Muppet Show Viewing Guide: Season 4

Muppet Show episodes run the whole gamut, from the delightful to the disturbing. If you’re new to Seasons 4 and 5 like I am, you may wonder where each episode falls. The Disney+ content warnings help a little but don’t give you any specifics and are sometimes esoteric.

Back in the days before there were streaming services, or even video recorders, there wasn’t a way to skip over the parts of The Muppet Show that were less than stellar. You just had to sit through them and wait for the good stuff to come back.

Now, however, between DVDs, YouTube, and streaming, it’s easier to skip over the bad parts and enjoy the good parts. It’s just a matter of knowing what to expect and where to look. Well, I “took a chance on the crap” so you don’t have to, and I can tell you the highlights and the lowlights.

I’m organizing the episodes into four categories:

  • Delightful: Sit back and relax; you shouldn’t see anything offensive or objectionable in these episodes at all
  • Mostly Harmless: There are a few uncomfortable moments, but these episodes are enjoyable for the most part
  • Cringeworthy: There are a few bright spots, but these episodes are mostly dull or upsetting.
  • Horrific: These episodes are almost completely demoralizing. Even the few good numbers aren’t enough to save them. Skip the episodes altogether and look up the few good parts on YouTube instead.

In each instance, I’ll give some details about why I ranked the episode the way I did, identifying high points and low points. Eventually, I’ll create another episode guide for Season 5, but let’s start with a critical but fair look at Season 4.

Delightful

Lola Falana: 

  • When I watched The Muppet Movie as a kid, I assumed that Gonzo’s wish to go to Bombay, India, and become a movie star was just a throwaway gag. It was a surprise to find out that it was followed up on in The Muppet Show
  • I knew that Gonzo sang “My Way” in this episode, but I didn’t know when. I was surprised to find that it was not at the climax, as I had assumed. 
  • Sad-Gonzo is my favorite Gonzo, and Dave Goelz doesn’t disappoint. Neither do the writers with the simple, heartrending line that pretty much sums up my whole life: “I want to go there; I just don’t want to leave here!”
  • I didn’t know very much about guest star Lola Falana before watching this episode, and I still don’t know much beyond her Muppet Wiki page. Unfortunately for her, she doesn’t get much to do in this episode, but what she does get, she does very well. 

 

Mark Hamill/Star Wars: 

  • I don’t know if this is my favorite Muppet Show episode, but it is definitely one of them. Its reputation as a classic episode is very well earned. 
  • Speaking for myself, I don’t regard The Muppet Show as the greatest thing the Muppets have ever done, but by itself, this episode could crack the top 5. 
  • While there’s nothing offensive per se in this episode, there are some things that are retroactively uncomfortable, given what we know now:
    • Both the Muppets and Star Wars would eventually be swallowed up by Disney
    • Miss Piggy unwittingly (and through no fault of her own) attempted to attract Luke by dressing up as his sister
  • Mark Hamill shows an impressive range in this episode, acting appealingly goofy as himself and enjoyably melodramatic as Luke Skywalker. 
  • Dearth Nadir is always a welcome presence, but given how easily Chewbacca is able to overpower him at the end, how was he able to kidnap Chewy in the first place?
  • It’s so hard to pick a highlight from the episode. I guess I’ll go with Scooter’s “Six String Orchestra.”

 

Diana Ross:

  • Honestly, my reaction to this episode is kind of lukewarm, but there’s nothing offensive about it. 
  • Diana Ross is a warm and lovely guest host star. (I accidentally said “host” initially, even though I know that Diana Ross wasn’t a host but a guest star. I fully expect to be tarred and feathered by a gang of pedantic Muppet snobs any moment now.) 
  • All the musical numbers in this episode are winners, with the possible exception of “Aunt Chovy.” 
  • This episode is most famous as the one where Beaker sings, “Feelings.” Except for some reason they made it the UK spot, so people in the US didn’t get to see it originally. 
  • I think the joke behind “Feelings” is supposed to be that it was really overplayed at the time and people got sick of it (cf. “My Heart Will Go On”). But since the theme of the entire episode was that the audience hated everything, except Diana Ross, the joke kind of got lost. 
  • I like the way Animal comes to Beaker’s defense during the song. 

