After over 40 years, Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem have finally unleashed their debut album, and their journey’s documented in the new Disney+ series, The Muppets Mayhem. As the premise promises, The Muppets Mayhem brings Muppety mayhem, music… and a whole lot of heart that both “Mayheads” and newbies can enjoy.
For anyone who’s read my work on Horror Obsessive, read my work on my own website, jammed with us on the radio on Jammin’ with Jamie, talked to me for any length of time… or who saw me as Professor Krassman in a virtual reading of The Muppet Movie… you know I love the Muppets. So, when given the opportunity to review the latest Muppet endeavor, I played it totally cool.
As I’ve discussed previously, the Muppets are a little bit of everything. With their huge cast of characters and wide range of styles of comedy, music, heartfelt moments, and… well, everything else, whoever gets the creative reins to a Muppet project has a plethora of ingredients that they can use to cook up something unique every time.
… Who knew marshmallows that expired in 1992 could be a vital ingredient?
Co-developed by Bill Barretta, Adam Goldberg, and Jeff Yorkes, The Muppets Mayhem is mercilessly funny. From the incessantly silly, to the incredibly clever, to the astoundingly random, the jokes never stop. The variety of the humor had this reviewer constantly laughing.
Assistant Nora Singh (Lilly Singh), who’s itching to make her mark in the music industry, finds out her boss at Waxtown Records is planning on selling the label’s library to JJ (Anders Holms), a bigshot app owner who used to work with and date Nora. Not giving up, Nora uncovers an old contract from Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem to make an album for Waxtown Records… which they never recorded. She finds the band after a gig to get them to finally fulfill their contract. She also meets Electric Mayhem superfan Moog (Tahj Mowry) who’s been following the band’s never-ending tour for years and may have hidden talents, and he comes along for the ride. She comes into the picture with smokescreens aplenty and strained family relationships about to pop. Nora’s ready to make her dreams come true… but is she ready for the Mayhem?
The Muppets are masters at blending comedy and heart. While many shows put an emotional throughline in their pilot or throughout a season, The Muppets Mayhem manages to include one in every episode: some more lighthearted, and some that really pull the heartstrings. This allows the characters to continue growing throughout the season. In another story, Nora’s fake stories would collapse at the climax: in The Muppets Mayhem, they come crumbling down pretty quickly. This means we and the other characters get to see the real Nora for longer, getting to know her even better and allowing her relationships with other characters to be more genuine, which opens the door for deeper audience investment. The uniquely Muppet way that the band reacts to finding out the truth sets it apart even further from other stories about characters lying to everyone around them.
A few plotlines come up suddenly; however, they didn’t pose an issue for this reviewer because they’re either the final boiling point of a long-simmering issue tracing back to before the show began or are very, very funny. In hindsight, it’s surprising just how much story is contained in each episode and the series as a whole; and yet, it doesn’t feel like a forced “and this is when we have to make the audience cry” moment.
Bill Barretta, Dave Goelz, Eric Jacobson, Peter Linz, David Rudman, and Matt Vogel all give great performances. Their names rotate in each episode’s opening and closing credits, reinforcing Dr. Teeth’s continuous assertion that the Electric Mayhem doesn’t have a frontman. Kudos to the writers for developing every Electric Mayhem member while staying true to what we do know about them from other projects.
Dr. Teeth’s easy-going, which causes some issues for him, the band, a former flame, and many others over the course of the show, and his language remains characteristizically loquacioustic. (Translation: many polysyllabic words are given even more fancy-sounding syllables… which causes some problems with Autocorrect and kicks off a massive social media scandal in Episode 8.) Sgt. Floyd Pepper’s still a hippie who’s all about the music and the band’s well-being. Lips, who very rarely spoke before this show… contrary to his name, is a bit hard to understand unless you know him. Zoot is far out… in spirit and in mind. Janice is so spiritually in tune with the universe that her bombastic, flowery pronouncements make her an accidental cult leader.
