If you get out of your Westminster bubble and sit and think about something for once, you’d realise that essentially every film or TV format would be improved with the addition of Muppets. Pride and Prejudice but Mr Darcy is bright purple. The Devil Wears Prada with Miss Piggy as Miranda Priestly. A Superman reboot where Clark Kent is the only human actor in the whole thing. Seinfeld but Kramer is an 8ft-tall Big Bird-type. Think further outside of the box: Gogglebox could be improved with Statler and Waldorf; for First Dates, replace Fred with Kermit, and Merlin with Animal. Thinking about this has actually ruined the next week of TV for me. Every time I watch something with humans in it, I’ll be pining for Muppets.
Anyway, there’s The Muppets Mayhem (Disney+, from Wednesday 10 May), at least, which is brilliant. On the surface it’s just Daisy Jones & the Six but the band are all Muppets and there’s a lot less sexual tension, but there’s actually more to it than that. Mayhem stars Lilly Singh (one of those YouTube-famous curios you have never heard of, but it turns out she’s actually more renowned than most people alive and has 13.4 million followers on Instagram) as Nora, a messily aspirational girlboss whose life is in cheerful disarray and she needs a big win at work and maybe a love triangle subplot to achieve her destiny. Have you seen that story before? Of course you have, but you have not seen it with a band of Muppets, and that is the point: every time a chair turns around and the character is a puppet, I laugh. Every time Animal says anything, I laugh. Though the story throughline is fairly cornily safe – an ancient touring band need to record their first ever album, but keep getting distracted because they are all jolly little puppets, and I haven’t seen to the end but I assume they do record the album then play a sold-out show – the levity of the puppets cranks everything up to a higher level. It’s just really, really funny to see a perfectly round, 3ft-high Muppet driving a van while Lilly Singh has a career crisis.
What makes the Muppets traditionally such fun, and especially so here, is it is clear everyone making one of the many, many cameos – at least 37, some of them delightfully fleeting; Everything Everywhere All At Once’s James Hong has exactly one line – is having the absolute time of their life playing around with these creatures. A lot of musicians turn up playing themselves – Lil Nas X, Sofia Carson, Billy Corgan (Billy Corgan! At a party thrown by some Muppets!) – and I do think this is one of those things Americans do better than we do: letting famous people lampoon themselves in funny or weird ways, something I can only attribute to the longtime presence of SNL as a core part of US culture. Singh is also great playing off the more soft-centred cast: her first scene with the band, where Animal drops from the ceiling and is clearly besotted with her (I said less sexual tension than Daisy Jones, not absolute zero), is made great by her zinging a “what’s happening?” at the wild situation unfolding around her. Again, here’s where the template “girl with nothing somehow ends up having it all … via the power of friendship and self-belief!” storyline works as a kind of masterstroke: the story doesn’t need to be complex, it just needs every supporting character to be as absolutely bizarre as possible. It is impossible to watch without a grin on your face.
There’s so much this got right: the decision to make every song-and-dance number as brief as possible; the fact that there’s a band member called Zoot who spent all $420,000 of their 70s album advance on … something; a weirdly emotional backstory for Animal. But really what makes every instalment of the Muppet franchise work is that age-old trick of human actors taking the presence of these chaotic puppets absolutely seriously, the high watermark being Michael Caine putting in an Oscar-worthy performance opposite them in A Muppet Christmas Carol. A good joke never really stops being funny – I recently saw Peter Kay at the O2 and can confirm that him saying “garlic bread” is still really, really good – and The Muppets Mayhem leans delightfully in to that. Now just make all of TV like this, please. Remake Succession and replace Brian Cox with a big soft glove.