Mostly Harmless

Crystal Gayle:

  • The lyrics to “Swanee” make me a little uncomfortable, even removed from their original context. I’m not sure I would have noticed if not for the content warning, though.
  • The prairie dogs stripping everyone down to their underwear is also a little uncomfortable, although the fact that they are mere rodents in a non-sexual context helps.
  • I was vaguely aware of Crystal Gayle prior to watching this episode, mostly because of her hair. But the numbers she did in this episode were terrific. I love them so much, maybe I should seek out more of her work. It’s possible that I’ve actually been a fan for a long time without realizing it.
  • It’s hard to choose betweenRiver Roadand “We Must Believe in Magic” as a highlight, but the latter literally gives me goosebumps, so it gets a slight edge. 

 

Shields and Yarnell:

  • This is less of a cohesive episode and more just the Muppets and the guest stars putting on their own separate but adjacent shows. Both are pretty entertaining, though.
  • The only thing I object to in this episode is the Old West Gunfight Sketch. Shields and Yarnell mime guns with their fingers, yet sound effects are added in to simulate the report. It’s very well done, but it makes the whole thing feel just a little too real to me.
  • Because there are essentially two parallel shows going on, it’s difficult to choose just one highlight.

 

Dyan Cannon:

  • This episode marks an effort to make Piggy less consistently terrible, and she ends up not being the worst Muppet in this episode. That dubious honor goes to Floyd, who shuts up poor little Foo-Foo in a drawer.
  • I like the song “Civilization,” but some of the lyrics are a little iffy.
  • “Civilization” also seems to take inspiration from the Tarzan books, which have racial implications.
  • My favorite part of this episode is when Foo-Foo’s reactions keep upstaging everybody.
  • The closing number came as a surprise, in a good way. 

PSA: Contemporary pet stores that sell dogs likely obtained them from inhumane puppy mills. It’s better to adopt a dog from a shelter or rescue or to purchase only from a reputable breeder

 

Linda Lavin:

  • I’ve genuinely got to hand it to Miss Piggy; this is one of her best and least problematic episodes. Her attempt to have a nice birthday celebration for Kermit seems sincerely unselfish.
  • Nevertheless, she physically threatens Robin, an innocent child, during Veterinarian’s Hospital. Admittedly, it wasn’t completely unprovoked, but it was disproportionate.
  • One of the things I don’t like about The Muppet Show compared to other Muppet productions is that it doesn’t have original music. So I like that “Be a Frog” has original lyrics to an existing tune.
  • However, the real musical highlight of this episode is Statler and Waldorf’s song, which is all the more poignant for being unexpected.

 

Dudley Moore:

  • Scooter shooting down an “A” from the ceiling in the cold open is not only disturbing, it also makes no sense.
  • The other disturbing aspect of this episode is when Animal literally shifts into “kill” mode during Floyd’s discussion with Dudley about M.A.M.M.A.
  • Oddly, Gonzo’s defusing-a-bomb act doesn’t really bother me much. I guess it’s just too cartoonish to take seriously.
  • I can’t decide whether the musical highlight of this episode is Dudley playingMama Don’t Allowor the Bug Band playingShe Loves You.”
  • Miss Piggy is completely unobjectionable in this episode, and the meta soundtrack jokes in her dressing room scene with Kermit make for an overall episode highlight.

