At the dawn of "The Muppet Show" in the late 1970s, a visit to the Muppet Labs consisted of watching its nebbishy proprietor, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, demonstrate misbegotten inventions like an exploding hat or a self-destructing necktie.
Today, a return visit to those labs on the Disney+ series "Muppets Now" features Honeydew and his agitated assistant, Beaker, using a homemade device called the Infern-O-Matic to reduce everyday items — a carton of eggs, wall clock, guitar — to smoldering piles of ashes.
If the scene feels manic — and even a bit familiar — that is by design. Leigh Slaughter, vice president of the Muppets Studio, explained that she and her colleagues are hopeful that this series will conjure up "that true Muppet anarchy — that complete chaos."
"Muppets Now," a six-episode series that debuted on July 31, is both Disney's attempt to bring those familiar, fuzzy faces to its streaming service and a parody of internet content. Its segments feature characters like Miss Piggy and the Swedish Chef in rapid-fire comedy sketches that lampoon popular online formats.
The new series also strives to reconnect the Muppets with the disorderly sensibility they embodied in the era of "The Muppet Show" and get back to basics after other recent efforts to reboot the characters fizzled out.
"The thinking is to stop trying so hard to be like everybody else and just be the Muppets," said Bill Barretta, an executive producer of "Muppets Now." "Let's celebrate the fact that they all have to deal with each other and just be silly and play and entertain again."
Nearly 45 years after its debut, "The Muppet Show" remains a high-water mark for the franchise. Fueled by the subversive imagination of the Muppets creator, Jim Henson, and a small band of like-minded performers and writers, it was a backstage showbiz satire bolstered by kitschy celebrity hosts and a madcap attitude.
Keeping the Muppets relevant to modern audiences has proved elusive, particularly since they were acquired by Disney in 2004. In 2015, an ABC sitcom called "The Muppets" was not well received, troubled by staff changes and canceled after one season.
Dan Silver, who is vice president of original unscripted content for Disney+, said that "Muppets Now" should reflect the elasticity of the underlying property. Like Mickey Mouse or the Simpsons, he said, the Muppets are meant to "live among us — they're not a nostalgia play, they just exist in whatever time we're in."
The structure of "Muppets Now," Silver said, was suggested by the original "Muppet Show," which was in part a sendup of comedy-variety programs of the 1960s and '70s. As Silver put it: "If 'The Muppet Show' was a subversion of Sonny and Cher and Ed Sullivan, what would that be in this day and age? And the answer is YouTube."
Taking the programming formats of streaming video and populating them with its antic characters, "Muppets Now" gives us segments like a beauty and lifestyle video blog hosted by Miss Piggy, a cooking competition with the Swedish Chef and a high-octane Muppet Labs science test with Dr. Honeydew and Beaker. Of course, there are also cheeky cameos from celebrities like Aubrey Plaza, Danny Trejo and Linda Cardellini.