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A visit to the Muppet Labs in the late 1970s consisted of watching its nebbish proprietor, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, showcase misbegotten creations such as an exploding hat or a self-destructing necktie with a quick burst of pyrotechnics, a canned explosion sound, and a puff of smoke.
On the Disney+ comedy “Muppets Now,” Honeydew and his irritated sidekick, Beaker, use a handmade gadget called the Infern-O-Matic to transform everyday items — a carton of eggs, a wall clock, a guitar — to smoldering piles of ashes.
If this scene from “Muppets Now” feels frantic and combustible — and perhaps a little familiar — that’s by design: as Leigh Slaughter, vice president of the Muppets Studio, recently said, she and her colleagues are hoping for “that pure Muppet anarchy — that utter pandemonium.”
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“If they’re going to take on real-world science, we thought, we have to burn things,” she continued. We must abandon our plans. We’ve got to blow things up.”
“Muppets Now,” a six-episode series that will premiere on Disney+ on July 31, is both an attempt to bring those familiar, fuzzy faces to the streaming service and a spoof of internet material. Its portions feature characters such as Miss Piggy and the Swedish Chef in quick-fire comic sketches parodying popular online genres. Also, you must try to play this Which Muppet Are You quiz.
The new series also aims to reunite the Muppets with the disordered sensibility they reflected during the era of “The Muppet Show,” as previous attempts to revive the characters failed.
“The idea is to quit trying to be like everyone else and just be the Muppets,” said Bill Barretta, a longtime Muppet performer and executive producer of “Muppets Now.” “Let’s enjoy the fact that they all have to deal with one other and go back to being silly, playing, and entertaining.”
“The Muppet Show” (which initially aired in syndication from 1976 to 1981) remains a high-water peak for the franchise nearly 45 years after its debut. It was a backstage showbiz satire bolstered by kitschy celebrity hosts and a madcap attitude inherited from sketch shows like “Saturday Night Live” (where the Muppets had previously appeared) and “Monty Python’s Flying Circus,” fueled by Jim Henson’s subversive imagination and a small band of like-minded performers and writers.
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However, keeping the Muppets relevant to current audiences has proven difficult, especially since they were purchased by Disney in 2004. (The Muppet characters created for “Sesame Street” are still held by Sesame Workshop, a nonprofit organization, although other series, such as “Fraggle Rock,” are owned by the Jim Henson Company.)
“The Muppets,” a 2011 film created by Nicholas Stoller and Jason Segel (“Forgetting Sarah Marshall”) that received an Academy Award for its song “Man or Muppet,” penned by Bret McKenzie, was a critical and commercial success. However, a 2014 sequel, “Muppets Most Wanted,” was a flop that effectively ended the rebirth.
In 2015, “The Muppets,” an ABC sitcom, garnered notice for its single-camera mockumentary approach (akin to series like “The Office”) and a narrative in which Kermit and Miss Piggy broke up. However, the show was not well-received, and it was terminated after one season due to staff changes.
Barretta, who has played Muppets such as Rowlf the Dog and Pepe the King Prawn, thought the sitcom’s approach was “too much, too archetypal of the characters.”