 

Arlo Guthrie:

  • There’s one really cringeworthy number in this, and one absolutely perfect, quintessentially Muppety scene. I think the two cancel each other out.
  • The cringeworthy number is the violent square dance, which seems like it should have been the UK spot but wasn’t. It may not be a depiction of domestic violence per se, but it’s suggestive of it.
  • The perfect scene is Fozzie and Gonzo’s mash-up of Robert Frost and “Hernando’s Hideaway.” Absolutely inspired.
  • Some of the lyrics to some of the songs have some sexist undertones.
  • It may not have been very sensitive of Arlo Guthrie to sing “Get Along Little Dogies” to a bunch herd of cows. But at least he was honest with them.

 

Beverly Sills:

  • For the most part, this is an extremely enjoyable episode. There are only two parts that I find objectionable.
  • Obviously, I object to the stereotyped Chinese ballet-dancing gorilla that earned this episode its content warning. Nevertheless, I have to admit to a guilty chuckle when it ended its diatribe of ching-chong gibberish with “moo goo gai pan!”
  • The Tough Pigs review of this episode describes the opening song, “Take Ten Terrific Girls,” as a “vaudeville number,” so I think it might be instructive to examine the difference between vaudeville and burlesque, which is mentioned in the song lyrics themselves.
    • Vaudeville doesn’t just mean a variety show; it has always been understood to mean family-friendly entertainment.
    • Burlesque has a reputation of being more risqué, ranging from the suggestive to the explicit but always understood to be adult-only entertainment. Therefore, it’s a really weird thing to sing about on a family-friendly television show, even in the late 1970s.
  • I don’t self-identify as a feminist, so when someone like me has to point out how sexist and exploitive a line like, “Take ten terrific girls / But only nine costumes” is, you know that it is DEEPLY problematic.
  • I know a lot of people object to the Fuzz Brothers/Muppera. And yes, I agree that it is a cheap gag that literally anybody could do. But I suppose that Jim Henson and Jerry Nelson probably did it better than anyone else in the world, if one could measure such things. Yes, it’s stupid and tacky, but it’s not worth getting upset over.
  • The Muppets have always been skilled at deflating snobbery and making high art accessible to the masses, as it was always supposed to be, and this episode is one of the best examples of that.
  • I’m not an opera scholar by any means, but I know enough about it to get the opera puns and to know that it’s weird for Miss Piggy (who’s completely unobjectionable in this episode) to sing Wagner while dressed as Cleopatra.
  • Obviously, the highlight of this episode is Pigoletto:

 

Kenny Rogers

  • Having content warnings helps encourage more critical thought about the content. For example, I’ve watched “Coconut” on YouTube, removed from its original context, multiple times. It never occurred to me until I watched the whole episode, with the content warning, that it might be offensively stereotypical in a nonspecific way. It should have occurred me, but it didn’t. It appears that the content warning didn’t apply to that number, but it doesn’t matter. It still made me think about it.
  • While I don’t actually object to Miss Piggy’s behavior in the episode (her concern seems genuine, and it was Kermit’s fault that he got hurt in the first place), she does give off some uncomfortable, Misery-esque vibes during Vet’s Hospital.
  • It’s touching how concerned Kenny Rogers is about Kermit and how eager he is to help. 
  • Uncle Grosse could have sold the mineral rights to the dressing room to anyone and the gags, such as they were, would still have worked. The stereotyping was needless. 
  • It’s nice to see an appearance by Emily Bear (and her knees!) during the UK spot. 
  • Steve is still upstaging everyone as Foo-Foo in this episode, and I am here for it. 
  • I like that Robin thinks “The Gambler” is a great song but is “not old enough to understand it.” That reminds me of myself when I was little. “The Gambler” was one of the staples of my older brothers’ song repertoire, but I never understood, or really listened to, the lyrics until I was an adult. (Same goes for “Coward of the County.”)

 

Phyllis George: 

  • I like award shows, but I agree with Kermit that award show parodies are kind of dumb, especially when they’re a full episode long. It’s the kind of thing that can only work once. 
  • For the most part, this episode is inoffensive, except for some threats of violence by Piggy at the end and some ill-advised use of the “Turn the World Around” puppets in the UK spot. 
  • Nevertheless, it’s a good episode to keep in mind the next time some pedantic fan insists to you that The Muppet Show never had any guest hosts. 