Leslie Carrara-Rudolph gives a hilarious standout performance and does a wonderful job keeping up a unique and distinct voice throughout. Stephanie D’Abruzzo and David Bizarro pop up as surprise characters who could easily be characters you just want to go away, but their comedic chemistry with each other and the Electric Mayhem keeps them fun until the heartfelt moments come and make you want them never to leave.
In any Muppet project involving non-Muppets, there’s a tricky balance to strike when making the humans compelling, but not allowing them to take over the story. Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem certainly are the stars of The Muppets Mayhem. Alongside them are record label assistant Nora Singh (Lilly Singh), super Mayhead and hopeful producer Moog (Tahj Mowry), social media star Hannah Singh (Saara Chaudry), and ambitious, upwardly-mobile app owner JJ (Anders Holms). All are very funny and interact well with the Electric Mayhem. Singh gives Nora a humanity and earnest love for music from the get-go that makes her panic and desperate smokescreens fun. Mowry is a delight and brings an earnest, endearing enthusiasm to Moog. The writers did well in integrating the humans’ plots with the Mayhem’s, keeping each storyline cohesive and connected… and making sure we don’t go too long without a Muppet moment.
Considering that The Muppets Mayhem centers on characters who aren’t always centerstage in Muppet media, do you have to be a Mayhead, or even just a Muppet fan, to enjoy The Muppets Mayhem? Personally, I say that even if you’re a first-time Muppet viewer, you won’t feel like you’re missing any important pieces while you get caught up in the Mayhem. At the same time, Muppet fans and Mayheads alike will definitely get a kick out of the many sprinkled references to past Muppet projects with visual shout-outs, quotes, songs, and even footage.
Do you need to be a hardcore music fan? There are many musicians who make appearances, but you don’t need to have a shed full of your obscure vinyl collection to get what’s going on and who’s who in the lineup.
Speaking of music, The Muppets Mayhem features something that fewer and fewer shows do… a theme song! With lyrics! That has an extended version!
“Rock On” is a song that’s not only fun and catchy on its own, but also a great theme song because, as a theme song should, it sums up the “theme” of the show… in a Muppet-style punny way. Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem will literally “rock on” by playing rock music. They’ll also “rock on and on and on” by continuing to make music together. In fact, executive music producer Linda Perry gives great original songs for the Electric Mayhem throughout The Muppets Mayhem. Their covers are just as fun. The Electric Mayhem’s music in the show is sure to send people to the album so they can rock and roll all night.
Just when you think you’ve got the gist of how The Muppets Mayhem’s episodes go, Episodes 5, 6, and 7 shake up the formula… When you add 30-plus-year-expired marshmallows to the formula, things are bound to change. Episode 5 deals with what happens post-marshmallow (and may leave you a little shocked, in a good way, that Disney allowed it), Episode 6 has many flashbacks to Dr. Teeth’s childhood and younger adulthood, and Episode 7, revolving around making an Electric Mayhem documentary while simultaneously making their album, gives fun documentary-style scenes. These episodes take the show on a refreshing mid-season swerve: when we return, Episodes 8-10 are even more serialized, creating a nice buildup to the finale.
It’s always fun to see the huge variety of guest stars the Muppets bring in. Some are folks you’d absolutely expect to see with the Muppets. Some are folks you’d never expect to even say the word, “Muppet.” And yet, regardless of where they fall on that spectrum, at this point in the Muppets’ careers, whoever shows up ready to play along brings a joy that’s infectious… Or maybe they have another reason for showing up…
There is a little gem tucked after each episode’s credits, so make sure you don’t just skip them, no matter how excited you are for the next episode. The finale even tucks in hints of where a possible second season could take us and the band. There are also certainly some unanswered questions.
The Muppets Mayhem’s Muppety mix of music, mayhem, and heart is an energetic, upbeat (pun intended) delight that rocks hard. So head on over to Disney+… and whatever hijinks the band gets into, just be ready to roll with it.