The Muppet Show: Season 1
January 29, 2006
For anyone who grew up in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, The Muppet Show was an integral part of their childhood. Jim Henson’s brainchild was to create a variety show hosted by dogs, frogs and monsters. The result is an ingeniously funny TV show that appealed to both kids and adults.
Kermit the Frog and his gang put on a variety show every week in front of a live audience with a celebrity guest star (featuring the likes of Joel Grey, Peter Ustinov and Vincent Price) thrown into the mix. The show is split up between what happens on stage and the problems that occur behind the scenes as Kermit tries to keep his guest star happy while giving his regular performers enough stage time. The Muppet Show mixes song and dance numbers with comedy sketches that are commented on by two elderly, cranky critics, Statler and Waldorf. Not only are they a source of considerable humour, they are also a nice commentary and pre-emptive strike on critics.
The Muppet Show features an assortment of colourful and memorable characters like Fozzie Bear, an unfunny Vaudeville comedian; Gonzo the Great, a weird vulture type who digs chickens; and, of course, our hero Kermit the Frog, the sweet even-tempered theatre manager who attempts to hold everything together.
There is a clever mix of goofy humour for kids but also some more sophisticated jokes for adults to enjoy, including one sketch that references Charlie Parker and another that features a debate on the validity of Sir Francis Bacon actually writing Shakespeare’s plays. This approach accounts for The Muppet Show’s enduring legacy because the humour works on several levels.
Each Muppet has their own distinctive personality and we watch them evolve over the season. Fozzie is the failed comic who tries his hand at impressions. Kermit is the beleaguered manager who finally loses it when things get too hectic. Miss Piggy is the brash, head-strong diva who starts karate-chopping people who cross her. We care about these Muppets because they are so life-like, right down to their articulated facial features.
The third episode features a spot-on parody of Sherlock Holmes with Rowlf the Dog and Miss Piggy engaging in banter that is very much in the same vein as the classic “Veterinarian Hospital” sketch which debuts in this season. Rowlf is definitely one of the most endearing characters on the show, in particular one bit where he performs a wonderful rendition of “Cottleston Pie” (a reference to Winnie the Pooh) showcasing his musical ability in addition to his skill at comedy. This particular performance was originally shown only in the U.K. but did appear on the U.S. LP.
This DVD set features The Muppet Show in its infancy, yet to realize classic routines like “Pigs in Space,” which would appear in season two.
The lack of commentaries and any kind of retrospective documentary is a bit of a disappointment. To fill the void, each episode features a “Muppet Morsels” option that offers bits of trivia, factoids (like the air dates of episodes) and anecdotal information about the crew and characters in the form of subtitled text. This is a good extra that provides insight into many aspects of the show, including historical tidbits.
The fourth disc includes the “Original Pitch Reel” that Henson used to sell the concept of the Muppet Show with a Muppet actually doing the sales pitch and showcasing the show’s clever, self-reflexive humour.
“Season One Promo Gag Reel” involves Kermit being driven to distraction so that he blows his lines in an amusing montage of bloopers.
Finally, there is the “Original Pilot.” Many of the Muppets we know and love are featured but in their embryonic stage. Interestingly, Kermit is not the focal point and Dr. Teeth and his funky band, the Electric Mayhem, are featured prominently.