Muppet Show Viewing Guide: Season 5

Season 5 is probably the best The Muppet Show has to offer. If the DVD releases had been based on merit rather than chronology, it should have been the first. Then everyone could enjoy it without having to offer up a pound of flesh to Disney per month in perpetuity.

It makes me a little sad that Henson and Co. stopped making The Muppet Show just as they got really good at it. Nevertheless, this season has its uncomfortable moments just as the other ones do. Furthermore, ceasing production on the Muppet Show freed them up to do Fraggle Rock. And as good as The Muppet Show can be at times, (the original) Fraggle Rock is infinitely better. Yeah, I said it, and I’ll stand by it.

I’m classifying The Muppet Show Season 5 episodes according to the same system that I used in my Season 4 Viewing Guide:

  • Delightful
  • Mostly Harmless
  • Cringeworthy
  • Horrific

However, because there are a couple of episodes not readily available for viewing, I’ve had to add a couple of special categories. 

So, look … I have some serious issues with The Muppet Show, issues that I had long before Disney added content warnings to 15% of the episodes. There are some stereotypes and modeling that I believe to potentially harmful, even taking the good intentions behind them into consideration. In the interest of personal integrity, it’s important to me to call those things out. 

On the other hand, it is possible to overreact to things that are mildly upsetting but really don’t matter. For someone of my temperament, it’s really easy to get caught up in righteous indignation. Nevertheless, when I take a step back and look at the matter objectively, I think that overreaction is counterproductive because flying off the handle about every little thing makes it more difficult to focus on those that are really important. I think everyone, myself included, could benefit from lightening up about this just a little. Not a lot, mind you, maybe just by 5%. For my part, this means trying to target my critiques toward the biggest issues and not focusing so much on the little nit-picky things that don’t really matter.

Of course, that raises the question of who decides what matters and what doesn’t. Well, it’s my blog, so for the purpose of this comprehensive season review, I guess I’m the one who gets to decide. 

Delightful

Senor Wences and Bruce Schwartz:

  • Okay, there’s some gratuitous Piggy violence in the UK spot that keeps this episode from being completely delightful. However, I’m making an exception and listing this episode here because it’s a must-see episode and the highlight isn’t on YouTube, at least not that I can find.
  • Like every MST3K fan, I was aware of Senor Wences because the riffers reference him frequently. I knew he was one of those ventriloquists who literally talk to the hand, and I knew he had a character that lived inside a box. However, I had never seen his act before. So I didn’t know, for example, that he actually opens up the box so that we can see the character inside it, which was … unexpected.
  • Jim Henson’s pride in his profession really shines through in this episode, and it’s a joy to see. For example, it warms my heart to see how supportive Kermit is of Beauregard’s amateur puppetry efforts.
  • I really love all the meta puppet humor that this episode provides. However, my favorite part of Senor Wences’ act isn’t the puppets at all but his phone schtick.
  • In perhaps the biggest instance of unintentional(?) irony in the history of the Muppets, Miss Piggy (of all people) complains that Beauregard’s puppet act is too violent. 
  • Pinocchio is basically a proto-Wembley who sounds and moves exactly like him. Therefore, it’s a little weird to hear his voice singing lyrics that, in another context, could be suggestive. 
  • During the songPuppet Man,” Pinocchio sings the lyric “pull my string,” then holds up his hand to show that there actually is a string attached to his wrist. Yet it’s less obvious than his arm rod, so the joke is almost lost.
  • I have no idea what is happening in that “traditional Japanese ghost story” performed in bunraku style by Bruce Schwartz. Nevertheless, it is SO REFRESHING to see Japanese culture represented on The Muppet Show in a non-stereotypical way after the horrific James Coburn episode (see below). So much so that I consider it to be the highlight of the episode, in a “MORE LIKE THIS!” sort of way.
  • Unfortunately, I can’t find the bunraku act on YouTube. So my embeddable highlight is Fozzie’s marionette act.

Debbie Harry: 

