It’s charmingly true to the character, who in retrospect has the kind of insistent energy, nosiness and thirst for attention that makes him perfect for late-night. “Not-Too-Late” is actually closer than “Muppets Now” to the format of the old “Muppet Show,” with chaos backstage and Bert and Ernie squabbling in the control room. But the spirit is all Elmo.
"The Not-Too-Late Show with Elmo" is definitely less wry than that show ["The Sack Lunch Bunch,"] but is created with the same kind of intentionality. For all its subtle nods to the adults in the audience, at the end of the night (well, evening, since Elmo's bedtime is at 7:30pm) it is a show for children, in all the best ways.
It is completely in the “Sesame” spirit while nailing the look and rituals of late-night television — note the sippy cup on Elmo’s desk — and in its mix of backstage and onstage scenes (Cookie Monster as co-host, Bert and Ernie in the director’s booth), it is very much a child of “The Muppet Show.”
The meta, inside baseball side of The Not Too Late Show with Elmo is funny, smart and packed with likable gags and puns and general silliness. ... It's a gimmick that demands careful celebrity curation and the three episodes sent to critics are marked by solid guest selection and participation. ... I dug its for-all-ages hijinks much more than I expected to.
It’s easy to imagine toddlers watching episodes on repeat. For adults, however, only the occasional guest—like John Mulaney, who’s shaping up to be his generation’s premiere good-with-kids comic—can make such a concentrated dose of Elmo’s high-pitched squeal worth enduring. The Muppet Show this ain’t.