Lost in Translation 442: The Muppets Mayhem (2023)

The Muppets have a history, having been first created in 1955 by Jim Henson. Since then, the Muppets have evolved and expanded into a diverse cast of characters. They have appeared in ads, made regular appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show, and starred in a long-running PBS children’s series. All this led to the Muppets getting their own TV series on ABC, The Muppet Show, running for five seasons from 1975 until 1981. The Muppet Show was a variety show with a vaudeville flavour. Kermit the Frog, known through Sesame Street, hosted the show and was tasked with keeping the chaos under control. The Muppet Show introduced a number of Muppets new to audiences, including Miss Piggy, Gonzo the Great, Fozzie Bear, and Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem.

The Electric Mayhem was the show’s house band, with members pulling double duty in the show’s orchestra. Dr. Teeth, performed by Jim Henson, tickled the ivories. Janice, performed by Fran Brill, John Lovelady, Eren Ozker, and Richard Hunt over the run of The Muppet Show, had lead guitar with Floyd Pepper, performed by Jerry Nelson, played bass. Providing the cool sax notes, Zoot, performed by Dave Goelz. Animal, performed by Frank Oz, beat the drum battery for the band. Lips, performed by Steve Whitmire, joined the band in the final season of The Mupper Show. Each character has an influence. Dr. Teeth’s is Dr. John, a New Orleans musician. Floyd Pepper gets his name and looks from both Pink Floyd and the Beatles Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Janice is named for Janis Joplin, and is a flower child of the Sixties. Zoot is a burned out musician, though he mellowed to a more oblivious character with hints of past use of recreational pharmaceuticals. Lips was named for the logo of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and lips are the most prominent feature of a trumpeter. As for Animal, ask any drummer; Animal is the definition of a drummer.

The Electric Mayhem played backup for musical guests of The Muppet Show and occasionally had their own spotlight. The band grew in importance with The Muppet Movie, with them helping Kermit and Fozzie escape from Doc Hopper several times, with Animal having a big role in protecting Kermit in the final confrontation. The Mayhem provides more adult oriented humour in Muppet productions. Nothing R-rated, just enough hinting to make the parents in the audience laugh. The Muppets are family entertainment, and they remember that families include adults.

In May 2023, Disney+ released a new Muppets series, The Muppets Mayhem. While the Muppets may be eternal, their human performers, alas, are not. Jim Henson passed away in 1990. Frank Oz retired from Muppet performances in 2007 to focus on his directing career. The only original performer in the Mayhem to return is Dave Goelz as Zoot. The new cast has Bill Barretta as Dr. Teeth, Matt Vogel as Floyd, David Rudman as Janice, Peter Linz as Lips, and Eric Jacobson as Animal. New to the series is the owner of Waxman Records, Penny Waxman, performed by Leslie Carrara-Rudolph Mayhem also has human characters, with Lilly Singh as ambitious Waxman Records employee and music aficiondo Nora Singh, Saara Chaudry as Nora’s social media savvy little sister Hannah Singh, Tahj Mowry as Mayhem fanboy Moog, and Anders Holm as Nora’s Ex JJ.

Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem have been touring since the end of The Muppet Show, having stopped only to be the house band for Muppets Tonight and other appearances in Muppet productions. The Mayhem is the ultimate tour band, travelling everywhere, drawing fans, especially diehard fans like Moog, who follow the band concert to concert. Over at Waxman Records, Nora discovers two things. The first, Penny wants to sell the company off since records aren’t as popular as they once were. The second, Waxman Records paid a band a $400,000 advance for an album forty-five years ago. That band? Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem.