  • There are 18 episodes of TMS on Disney+ with a content warning, and in most cases, it’s glaringly obvious why they deserve them. Even when it’s not obvious, it’s usually because there are a few borderline cases and it’s unclear which one tipped the balance. 
    • I support the content warnings when they make sense. This one doesn’t. Even the most plausible hypothesis I’ve seen to explain it doesn’t make any sense because it’s based on an inconsistently applied standard. 
    • So I’m ranking this episode delightful because there’s nothing major in it that makes me uncomfortable at all. However, if someone is personally offended by something in this episode (other than the music), please leave a comment or email me about it. I’d genuinely like to discuss it with you and find out what the specific problem is. 
  • I’m not one of those killjoys who thinks that “Rainbow Connection” should be buried deep in a vault and only played on state occasions. I don’t get tired of hearing it, ever. However, there are some renditions I like better than others, and I don’t really like the rendition that Debbie Harry sings with Kermit. 
    • Nevertheless, I think I know what the problem is. Debbie seems to be a soprano or a mezzo, while Jim Henson, and therefore Kermit, was a tenor. It’s really hard for those two voice parts to sing together in unison. If you’re a soprano or a mezzo and you try to sing in a tenor’s range, the low notes are going to be too low, whereas if you sing an octave up, the high notes are going to be too high. I think that’s what’s happening to Debbie here. 
  • Mrs. Appleby turned out to be a really fun character. I kind of wish she had stuck around. 
  • The UK spot, which is mysteriously absent from YouTube, features a lovely song performed by Kathy Mullen. If Pinocchio is a proto-Wembley, is “Girl With Beetle” a proto-Mokey?
  • The highlight of the episode is “One Way or Another,” mostly because of Debbie Harry’s comedic takes to the camera: 

Jean-Pierre Rampal:

  • I agree with Miss Piggy’s assessment of the guest star in this episode: “He’s sweet!” And his episode is one of the best that The Muppet Show has to offer. 
  • And speaking of Miss Piggy, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: This episode should serve as an example of how the character should be handled in all Muppet productions. She’s not violent at all, yet neither is she bland or passive or dull. She’s smart, funny, feisty, sassy, cunning, and quick-witted. Her most lovable flaws are on full display, while her upsetting ones are completely absent. MORE, PLEASE!
  • All the musical numbers in the episode are really good: vocal, instrumental, and in between. Don’t skip over Rampal playingThe Little Shepherdin the dressing room. It’s not really Muppety, but it’s beautiful. 
  • Like Beverly Sills before him, Rampal uses The Muppet Show as a platform to make high art more accessible and appealing to the general public. Apparently, it was a professional goal of his in general. 
  • The aptly named opening number, “Rockin’ Robin,” features a robin puppet modeled after the European robin rather than the American robin. The two species of birds are completely unrelated to one another. About the only similarity between the two is the coloration on their chests, which is how the American robin got its name. 
  • The “Pied Piper” number is a perfect illustration of what I love best about the Muppets, when they take an existing story and put a unique Muppety spin on it, so it becomes something familiar yet totally fresh. 
  • As the burgermeister of Hamlin, Rizzo has a little pipe that actually emits smoke, or at least something strongly resembling it. WHAT? How on Earth did they do that?

Paul Simon:

  • What a great episode! If every episode of the Muppet Show was like this, it would deserve the breathless admiration with which it is regarded in the fandom.
  • In the opening number, there’s a character walking around on stilts who persists in doing so backstage for the duration of the episode. In the beginning, he’s performed by Steve, and then later by Frank Oz. 
    • I understand, roughly, how a stilt-walking Muppet works, but it’s still a pretty cool-looking piece of puppetry. 
  • The comedic Rule of Three was deployed perfectly in this episode with the multiple riffs on “50 Ways…” It may be my favorite running gag in any Muppet Show episode. 
  • There’s so much about this episode that’s delightful, and I don’t want to give anything away to people who haven’t seen it. So let me just say, I like the scene with theasparagus eggsfor sooooo many reasons.
  • If there is an objectionable moment in this episode, it’s probably the Baby Band singing “Baby Driver.” It’s not enough to spoil the whole episode for me or make it any less delightful.
  • There’s a quiet scene in the dressing room in which Pops wants to hear “Long, Long Day.” Jerry Nelson gives a very beautiful, subtle performance when Pops expresses disappointment at being told it’s not on the schedule. 
  • If you want to hear the real lyrics to the song that Gonzo was singing onstage, (and, like me, you’re not already familiar with it) here’s Paul Simon singing it on Sesame Street.
  • The highlight of this episode is the opening number, “Scarborough Fair.” Apparently, it was the most complicated sequence they had ever staged, and boy does it pay off: 

Melissa Manchester: 

