The Muppets Show Off a Short-Lived Smart Speaker and Voice Assistant in the Latest Muppets Now
Meet BEAK-R. Ever wish your assistant would stop saying “meep” and remind you to burn things? BEAK-R has got you covered. WARNING: May cause jealousy in current assistant. #MuppetsNow pic.twitter.com/kBLubLincr
— The Muppets (@TheMuppets) August 8, 2020
The Muppets introduced a short-lived smart speaker and voice assistant of their own on the most recent episode of the new Muppets Now show. BEAK-R, built by Dr. Bunsen Honeydew as a replacement for his lab assistant Beaker, didn’t survive the segment, but it was another sign of how the technology has become part of the vernacular in people’s lives.
The “Muppet Labs Field Test” segment of the second episode of the series saw Bunsen reveal BEAK-R, which looks a lot like an Amazon Echo or similar smart speaker. The voice assistant, like its real-world counterparts, helped answer questions and set reminders for events, a reminder to set things on fire in this case as the science experiments this week was about what will melt or burn when surrounded by flames. Beaker, the monosyllabic assistant to Bunsen for decades now, feels betrayed by his AI replacement. It doesn’t take a huge leap of imagination to guess how he chooses to resolve his problem. Beaker consigns BEAK-R to the flames in a moment reminiscent of Terminator 2 only arguably even darker. His rival vanquished, Beaker returns to Bunsen’s side and Bunsen decides to simply move on to the next experiment.
Get yourself someone who looks at you the way Bunsen looks at Beak-R.
— The Muppet Mindset (@MuppetMindset) August 7, 2020
Home technology has changed dramatically in the decades since Jim Henson first used a frog puppet to sing about the difficulties of being green. The presence of a voice assistant-powered smart speaker suggests the creators of Muppets Now feel like they don’t have to explain what it is for people to laugh, only put it in the context of the show. BEAK-R might have come off as a little too snarky for a voice assistant, but considering that Alexa’s first celebrity voice is Samuel L. Jackson, a bit of attitude is not surprising in a personalized device like BEAK-R. The natural integration of the smart speaker in the segment feels like a pretty solid, though unscientific, indicator of just how ubiquitous voice assistants are and how familiar most people are with their capabilities.
The same familiarity came late last year on The Simpsons, a franchise almost as old as the Muppets. The Thanksgiving of Horrors episode included a segment about a voice assistant attached to a smart home. Like the Muppets segment, the voice assistant had its own unique voice and personality, Marge Simpson’s personality in this case. As the title of the episode makes clear, it was an even darker story than the Muppets ending. In both cases though, the jokes only work because viewers already have a sense of what a voice assistant is capable of in the real world. The biggest error both the Simpsons and Dr. Bunsen made was to so very obviously try to replace someone else in their lives. Happily, the real companies behind this technology are probably savvy enough to pitch voice assistants as an aid to everyone in the home, or at least to make them out of materials that won’t melt quite so quickly.