It’s a song just about everyone knows by heart. Almost on par with “Happy Birthday” and “Jingle Bells”, most folks can sing along with this shows theme song at the drop of a hat. Just like riding a bike, you never forget how. And face it; sometimes, when no one is looking, you swing your hands back and forth in time to the music. It’s okay, I won’t tell anyone . . . I do it myself. I’m a kid of the seventies, so this show blew my little elementary-school mind. Muppets on during prime-time? It couldn’t get any better than that! It helped that these were shows that kids enjoyed and adults wanted to watch. Even my father would tune in with me just to see a performer he enjoyed work with muppets.
The first season started in 1976, a full 30 years ago. Seeing some of these episodes years later was a little unnerving; some of the guest stars seem so . . . young! I didn’t know whether to be amazed or breathe into a paper bag from the shock of it. Most of these episodes I hadn’t seen since they first came out, so it was like seeing them for the first time.
My favorite show? Vincent Price, no question. And not because I’m a huge Vincent Price fan (I am), but because I think they did the best job of pairing his persona with the sketches. Perhaps that’s because his episode was one of the later ones, giving Jim Henson and company time to find their balance. Joel Grey’s “Cabaret” and “Razzle Dazzle” numbers (both from the then-current musical Chicago) and Phyllis Dillers one-liner contest with Rowlf the dog also stand out from the pack. Ben Vereen also does a number from Chicago — “Mr. Cellophane” — and I was surprised that the producers of the still-in-its-first-run musical were so generous with these songs. Also, the Manah Manah Man skit, Kermit singing “It’s Not Easy Being Green” and Lena Horne doing “Sing” make nice tie-ins to Sesame Street, the series that started it all.
Some of the episode come off as a little rough around the edges, especially the first handful or so. But it isn’t that Jim Henson and crew fail to entertain, it’s just that the sketches seem a little forced. But as the season goes on, there is a better fit between muppet and guest star, and the sketches seem more suited to each entertainers particular ability. Hey, it’s only the first season, so a few bumps in the road are to be expected. It’s interesting to see how some of the characters progress, too. In particular, Miss Piggy starts out looking very much like the rest of the muppet pigs, only to blossom later in the season into the vivacious “Moi!” that she ultimately becomes.
The Main Menu of each disc has Statler and Waldorf, those perpetually dissatisfied fellas in the upper balcony, dissing the show. Their banter is hilarious, and I started to look forward to the next disc so I could hear more. I also look forward to the release of the rest of the other seasons. The episodes with Linda Ronstadt, Elton John, Alice Cooper and John Denver were favorites of mine, and I’d love to see them again. Especially with the terrific job they did with remastering each episode from the first season; the colors are just as vibrant as they were when I saw these shows 30 years ago.
Since this is a special edition, there are a few bonus bits that are worth mentioning. The original pitch reel (something created in order to sell the concept of the show to a network) is absolutely hilarious, and probably the best part of this entire set. And the Muppets had a “gag reel” loooong before Pixar tacked ’em on animated movies like The Incredibles and Monsters, Inc. The original pilot episode from 1974 is also included, and though it doesn’t really stand out, it hints at the possibilities the regular series had in store.
As Sesame Street entertained and educated, The Muppet Show gave kids a weekly dose of the arts. This show came to me just as I was growing out of Sesame Street, so The Muppet Show was a new, “grown up” show that gave me access to some of the characters I didn’t want to say goodbye to. I’m sure I wasn’t the only kid on the block that heaved a sigh of relief when Kermit broke into prime-time. And just like it’s predecesor, this show also had an agenda. No, not letters and numbers; they already covered those. The Muppet Show gave glimpses of the arts to kids (and grownups) that were spending too much time at home . . . watching television. Slipping culture to kids on the sly, each week showcased something special; dancers, broadway actors, experimental theater . . . all in the guise of prime-time entertainment. Very sneaky, Mr. Henson. Thank you.
(Walt Disney Video, 2005)