  • Maybe I should have had a separate category for episodes like this one: Innocuous, enjoyable, but not super memorable, at least not to me.
  • Melissa Manchester seems to belong to a genre of soft rock/easy listening music characteristic of the ’70s and early ’80s. While not necessarily my favorite genre of music, hearing it takes me right back to my childhood. Therefore, it has a special place in my heart. 
  • When I watch The Muppet Show, I often wonder whether the guest star’s numbers have been prerecorded. I know the Muppets themselves usually pre-record their songs, yet there are cases in which the guest star is clearly singing live (cf. Kris Kristofferson cracking up while singing with Piggy). In this episode, at the very end ofYour Cheatin’ Heart,” it becomes obvious that the track was pre-recorded. Melissa’s mouth starts grinning while her voice is still clearly audible singing “yoooooooooooooou.” She’s undeniably a remarkable vocalist, but she’s either a very poor lip sync-er or a better ventriloquist than anyone anticipated. 
  • I have no fault to find with Melissa’s performance ofDon’t Cry Out Loud.” However, I do have some minor issues with, or at least questions about, both the song itself and the staging.
    • I appreciate the song’s message of perseverance and of being satisfied with striving for the best even if you don’t reach it. However, it also seems to be arguing that strength equals stoicism, and I don’t think that’s true at all. I think that a lot of the problems in the world arise because people deny or supress their feelings rather than expressing them in a healthy way.
    • The staging of the song evokes a circus, which kind of makes sense because it’s referenced in the lyrics. But Melissa gives a very earnest performance while being upstaged by a troupe of dancing clowns with big Muppet eyes. I don’t know what reaction they were trying for; it looks completely ridiculous, but there’s no laugh track to let us know that it’s supposed to be funny. 
  • The highlight of the episode is “Whenever I Call You Friend,” a warm and happy musical number in which everyone seems to be relaxed and having fun: 

Gladys Knight: 

  • This isn’t a standout episode for me but I strongly encourage you to watch it in its entirety. It’s generally a lot of fun, and the highlight isn’t on YouTube. 
  • Like most TMS episodes from seasons 4 and 5, I had never seen this one until it became available on Disney+. However, there are a couple of moments that are weirdly nostalgic for me.
    • When I was a kid, my family would occasionally visit Wall Drug while on vacation, and I once saw a mechanical gorilla there perform “Alley Oop.” 
    • As a young person, I also learned a tap dance routine to “I Heard It Through the Grapevine.” It was a different version from Gladys Knight’s, but that was also weirdly nostalgic. 
  • At the same time, this episode seems unexpectedly topical, especially in the lyrics to “Friendship Train,” which are at least as applicable now as they were when this episode was made in the early ’80s and when the song was first made popular in 1969.
  • “Friendship Train” is the highlight of the episode for me, but I can’t find it on YouTube. I can find “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” which is also a lot of fun: 

Mostly Harmless

Gene Kelly:

  • For the most part, I find this episode delightful. There are just a couple of relatively small things that bother me. If it was only one, I might let it slide, but since there are two, I don’t feel that I can ignore them.
    • In the cold open, the Swedish Chef hits Pops on the head with a cooking implement. Puppet violence is one thing, but violence by human-like Muppets against other human-like Muppets is something else entirely, and I don’t like it.
    • I don’t know exactly what’s happening in the UK spot, but it makes me a little uncomfortable. I like the harmonies, though.
  • Gene Kelly is a joy to watch because he’s such a good sport.
  • I like that Piggy is on her best behavior in this episode, and I like the song that she sings with Gene. But I just have to point that if had been Kermit cozying up to a female guest star and begging her to sing with him, Piggy would have flown into a rage. That’s not even a hypothetical because a very similar scenario plays out later in the season (or earlier, depending on whether you go by broadcast order or production order).
  • Generally, I don’t really like the song “Cool Water,” but the ironic staging makes me happy.
  • The musical highlight is theSingin’ in the Rain” medley; I especially like when Gene and Scooter sing “‘S Wonderful.” But Kermit dancing on the piano is probably the main episode highlight because of the cool puppetry.

Joan Baez:

  • There are a few relatively minor issues with this episode, but for the most part, I really enjoyed it.
  • Joan Baez is one of those artists whom I’ve been vaguely aware of most of my life, more as a pop culture reference than anything else. However, she did record a version of “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” which is one of my dad’s favorite songs.
  • This episode is sort of Rizzo’s origin story, which is a little awkward since he’s been a character on the show since last season.
  • You might point out to me that Rizzo manipulating Beauregard in this episode is similar to Miss Piggy’s frequent machinations. I agree, but Rizzo does something in this episode that Piggy, to my knowledge, has never done: He apologizes for his bad behavior.
  • I don’t have any fault to find with Piggy in this specific episode. However, Beau’s esteem for her seems to be one-sided judging by the disdain she shows for him in future episodes.
  • The animals in “Man Smart, Critter Smarter” end up stooping to man’s level by blowing up the factory, thereby undermining their entire thesis.
  • Joan Baez’s first number, “Honest Lullaby,” is very pretty but a little uncomfortable because of some adult themes. Nevertheless, I’m pretty sure that’s the whole point.
  • She also does some funny impressions in this episode, including a spot-on Marlon Brando. At one point she puts on an Indian accent to deliver one of her punchlines. Potentially problematic? Indeed. Funniest joke in the whole episode? Absolutely. I’m comfortable with the paradox that those two qualities aren’t always mutually exclusive.
  • I can’t decide whether the content warning on this one is because of Joan Baez’s Gandhi impression or one of the rats’ brief Mexican accent/sombrero. I guess it could be both.
  • Floyd singing “take these sunken eyes and learn to see” during “Blackbird” is a bit on the nose.
  • Rizzo wears a very cool little jacket in this episode. Shout-out to Melissa Whitmire (Steve’s wife) who probably made it. And if she didn’t make that one, she made a lot of Rizzo’s clothes in the early days, so still deserves a shout-out.
  • Speaking of Rizzo’s clothes, he shows up in “Pigs in Space” wearing the cutest little Swinetrek uniform. *squee!*
  • The highlight of this episode is “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” for the music, the effects, and the whole benevolent message of unity.