 

Liza Minnelli: 

  • Ostensibly, this episode is a murder mystery play that the Muppet troupe is putting on, presumably for the audience in the theater. Yet most of the important plot points happen backstage, which is needlessly confusing. 
  • I don’t object to the violence in this episode because if this is a play that the Muppets are putting on, then the violence is staged. I like murder mysteries, and it’s kind of hard to put one on without violence.
  • The only thing I object to in this episode is the UK spot, “Pass That Peace Pipe,” for reasons I have already described in detail.
  • “Copacabana” is a really spectacular number. 

 

Anne Murray:

  • There are some really objectionable aspects to this episode. But Anne Murray is my mom’s favorite singer, and her numbers all bring me back to childhood, for which I’ll forgive a lot. 
  • The UK spot is annoying and offensive, but that’s actually the point of the sketch. Since it’s done for satirical purposes, I’ll give it a pass. 
  • There are a few culturally insensitive throwaway gags in this episode. I don’t mean to imply that being short makes them more acceptable, but they would be even more uncomfortable if they lingered. 
  • It bothers me that the bagpipes in the Muppet Sports sketch contain artillery. 
  • I don’t object to the violence in the “Trudge, Trudge, Streak, Streak” segment because it ends with the two creatures working out their differences. It’s almost a grown-up version of a Sesame Street sketch. 
  • There was a song cut out from this episode on Disney+: Beauregard singing “Dancing on the Ceiling.” It’s not a musical highlight for me (that’d be either “SnowbirdorWalk Right Back,“) but I’m posting it anyway because it’s pretty and sweet and I want to remember that it exists. 

 

Christopher Reeve

  • Christopher Reeve is a charismatic guest who seems up for anything. For the most part, this makes for a charming and fun episode. Unfortunately, it also results in some cringeworthy moments. 
  • Generally speaking, I don’t like fat jokes, having frequently been on the receiving end of some painful ones in my childhood. I know that a lot of people take offense at fat jokes directed at Miss Piggy, and I totally understand and respect that. Nevertheless, while I don’t necessarily think that anyone deserves to be the subject of fat jokes, Miss Piggy’s frequent violent and abusive behavior often makes it difficult for me to sympathize with her. 
  • I have no idea how Christopher Reeve felt at being objectified by Miss Piggy in this episode. All I can say is that it makes me very uncomfortable to watch it, and generally speaking, I don’t think that’s the way that intelligent beings should treat one another. 
  • On a happier note, this episode marks the official debut of the character we have come to know and love as Rizzo … or, as he is known in this episode, “Super Rat.” 
  • When I was a kid, the Sesame Street version of “Disco Frog” scared me, but now I prefer it to the version in this episode.
  • The highlight of this episode is the Shakespeare bit, especially the line, “I’m not mad; I’m acting!” I suspect that that’s an extremely academic joke, but it’s so subtle that I’m not sure it was intended as such. 

 

Lynda Carter:

  • Lynda Carter lights up the screen with her charm, confidence, and good humor. She’s a terrific guest star. 
  • I actually really like Miss Piggy’s “Wonder Pig” sketch. I almost wish that had become a recurring segment. 
  • However, I don’t like when she threatens Kermit during his introduction. And yes, people frequently make hyperbolic death threats that don’t actually mean anything, which is probably what she is doing here, but we already know that Piggy has no qualms about beating up on Kermit when it is expedient for her to do so. 
  • Even putting aside my objections to depictions of gun violence, superheroes who use guns are boring to me. So I don’t appreciate one-off character Super Sheep pulling out a weapon during an otherwise forgettable sketch. 
  • I’m not much of a Beatles fan (I mean, I like them, but I don’t love them), so I’d never heard “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” before, at least not that I remember. Therefore, I honestly couldn’t tell at first whether the line about the floor needing sweeping was the original lyric or someone’s attempt at parody. 
  • The attempted “human sacrifice” in the opening number makes me uncomfortable for a lot of reasons, but I was pleased to see that the Electric Mayhem show up to rescue Janice at the end. They really are friends! Not just people who work together! Awww!
  • I’m so used to Rizzo and the other rats being accepted as part of the group that it’s weird to see that Sam initially objected to their presence. I like that Kermit stuck up for them, but it makes it weird next season when he tells Beauregard to “take care of them.” 
  • Random piece of trivia: Lynda Carter was once in a band in which the drummer was Gary Burghoff, aka Radar on M*A*S*H.
  • There are a lot of good contenders for episode highlight, but I’m going to give it to “The Rubberband Man,” which is both funky and groovy:

