Sunday, September 6, 2009

It's time to play the music! It's time to light the lights!

Have you ever watched old episodes of The Muppet Show? They really are incredible, still, even though we're now about 33 years past the debut of the show. The puppets and costumes appealed to me as a kid, yet on re-watching it, pretty much all of the humor is aimed at adults.

In reflection, I think this is pretty much how all cartoons and animated shows should work. Kids don't really have discerning palettes. When I was little, my mom tells me I liked orange juice and chicken mashed together. (As I grew up, I would use this against her a lot – Yes, I ate broccoli as a kid, but I also ate chicken and orange juice, so obviously, my tastes changed a little bit.) When you're a kid, you don't know from good, as the saying goes. You're just happy to be watching TV, so you can't tell the good from the bad so easily.

Therefore, I'm signing off on The Muppet Show being a good thing. In case you're completely unawares, the format was essentially that of a variety show with a rotating weekly host, backed up by the Muppets ensemble. The best episodes feature George Burns and Milton Berle, and both of them are primarily using zingers and one-liners in their act. For example, the running gag in the Burns episode is a throwaway joke made in the beginning of the episode by Gonzo. “I've got a great idea for an act: Gonzo fiddles while George Burns!”

The Muppet Show was also very musically-based, with the best episode in this vein being hosted by Paul Simon. He does three complete songs, I believe, and also appears in a couple skits. Even when a musician didn't host the show, a number or two by the Muppets was still on the show. I surprisingly think most of these are good, and I'm a person who typically cringes during singing parts on most shows.

Although the show ran during the 1970s, it is light on cultural references. The only dated references are normally the guests themselves. Rudolph Nureyev is apparently some sort of famous ballet dancer, and I only know this because most of his skits feature dancing, and because Brian Henson mentions this in his introduction to the episode. However, for every Nureyev, there is a great host that simply isn't around anymore or not in peak shape for whatever reason – John Cleese, Steve Martin, Dom Deluise, Peter Sellers, Don Knotts, Bob Hope, Johnny Cash and Roger Moore.

Of course, the stars of the show are the Muppets themselves, and they're in peak form on The Muppet Show as opposed to their watered-down versions on Sesame Street and the horrid Muppets Tonight, and although Muppet Babies was good, the cast isn't nearly as big.

I've never been a big fan of Kermit or Miss Piggy or Scooter, and unfortunately they are in a lot of skits. However, this is more than made up for by the expanded roles of the other characters: Fozzie Bear, Gonzo, Rowlf, the Swedish Chef and the two old men in the balcony, Statler and Waldorf. (When I become independently wealthy, one of the first things I'm doing is reviving their Siskel and Ebert-like show that used to run on the web.) The aforementioned Brian Henson also provides a little intro to each episode, and he gives out interesting information about how each puppet is run, or about that episode's guest, or just about The Muppet Show in general.


  1. i LOVE the muppet show. I have the first 3 seasons on dvd. There's this one episode that Fozzie has a running gag in, and I can't remember which episode it is, but I remember Fozzie's thing. In between the acts when they're "backstage" Fozzie keeps harassing Kermit with stupid little jokes by saying things like "letter for kermit! letter for kermit! Here you go" and pulls out a big letter R. And another one he goes "flower for kermit! flower for kermit!" and dumps a bag of flour on him. But the best part was, after he did these, he wouldn't laugh his usual waka-waka he'd go "fun-ny! fun-ny!"
    My friend & I thought that was hilarious and we constantly go "fun-ny. fun-ny" to each other. And when we try to explain it to other one finds it that amusing. I think you have to see it.

    But I do love the muppets. They're the best.
    Are you gonna answer our tag team e-mail or what?

  2. Ack, I thought I *had* answered, but it looks like it didn't go through! Sigggghhhh. I'll give it another shot later tonight, but I have to get going on the trip to Sonic right now.

    As far as The Muppet Show goes, I remember the gags you're talking about, and they are super-great. So much of the humor on that show is old school - puns, mixups, gags - and it still holds up for me.


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