Shirley Bassey:

  • This is a standout episode for music. All the numbers are really good, both those with and without the guest star.
  • Lips is featured twice in this episode: Once during “Barnyard Boogie,” in which he sings a line, and once duringAfter You’ve Gone.”
  • This episode had two instrumental numbers in a row, which I don’t really mind, but it seems odd. One was the UK spot, which may explain it.
  • There are just a couple of uncomfortable moments in this episode:
    • One of the Dancing Sacks calls the other an “old bag.” If there are comparative degrees of abuse depictions, a shapeless inanimate object belittling another one seems relatively mild to me. However, even the Muppet fan conglomerate called this one out, so I can’t give it a pass.
    • It’s also uncomfortable at the end when the guard falsely accuses and arrests Shirley Bassey for stealing the gold, especially when there’s presumably a whole audience who saw what actually happened and can testify to it. (Also, it was recorded on film,)
  • I really love the song “Pennies From Heaven,” but I prefer the tempo to be a little peppier. This languid performance, while lovely, was not to my taste.
  • I was a little distressed when I saw Beaker in the background making off with one of the gold bars. Then I realized that he must have had an unselfish motive for it and was probably operating under Dr. Honeydew’s orders. And sure enough!
  • It’s SO HARD to choose a highlight from this episode! But “Goldfinger” is iconic, so I guess I’ll go with that.

Glenda Jackson:

  • Muppet Treasure Island is one of my two favorite Muppet movies, and this episode prefigures that movie in some respects (e.g., Kermit’s swordfight), which makes it really enjoyable for me by and large. Unfortunately, there are a few cringeworthy moments that spoil the otherwise goofy fun.
  • At the end of the episode, Gonzo becomes the big hero, sailing in to the strains of “Anchors Aweigh” and turning himself into a living grappling hook. However, it’s his opening number that I find so disheartening.
  • Usually when I talk about potentially problematic moments on The Muppet Show, I talk about them in terms of how they make me feel subjectively (e.g., “this makes me uncomfortable” or “I object to that”) rather than throw around a lot of judgmental-sounding language, such as, “This is racist” or “That’s sexist,” etc. That’s very much by design because I am fortunate that I have little, if any, significant first-hand experience with discrimination. Bullying, yes; shaming, yes; but not discrimination. Therefore, I feel that it’s not for me to make sweeping pronouncements about what is or is not acceptable or offensive.
  • However, I have experienced workplace sexual harassment,* which was the most traumatic experience of my life. So when I say that the opening number, “Working at the Car Wash Blues,” is deeply offensive, I’m speaking directly from my own experience.
    • It’s so jarring to see Gonzo, who’s usually such a sweet, lovable character, fantasizing about sexually harassing his secretary to the distant sound of canned audience giggles. Now, ordinarily I wouldn’t begrudge anyone their own private fantasies, but since this is being acted out for our purported amusement, I think that makes it fair game for critique.
    • Because Gonzo is such an innocent character, his “trash-talking” to the secretaries referenced in the song lyrics probably would have been fairly mild. Nevertheless, I can’t help but shudder (literally) to think of what the lyricist had in mind when he penned those words originally.
    • When people got upset about the whole Pepe Le Pew thing, I wondered about the extent to which anyone could or would identify with a nonanthropomorphic cartoon cat. But here I am identifying with a quasi-anthropomorphic chicken character, and I don’t even have any affinity for chickens, except as entrees. So I now have a better understanding of and sympathy for people who identify with Penelope the Cat.
  • “Carolina in the Morning” is a song I really love, but I don’t like that Eric the Parrot shoots the Swedish Chef full in the face at the end.
  • I don’t object to Miss Piggy’s behavior in this episode, but I am a little surprised that Captain Jackson’s pirate crew could subdue her so easily. Was it the element of surprise?
  • I said before that I have mixed feelings about fat jokes at Miss Piggy’s expense because sometimes they are actually sort of clever. However, not only is the conceit of Miss Piggy rocking the ship/theater by walking back and forth not very funny to begin with, but they already used it in a “Pigs in Space” sketch from last season. It doesn’t improve with repetition.
  • I don’t know anything about Glenda Jackson apart from this, but she certainly played her part with great gusto. The result is an enjoyably hammy performance that could give Tim Curry’s Long John Silver a run for his money.
  • This episode has so many more highlights than lowlights, but I have to call out the finale as a particular bright spot:
*The treatment I received didn’t come from co-workers or supervisors, but it still fits the legal definition, which includes harassment by non-employees.