Nora figures that if she can get the Mayhem to record that album, the label can be saved. What she doesn’t count on is the innate chaos the band has. Dr. Teeth might have his name in the band’s name, but the Mayhem has no leader. Everything they do needs to be agreed upon. Getting them to go in the same direction is a much more difficult task than mere cat herding. Worse, Nora makes several missteps at first, like exaggerating her position at Waxman and using modern recording methods when the band is best a playing naturally. Nora does have the Mayhem’s best interests in mind, from getting the album made to a concert at the Hollywood Bowl. Her obstacles include a misunderstanding that sends Animal off to discover a hidden talent, introducing social media to the band, and the most amicable breakup in history.

The Electric Mayhem are relatively minor characters compared to Muppet headliners like Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzie, and Gonzo. Of the band, Animal may be the best known, having had merchandise in the past. The rest had their moments on The Muppet Show, but not to the same degree. This gave the writers free reign to expand on the band. At the same time, each member already had their established quirks. The original performers gave each member of the band a unique way of speaking and acting. Animal is never going to recite a Shakespearean soliloquy word for word, let alone in any British accent.

Fortunately, the people behind the Muppets are aware of the audience’s expectations and care about the characters. The new cast sounds like the original. A side by side comparison of the voices would show the differences, but just listening to the new cast, any changes could be chalked up to improvements in audio technologies over the past forty-five years; Zoot being the perfect example of this having the same performer. Dr. Teeth is verbose with his elocution, Animal is Animal, Janice is a flower child though with some Valley girl influences fer sure. Part of the work is by the writing staff, getting the characters written correctly. The performers filtered the written words through the characters. Long time Muppet fans won’t seem much of a difference.

As fitting a Muppet production, there are numerous cameos. The Muppet Show had a guest star each episode, ranging from longtime performers like Peter Ustinov and Vincent Price to relative newcomers.like Mark Hamill, Brooke Shields, and Christopher Reeve. The Muppet Movie continued with cameos from a wide range of performers such as Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy, Lee Marvin, and Richard Pryor. Subsequent movies continued in the same vein, as does The Muppets Mayhem. Mayhem‘s cameos have someone for every member of the family, from Cheech and Chong and Susanna Hoffs to deadmau5 and Lil Nas X, with “Weird Al” Yankovic for the strange uncle every family has.

Overall, Mayhem is light entertainment, but it does touch on serious aspects of modern life and the current music industry. Nora’s sister Hannah is heavily invested as a YouTuber, with a popular channel where she travels the globe from her house. When Animal gets addicted to TicTok, even Hannah realizes that social media isn’t the be-all it appears. Sampling leads to a misunderstanding, leading to Animal leaving and the band dissatisfied with the results. The importance of found family, the people you choose to be with, is key throughout the series.

Those with a keen eye or ear will notice a few Easter eggs in the series. One of the first is the house painting montage in the first episode. The montage is done to the band’s Muppet Movie song, “Can You Picture That“, with the montage starting the same way it did in the film with Dr. Teeth pouring two cans of paint of the camera lens. A later episode has Lips answering his smartphone. The obvious Easter egg is Lips answering with, “Mahna mahna“, but those truly listening will recognize the trumpeter’s ring tone.

The series also gives a background to the band, with Dr. Teeth being an actual doctor and Floyd having washed out of boot camp, leading Teeth to refer to him as “Sergeant Pepper”. The background, done in flashbacks, is treated with both humour and drama, sometimes simultaneously. The writers deftly balance the needs of the scene, and other scenes, allowing for drama when needed while never forgetting the reason why people are watching.

The episodes take their titles from song titles, with the first episode being “Can You Picture That”. The seventh episode, “Eight Days a Week”, takes the Beatles reference and weaves lyrics and song titles from their works throughout. Each episode has a post-end credit bit. As Zoot had the final note at the end of each episode of The Muppet Show, he gets the final clip of each episode after the credits, breaking the fourth wall.

The Muppets Mayhem might be too light at points, but it delivers on its promise. The characters are easily recognizable in actions and speech. The plot is very much believable with the Electric Mayhem, with revelations being surprising yet still in character. And, with a series focused on musicians, there is plenty of music. Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem are in good hands.

This article was originally published at THE REMAKE ZONE.

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