might be interesting. With “Obi Wan” with just 8 episodes it might be a one and done because of Ewan’s schedule whereas Andor has infinite possibilities as does Mandalorian.

Back to the final episode though, it comes back to those little details. Favreau brings up a prop that became a huge thing at conventions but nobody was really aware of it. And yet it works to connect the fandom. Mark Hamill voices an interesting robot and the irony of what Mos Eisley evolves to is a necessarily piece of progress. Of course the various aliens are brought up. What is a wonderful conclusion though is the Stormtroopers that are in the final aspect of the episodes because of the background of where they come from. It is best to watch the episode because giving it away here would ruin the fun.

It is also interesting to hear Taika Watiti actually talk a little about where it was shot and understand that a couple scenes are shot in a backlot area and not just inside The Volume. Again none of this info needed to be revealed but by bringing in the viewer in in this way, like Lucas did back in the day but with Favreau’s sensibility, it allows this generation to make this Star Wars more their own. It will be interesting to see how the 2nd Season progresses although the shooting was already completed before the pandemic. But as a whole new world dawns in Star Wars, it will be interesting to see the continuing evolution.

A

By Tim Wassberg

IR TV Review: DISNEY GALLERY – THE MANDALORIAN – EPISODE 7 (“Score”) [Disney+]

The essence of music in any show is important but with “Star Wars”, it is equally daunting. With Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni, it was about thinking outside the box. Composer Ludwig Goransson is an interesting choice but not an all together unexpected one. His approach is very experimental and that sometimes can be tricky for people working on a big franchise or moving placement because of money and expectation. This is an issue that probably came with Vangelis after composing ground changing work on “Blade Runner”. It is significantly hard to follow up something like that. What is interesting here is how recommendations of younger collaborators influenced Favreau in many ways. He had heard of Goransson in passing and heard of his work with Ryan Coogler, whom it is revealed was his roommate at USC and worked with him through his first film “Fruitvale Station” to “Creed” and onto “Black Panther”. “Panther” of course was important because of the use of different sounds in order to find the correct approach and tone.

The same can be said of “The Mandalorian”. While it is not spoken of, there is definitely in the intro of the theme a Middle Eastern influence. But as the episode goes on, just seeing the basis of certain sounds using old school analog aspects with computer elements is fascinating. Goransson doesn’t want to write in front of a computer he says so as a result his sounds are new but he uses technoloy to capture it. It is a way to work that is both new and old. In the roundtable, Favreau and Filoni seem to take over the conversation but in the interior of the studio, Gorannson is a teacher and shows the process. Favreau also heard about him from Donald Glover since Gorannson had scored “Community” and that is how the collaboration for Childish Gambino seemed to happened. Gorannson won Grammys for Record & Song Of The Year for it.

It almost seems that they are underplaying his greatness and possibility of what he has accomplished. Beyond the hip hop and popular music stylings, he has done what “Rogue One” and “Solo” for the most part coudn’t quite do and that is create a whole new sound while not losing what was before it. And yet also not reusing any themes and creating his own. It is a feat, even more so when one hears the story. Gorannson knows how to produce too. But the best piece of footage is on the set of Bryce Dallas Howard’s episode when he brings the first recording of the theme with the flutes to set on his phone. Favreau freaks out and Howard is hit by it too. That is one of the moments when it might have finally become real what they were doing. Music has that power.

A-

By Tim Wassberg