Mac Davis:

  • In this episode, Beaker falls into the Muppet Labs’ copying machine, producing multiple duplicates of himself. By the end of the episode, they’ve taken over the whole show. For most people, this is the most memorable moment, so I’m somewhat surprised by how small an impression it made on me. 
  • The duplicates spend the whole episode trying to get Dr. Honeydew, and while I don’t necessarily object to this, I would like to hear the explanation, assuming that there is one, for why duplicates of the normally mild-mannered Beaker suddenly became violent. 
  • I first became aware of Mac Davis because of Dave Barry’s Book of Bad Songs. Several of Mac’s songs were mentioned in the book, including one performed in this episode, “Baby, Don’t Get Hooked on Me.” The lyrics appear to have undergone some updates so it could be sung as a duet with Piggy. I consider the changes to be an improvement, but I don’t know if Dave Barry would agree with me. 
    • I can’t decide whether the speaker in the song is a complete sleaze or should get credit for being upfront and honest with what he wants from the relationship (insofar as there is one). 
    • Piggy’s very funny in this number, and I think it’s genuinely sweet when she says that she’s attracted to Mac because he’s wearing flippers. 
    • After the number, Piggy kind of ogles Kermit’s and Mac’s flippers as they walk away. I imagine that, if the genders were reversed, the fandom would probably have something critical to say about that. As for me, I find it mildly uncomfortable, but it doesn’t bother me as much as her panting and drooling to the point of incoherency over Christopher Reeve back in Season 4.
  • While the multiple Beakers are fun, the highlight of this episode for me was “Hard To Be Humble,” or, more specifically, the joke Link Hogthrob makes right beforehand about having a certain “je ne sais quoi”:

Carol Burnett: 

  • This was one of the first episodes of The Muppet Show that I ever saw. In the early 2000s, I ran across a volume of the “Best of the Muppet Show” DVD sets that had this episode on it during a shopping trip. I thought, “Hey, I like Muppets! And everyone in my family likes them too!” So I bought it as a Christmas present for one of my brothers; I don’t remember which.
    • After opening presents, we watched the entire DVD. Not being very familiar with The Muppet Show, I didn’t really know what to make of the collection in general and this episode in particular. Watching it now after becoming more familiar with The Muppet Show, I have a better appreciation for it. 
  • The most objectionable part of this episode is the UK spot, the “Poke Me Polka.” As a runner-up, Carol Burnett punches Scooter in the face for making an honest mistake. 
  • Being the Muppet heretic that I am, “At the Dance” is one of my favorite recurring TMS segments. So when Kermit and Gonzo point out that this episode is just like the regular “At the Dance” segments, only it “goes on FOREVER!” I’m totally on board. 
  • It’s hard to pick out a highlight of this episode, but there’s one very specific joke that I particularly enjoy because of Carol Burnett’s delivery: 

Hal Linden: 

  • The main thing that gives me pause about this episode is Miss Piggy singing “Just an Old-Fashioned Girl” while dressed in Indian garb, not because of anything specific that Miss Piggy does but because I wonder if it is culturally insensitive. I don’t feel qualified to make that judgment. 
  • Otherwise, this episode is a lot of fun. The premise is that Statler and Waldorf have taken over hosting duties while Fozzie and Kermit are sitting in their usual box. And while Fozzie adopts their curmudgeonly attitude, Kermit cheers every act enthusiastically. It’s adorable. 
  • In the streaming version, there’s a cut song in which Robin and Hal Linden sing “If I Ruled the World.” It’s an annoying cut because not only is the song itself very sweet (obviously, because Robin sings it) but the content remaining is clearly setting up a song cue, and it’s frustrating when it doesn’t happen. 
  • I have to choose “When the Saints Go Marching In” as the highlight, since I stiffed it once before. As a former clarienetist, I have to point out that when I watch Hal Linden fall at the end, I can’t help thinking about all the horrible things that could happen to him or his instrument as a result. His reed could get broken, his keys could get bent … I know it was a planned pratfall, but a lot of things could have gone wrong. I really enjoy his playing, though. 