 

Doug Henning: 

  • Honestly, the only part of this episode I object to is the UK spot, “Run, Rabbit, Run,” in which the farmer shoots the rabbits at close range and then continues to fire indiscriminately around the backstage area. It honestly makes me want to cry, and not in a good way. 
  • Otherwise, I find this episode completely delightful. 
  • Doug Henning refers to the “poetry of magic.” I don’t know much about magic, but I know a thing or two about poetry. Some people don’t like poetry because it’s not practical and not rational. Yet it expresses truths that cannot be expressed in a straightforward, factual way. I don’t know that magic has deep significance like poetry does, but I suspect that there may be a correlation between not liking poetry and not liking magic. 
  • The rabbits in this episode are really funny. They steal the show.
  • The musical highlight in this episode is Robin singing “Leave Me Some Magic.” However, the overall episode highlight was the distinctly Muppety variation on a common illusion: 

 

Andy Williams: 

  • There’s a paradox at play in this episode. It is true that I object to Miss Piggy’s overly aggressive behavior toward Kermit. It is also true that seeing her chase Kermit around the set while Andy Williams sings “Where Do I Begin? makes me laugh in spite of myself, especially when she finds herself in the spotlight and can’t resist joining in. 
  • I never knew that the theme from Love Story had a real title or lyrics before watching this episode. What a beautiful performance, though!
  • Andy Williams has a number of qualities that make him an appealing guest star. He’s talented, easygoing, and has an endearing way of laughing goofily at his own jokes. He seems genuinely excited when Piggy tells him about her faux engagement, which is really sweet. Presumably, he doesn’t know how dysfunctional the relationship is. 
  • I would object more strenuously to Miss Piggy spreading false rumors of an engagement to Kermit, but that plotline gets abandoned halfway through the episode, and there will be plenty more things to object to in future episodes, so let’s move on for now. 
  • There’s a LOT of great music in the episode, but for the highlight, I’m going to choose a non-musical sketch: Muppet Labs. Beaker really seems to love the cat, and this sketch has inspired me to make up new headcanon that he really wants the “unwanted’ kitty, but the apartment where he lives doesn’t allow it, and he can’t afford to move. Man, Beaker is really just a bottomless well of potentiality.

 

Carol Channing:

  • Miss Piggy actually gets a sympathetic plotline in this episode with her too-small shoes, but she returns to being scheming and manipulative at literally the last possible moment. It’s so disheartening. 
  • The dressing room conversation between Carol and Piggy was genuinely sweet. 
  • At this point, I no longer know what to think about “Your Feet’s Too Big.” Good tune, cool puppetry; that’s all I feel comfortable committing to. 
  • Even apart from the whistling, Carol’s voice in the “Cecilia” sketch sounded different (deeper) than usual. Was that a character voice she was putting on, or was her usual voice an affectation?
  • The musical highlight was undoubtedly “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend.” Piggy would sing that song again with Whoopi Goldberg on Muppets Tonight, which was kind of a big deal because Piggy wasn’t on that show very often. 
  • The overall episode highlight is probably the mash-up of “Pigs in Space” and “Veterinarian’s Hospital.” But I can’t find that one on YouTube. So instead, I’m going to go with the Swedish Chef “Meatloaf,” which is one of my favorite sketches that he’s done. 

