The Jim Henson Company's Star-Studded 'Earth to Ned' Gives Easy Laughs at a Time We Need Them Most
Featuring RuPaul, Kristen Schaal, Reggie Watts, Eli Roth, Gillian Jacobs, Jenny Slate, Joel McHale, Taye Diggs, Andy Richter
Published Sep 15, 2020Greetings, Earthlings! Disney and Henson have teamed up to steer a G-Rated mothership into your homes with their latest series, Earth to Ned. Technically a sitcom, the premise is that Muppets and animatronic aliens have come to invade our planet, but they change their minds because they fall in love with pop culture. (See, there's your first sign that this is far-fetched comedy: that intelligent beings would come to Earth and spare us because they found redeeming qualities in celebrities. Talk about science fiction…) But there's a lot of wholesome laughs and fun to be had blurring the fourth wall, and the show lines up a diverse cast of stars to make it work. This is an exciting concept for Gen-Xers who grew up on The Muppet Show from 1976 to 1981. And like that early Jim Henson masterpiece, this latest show has multigenerational appeal and can potentially be enjoyed by both adults and young children.
The first guest Ned (our mayonnaise-drinking host) has abducted is Andy Richter, and the aliens have beamed him aboard in an attempt to learn how to make a late-night show. So we have an actual late-night show host on a show about a late-night show. Right out of the gate this is pretty meta and absurd. But the guests and the banter get stronger as the episodes progress, perhaps because the puppeteers are getting more skilled at real-time conversation. Executive Producer Brian Henson has publicly stated that the interviews are "100% improvised", which is rather impressive considering the host is an eight-foot tall robot puppet. I'd like to see those animatronic abominations at Chuck E. Cheese pull that off.
Like any good late-night show, we have a solid co-host on the side stage: the warty Cornelius. He apparently hails from a planet that Ned conquered before coming to Earth, and the sharp-tongued Cornelius recalls Gonzo, who was arguably one of the funniest Muppets. Maybe the most loveable characters on the show are the CLODs (which stands for Cloned Living Organism of Destruction). They're scraggly little weirdos who have infested the spaceship and create a lot of cantankerous fun. The CLODs are reminiscent of the classic Henson critters like Yoda and the Doozers of Fraggle Rock.
Episodes that feature RuPaul, Gina Carano and Billy Dee Williams stand out, so maybe start there. Is this enough to grab the attention of a generation that looks to YouTubers for entertainment? That remains to be seen. But this show does offer a lot of upsides: Henson nostalgia, star power, silly visuals, and maybe most of all, it gives families a reason to come together in the living room for some easy laughs at a time when we need them most. (Disney)