Marty Feldman: 

  • I am not an expert on cultural sensitivity. I am just educated enough to know that there is a lot that I still don’t know. I did read a portion of the 1,001 Arabian Nights when I was in college, but beyond that, I don’t know a lot about Middle Eastern cultures. So I don’t have objections to actual or perceived stereotyping in this episode so much as I have questions. 
  • Beyond that, what I find unequivocably objectionable in this episode is the explicit and implicit gunplay. 
  • Otherwise, this episode is really funny. Marty Feldman has exquisite comedic timing, and of course I enjoy the literary parody aspect of it.
  • “He’s not Sinbad!” is a running gag in one of my favorite MST3K episodes. So Kermit’s comment about not being Sinbad the Sailor and Stalter and Waldorf’s comment (“I don’t think that was Sinbad!”) are extra funny to me. 
  • The version streaming on Disney+ is somewhat infamous for cutting the entrance of the Sesame Street characters with the attendant theme song. And while it creates a plothole as to why those characters are there, I nevertheless find that I’m 100% okay with not hearing the Sesame Street theme song again. 
  • The highlight of this episode for me is “Surfin’ USA”:

Johnny Cash: 

  • So, here’s where I come down on the whole Confederate flag thing: Until recently, my reaction to it has been based entirely on context. If people are waving it around chanting racist slogans, or storming the Capitol, or doing both at the same time, obviously my reaction to that is going to be negative. But in a neutral context like this, my reaction has typically been neither negative nor positive.
    • I’m evolving in that regard, though; I don’t always have a kneejerk negative reaction to it myself, but I understand and respect why other people do.
    • In any case, if there’s a chance, however remote or improbable, that its background appearance on the Muppet Show could be misinterpreted as an endorsement of hateful words and actions, despite all evidence to the contrary, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to take 15 seconds at the beginning of the episode to make it explicitly clear that that is not the case. 
  • For what it’s worth, I think the U.S. and Confederate flags hanging in the background are supposed to represent unity between North and South. I imagine that there was probably a better way to illustrate that, though. 
  • At least as offensive to me as the Confederate flag is the gunplay during the opening number. 
  • Johnny Cash is someone whom I admire very much, both as an artist and as an activist for Indigenous people. He seems absolutely tickled to be performing with the Muppets; he can’t seem to stop smiling even when it isn’t particularly appropriate for the song that he’s singing. I get the impression that it was kind of unusual for him to smile while performing, although I have limited data from which to draw such a conclusion, so I could be wrong. 
  • This episode is rare in that it features an outside antagonist for the Muppets, something that I think always works to their benefit. It warms my heart that Kermit is too intimidated to stand up for himself to Big Tiny Tallsaddle but doesn’t hesitate to come to Fozzie’s defense. 
  • “Ghost Riders in the Sky” is a great song in general, but I really like that this arrangement added vibraphone to the instrumentation, enhancing the overall spooky mood. 

Buddy Rich: 

  • What is it about the word “lard” that makes it so ugly?
    • Is it something about the word itself? The combination of letters and phonics?
    • Is it the association with an unpleasant animal byproduct?
    • Is it that it tends to figure so prominently in the most hateful schoolyard taunts about weight that I and many others endured from our peers as young people?
  • I don’t know, but I do know that there’s nothing funny or clever about the comment: “It’s too bad lard doesn’t glow in the dark.” While I don’t condone Miss Piggy hitting Buddy Rich after he says so, I can’t judge her too harshly because I can’t say with any confidence that I wouldn’t do the exact same thing in her situation. 
  • This is a pretty fun episode otherwise. The backstage plot is enjoyably surreal, and Buddy Rich has an appealingly deadpan delivery. 
  • I like it when Beauregard gets a shock from working on the fuse box and says it “bit” him. It reminds me of one summer when I worked at a tourist attraction. One day a man came up to me said that an insect had “bit” his young son. Eventually, I figured out that a wasp had stung him. I was mystified why anyone would describe it like that. Did they not have wasps where they came from? Do insects in their area bite people with their butts? Thank goodness the kid wasn’t allergic, or he could have gone into anaphylactic shock while I was trying to figure out what the hell his father was trying to say.
  • There’s a song that was cut from the streaming version on Disney+. It’s so completely unremarkable, I don’t even remember what it’s called or how it goes. 
  • Do you suppose “Good Day Sunshine” served as inspiration for the song “Hello Sunshine” from Tale of the Bunny Picnic? I always get those two confused. 

