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This is a preview of our pop culture newsletter The Daily Beast’s Obsessed, written by senior entertainment reporter Kevin Fallon. To receive the full newsletter in your inbox each week, sign up for it here.
Wash the horrible away with The Muppets.
Now is Valerie Cherish’s time.
The Muppets! Delightful!
Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised that it’s Miss Piggy who landed the best joke on TV this last week. Nonetheless, I nearly spit out my coffee when pop culture’s most iconic swine said it.
In Disney+’s just-launched Muppets Now, the latest in an exhausting number of attempts over the decades to make Jim Henson’s treasured characters relevant to new generations, there’s a segment called “Mup Close and Personal,” in which the show’s famous characters interview celebrity guests.
The diva herself was handling the questions in this particular conversation with actress Aubrey Plaza. After a team of handlers primp and touch her up—ignoring Plaza’s request for some powder—Miss Piggy launches into her first question: “What is your favorite very personal story that your publicist has ever written for you?”
If you would like an approximation of my reaction to the joke, read aloud the phrase “aaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhAAAAHhhhhAHHHHH,” pitch it up approximately seven octaves, and project your volume until you hear the faint sound of a dog bark in the building next door.
Is this the Muppets going straight-up Between Two Ferns, adopting the Zach Galifianakis satire talk show’s strategy of epically roasting both its celebrity guests and the very concept of the celebrity press circuit with its line of questioning? The answer is yes, and that’s precisely the point.
Consider Muppets Now the latest reinvention for the more than 50-year-old pop-culture property, this one an attempt at reviving some of the peak popularity from The Muppets Show/Muppet Movie era by adopting the hallmarks of today’s YouTube, viral video culture.
It’s certainly more successful than the mockumentary-style The Muppets that tanked after one season in 2015 or the go at a new movie franchise that fizzled the decade prior. Whether you find it a clever play at Gen Z relevance or the equivalent of Boomer Muppets strolling into a high school with a skateboard and backwards baseball hat asking “how do you do, fellow kids” depends on how generous you’re feeling. Me? I’m feeling quite generous. I loved it.
(I don’t want to blow anyone away, but, yes, I did that Photoshop myself.)
Muppets Now is a collection of segments like Lifestyle With Miss Piggy, Pepe’s Unbelievable Game Show, and Økėÿ Døkęÿ Køøkiñ with Swedish Chef that resemble the YouTube vlogs and series that the youths seem to love, and the rest of us can at least recognize in format. (Why is the Swedish Chef mumbling always unbelievably funny? I wish I knew.)
In other words, it’s basically an updated, if less manic and energetic The Muppet Show, which is frankly all any Muppets fan wants anyway. Short of just bringing that back—which, I mean, why not just bring it back?!—this is good as it gets, and as it’s been. So Mahna Mahna to that.
Give ‘The Comeback’ Another Take!
Last weekend, I was in desperate need of some comfort, joy, and a reliable good time, so I sought out one of my favorite TV series of all time. By the time Lisa Kudrow’s Valerie Cherish bellowed her first rousing “hello hello hello,” I was soothed. Well, then I was cringing, almost unbearably uncomfortable, and struggling to keep my soul from itching its way out of my skin, which is just about the highest praise I can pay to the miraculous HBO comedy series The Comeback.
It is one of the great conundrums of human behavior: There is excellence right there for you all to watch, and instead you all watch some really dumb shit. Such was the plight of The Comeback, which was at first canceled before its time when it aired in 2005, and then brought back after becoming a cult favorite nearly a decade later with the concept of the original run being before its time...only for that one to eventually be cut short before its time, too.
That’s all annoying because no show has better captured the TV industry, specifically an industry at a crossroads, better than The Comeback. Initially, it chronicled the ways in which reality TV disrupted the landscape. And then a decade later, it asked who gets empathy and who gets power as Hollywood both gets more compassionate and also more cynical.
I can’t think of a time more primed for a The Comeback/Valerie Cherish examination than the current one, in which industry veterans struggle to navigate the disorienting explosion of streaming services, the proliferation of celebrities on social media, and the debate over “cancel culture.” C’mon, HBO. Give her another take!
Who knows if that will ever happen, but as a glorious tease, here is what Kudrow and co-creator Michael Patrick King said last week during a cast reunion when asked what Valerie Cherish would be up to during the pandemic. It is perfect.
Regis Philbin Was the Best
I don’t know how you can be both breezy and bombastic at the same time, but maybe the fact that it should seem impossible is exactly why Regis Philbin was so great. After his death last week, I’ve been watching all the clips of his work that have gone around and marveling at that unicorn attribute of his.
One that I’ll never forget is how deftly he handled what may remain the most monumental game-show moment in U.S. television history: When John Carpenter became the first winner of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? (Watch it here.)
It can’t be undersold how perfect he was in that situation, very much a vital part of it without stealing an ounce of the attention John earned. In any case, my cousin got married that year and you should know that I styled my wedding outfit after what Regis wore in this clip.
Betty Gilpin Is Our Queen Now, Sorry!
I have never been more confident in an opinion than when I say there has never in the history of awards shows been a better reaction to being nominated than the one GLOW star Betty Gilpin gave this week on Emmys nominations morning. A WORM’S HYMN IN A CANYON!!!
What to watch this week
Muppets Now: Start the music! Light the lights! Figure out how to find this on your danged Firestick!
The Fight: A superhero story’s telling of the ACLU’s epic battles.
Black Is King: Beyoncé! Enough said.
What to skip this week
Real Time With Bill Maher: No one’s forcing us to let this show still be a thing!