Special Category: 

Dizzy Gillespie: 

Generally speaking, there’s nothing too offensive in this episode. I just have a hard time watching it because the hyperextension of Gillespie’s cheeks weirds me out. To most people who don’t have my weird hangups, it would probably be mostly harmless, perhaps even delightful.

Cringeworthy

John Denver:

  • If you’re concerned that a wholesome guest star like John Denver ended up in the “cringeworthy” category, know that I’m surprised at how that turned out too. Rest assured that he’s not the problem in this episode.
  • Without excusing Miss Piggy’s characteristically awful behavior, I have to admit that Kermit mocking her about growing up in the sty was kind of a low blow.
  • I like the message behind “Why Can’t We Be Friends?” but the song itself is like fingernails on the blackboard to me. I might not fault it for that, but I don’t like the fact that Statler and Waldorf pull out a big gun and start shooting people at the end. Also, one of the combatants wears a headdress similar to that worn ceremonially by certain members of indigenous Plains tribes, and that gives me pause.
  • The rest of the sketches and numbers in this episode are delightful, especially the ones involving the guest star. 

 

Victor Borge:

  • I was going to rank this one as “mostly harmless,” but then I reread Tough Pigs’ review of the episode, and it convinced me that Bobby Benson is a deeply disturbing character. He’s more tolerable when we don’t have to think much about his relationship to the babies, but that’s exactly what this episode forces us to do. 
  • The parts with Victor Borge are all delightful, though. Nevertheless, I thought the staging on his number with Rowlf was really weird. I guess they wanted a good shot of their hands on the piano, but as a result, there are times when we can’t even see the guest star’s face.
  • The real highlight of this episode is the UK spot in which Gonzo sings a duet with himself.

Horrific

Jonathan Winters: 

  • This episode proves that a Muppet Show episode doesn’t have to contain Miss Piggy to be offensive. 
  • The whole premise of this show is that the theater is under a “gypsy” curse. Here’s some information about why that’s problematic
  • Jonathan Winters does an act in which he pulls out a box of hats and assumes a different character for each one he puts on. While this could be silly and fun, he pulls out a ceremonial headdress of the indigenous Plains people and starts talking in broken English. 
  • Basically, this episode is a whole buffet of loathsome stereotypes. 
  • However, there are a couple of good parts. The “Bear on Patrol” sketch is really funny, and the caterpillar singing “You’ll Never Walk Alone” is a musical highlight. 

 

Alan Arkin: 

  • Honestly, to me this episode is more dull than disturbing. But I want to hold myself to a consistent standard of opposing bullying and abuse. Miss Piggy is subjected to both in this episode, and it’s hard not to sympathize with her, for once, when she finally lashes out over it. 
  • Sometimes the fat jokes at Piggy’s expense are actually kind of clever, as in the Christopher Reeve episode, and then I don’t mind them as much. But when they dissolve into insults, such as when Link just openly calls Piggy “fatso,” I have a problem with that. 
  • I actually liked Alan Arkin’s original song “Pig Shuffle.” It was insensitive to sing it around actual porcine characters, but of course, that was the whole point. 
  • Since Muppet literary parodies/adaptations are my favorite thing, I kind of wish they had leaned into the whole Jekyll-and-Hyde conceit a little bit more.  
  • The highlight of this episode is unquestionably “The Devil Went Down to Georgia”:

These are very subjective rankings based on the things that I personally enjoy or, conversely, things that make me uncomfortable. I have attempted to judge everything according to a consistent standard. 

One thought on “Muppet Show Viewing Guide: Season 4

  1. Mary Arlene, when you do a review, you are thorough. This brings back so many memories. I being one who watched almost all the Muppet seasons, will save this for future reference, so that I can use it when I view these again. I realize now how many treasured stars were guests on this show, whether their performances were memorable or not, delightful or cringeworthy. Thanks for all your hard work putting this together.

    Liked by 1 person

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