Roger Moore:

  • Muppet continuity is a slippery thing, which is probably part of the appeal. This episode raises some real questions about how much of the plot is happening in the Muppets’ “reality” and how much is “all part of the show”:
    • Is Roger Moore an actor who plays a spy character, or is he “really” 007?
    • Is he “really” dating Annie Sue, or is that just part of the sketch?
    • Are the spies “really” spies, or are they actors hired to do the bit?
  • These questions are academic for the most part, but without knowing the answers, I don’t know how to react to the number between Moore and Miss Piggy. Because if she’s “really” trying to romance him in spite of his pronounced and obvious disinterest, I find that to be problematic. 
  • I love it every time Roger Moore says that he “trod” in a pie. That distinctly British turn of phrase makes it funnier and at the same time, somehow sounds more dignified. 
  • Roger Moore clearly isn’t a singer, but having him perform “Talk to the Animals,” written for famous speak-singer Rex Harrison, was a great way to involve him in a big number without stretching him beyond his capabilities. 
  • I noticed that they changed some of the lyrics to the song to fit animal puppets that they happened to have, which was probably much less expensive than building a whole new cheetah puppet, for example. 
  • There’s some mild gunplay in “Talk to the Animals,” but I don’t mind it so much because it’s organic to the whole spy genre. I don’t like it, but I can live with it. 

Incomplete

The Brooke Shields episode is not on Disney+, or at least it wasn’t when I was still subscribed. This appears to have been a music rights issue. I was just going to skip the episode, but from what I knew about it, it sounded like my favorite type of Muppet thing. Knowing that most of the individual bits from The Muppet Show have been pulled from their original context and posted on YouTube, I went searching for pieces of this episode and cobbled them together. I didn’t find every moment, but I put together a patchwork of consisting of most of the episode, at least before most of the clips were deleted. My impressions of the episode are based on that: 

  • In my opinion, this episode has three of the things that make a Muppet production great:
  • Indeed, if you count the medley in the UK spot as one song, most of the songs in this episode are original. Which makes it ironic that it had to be left off the streaming platform due to music rights issues. But it only takes one.
  • One thing that I really like about this episode is that, while the fantastical things that happen onstage continue offstage, they do so in a way that doesn’t impact the plot of the play that’s supposed to be going on. This is a HUGE improvement over the Liza Minnelli episode, in which half of the most important plot points happen backstage. 
  • Once again, Miss Piggy is jealous of a female guest star and tries to get her out of the way through violent means. However, this time she is plotting against a teenage girl, which makes it even more uncomfortable than usual.
  • Steve portrays the White Rabbit, using the same voice as Wembley and Bean. This makes it a LITTLE jarring when he turns out to be a “cruel, heartless, violent little bunny rabbit.”
  • I REALLY like the look of the White Rabbit puppet, though. Also, pay special attention to his nose during the introduction. I don’t know how, but somehow Steve is making his nose twitch like a real rabbit’s. I’m in awe. 
  • One thing that I noticed watching this episode is that the songs, original and otherwise, seem to be arranged in such a way to prevent Brooke Shields from actually singing, i.e., she speaks all the lines that she has in the songs. This makes me wonder, was there a lack of confidence in the guest star’s singing ability? Because I know that Brooke Shields can, in fact, sing; she eventually went on to do Broadway musicals as an adult. 
  • Objectively, insofar as it is possible to compare the two, I think this episode is probably better than Muppets’ Wizard of Oz. Subjectively, however, I think I prefer the latter production, just because it’s based on one of my favorite books, and I never had much use for the Alice stories. 
  • It’s hard to pick a highlight of this episode when I haven’t technically seen the whole thing. But I think I’ll go with “Jabberwocky” because it’s probably the most literary bit and because I like that it has fun at Lewis Carroll’s expense. The puppetry is really cool too: 

Unavailable

The Chris Langham episode is not available on Disney+, and while no official reason has been given, it may have something to do with the guest star’s subsequent history of criminal conviction. The episode may exist in fragmented form on YouTube, but I don’t care enough to invest the time and energy that it would take to seek it out and put it together. So I haven’t seen it and therefore can’t review it. 

Cringeworthy

Loretta Swit:

  • It’s the backstage plot that makes this episode cringeworthy for me. It would have been horrific except for the warmth and talent of the lovely Loretta Swit.
  • I know the episode wants us to sympathize with Piggy, but I’m having none of it. After spreading false and potentially harmful rumors in the press, Piggy gets off easy by merely being fired. She’s lucky she didn’t get sued for defamation as well.
  • Notice that near the end of the episode, Piggy insists that she resigned rather than being fired. She’s trying to gaslight Kermit, another trick right out of the abuser’s handbook.
  • The worst part of this episode is that Piggy doesn’t really face any consequences for her behavior. She gets fired, but then she gets hired back without question. She doesn’t learn anything, and nothing prevents her from coming back week after week and doing the same thing. It’s infuriating!
  • On M*A*S*H, Loretta’s character, Margaret Houlihan, is usually very serious, so it’s nice to see her show a more fun and effervescent side.
  • Of all the Muppet Show guests, I think Loretta may be one of the most tactile when interacting with the Muppets. She always seems to show them physical affection while talking to them; it’s endearing to see how much she seems to enjoy being around them.
  • It recently came to my attention that Loretta Swit talked about appearing on The Muppet Show during a podcast interview. It’s well worth a listen.
  • I have mixed feelings about “Ain’t Nobody Here but Us Chickens.” On the one hand, I want the rats and weasels, etc., to get their comeuppance, but I don’t like that the rescuers have to shoot off guns.
  • This episode features the best Statler and Waldorf stinger of the entire series. But I freely admit to some bias. I really like the gag just before the credits too; Frank’s delivery really sells it. 
  • Undoubtedly, the musical highlight of this episode is “I Feel the Earth Move” for both the music and the effects.

Tony Randall: 

  • There are many plenty of legitimate criticisms to make of Miss Piggy, and I do not shy away from any of them. However, in this episode she undergoes a terrible ordeal. Her plight, though rooted in fantasy, is genuinely sympathetic. 
    • Miss Piggy is put under a curse that turns her to stone. She is unable to speak or move, yet she retains consciousness and is able to feel pain. Worse yet, she is able to hear everything that people say about her without being able to defend herself.
    • While I object to gratuitous violence and abuse, I don’t begrudge anyone the right to self-defense. And while I understand why some Muppets may be less than sympathetic to Miss Piggy’s plight, I don’t think it’s fair to kick someone who’s already down.
  • If being turned to stone was a punishment for something Miss Piggy had done, that would be one thing. We could then discuss whether the punishment was proportionate to the crime. However, Miss Piggy does nothing in this episode to raise the question of whether she deserves to be turned to stone. It happens because she was in the wrong place at the wrong time, not because of anything that she did. It could have happened to anyone. 
  • Kermit’s empathy for Piggy is really quite touching, especially for The Muppet Show when he is frequently kind of a jerk. However, he makes it explicitly clear that he sees her as a friend
  • Upon being restored to her true self, Piggy does get violently angry. And yet, given all she’s been through, I can’t really blame her. Or let me put it this way: In this instance, I don’t feel qualified to cast stones. 
  • Tony Randall shows a good range in this episode. I enjoy his performance very much. 
  • He performs a song that has been cut from Disney+ calledTi-Pi-Tin,” which looks like it should be pronounced “tie pie tin” but is actually pronounced “tippy tin.” It has no bearing on the rest of the episode, and if you didn’t know it was supposed to be there, you probably wouldn’t miss it. It’s kind of a fun little thing, though. 
  • I have doubts as to the appropriateness of the poem that Randall recites at the closing. However, since we didn’t get to hear the whole thing, I’ll reserve judgment. 
  • I love Rizzo’s little football uniform! 
  • There’s an instrumental number in this episode that involves a lot of violence and explosions. Well, maybe I’m getting inured to Muppet violence because it didn’t even register with me the first couple of times I watched it. 
  • The highlight of this episode for me is probably the scene in the dressing room between Scooter and Randall as the latter is trying to find a spell to turn Miss Piggy back. However, that one’s not on YouTube. As a musical highlight, I’ll choose “Yakkety Yak”:

Wally Boag:

  • This episode is mostly harmless until the last number. Subjectively, it’s cringeworthy for me because of a gag in which Boag gets hit in the mouth and starts spitting out what are implied to be broken teeth. And it just goes on and on and on. As someone currently coping with some serious dental issues of my own, I don’t find it very funny.
  • I guess the first time I watched this, I was so distracted by the teeth-spitting gag that I missed the fact that the lyrics contain two instances of a racial slur against Indigenous people (“r-dskins”). But objectively, it’s even more cringeworthy than the thing with the teeth. 
    • Based on my research, it looks like the song “Pecos Bill” was written in the late 1940s for the Disney animated adaptation of the story of the same name. In the movie, the song was sung by Roy Rogers, who also narrated, and the lyrics contained only one instance of the slur instead of two. In that version, the lyrics start out: “While a tribe of painted Indians did a war dance…” etc. Which doesn’t make it okay, but it does raise a legitimate question about why the lyrics underwent such fluctuations throughout the decades. 
    • The more I think about it, the more infuriated it makes me. Way back in the first season of the Muppet Show, they did “Mississippi Mud,” the original lyrics of which contain an epithet referring to the skin color of African Americans (“d-rkies”). Those lyrics were changed so that they would not be offensive, e.g., “The people gather ’round and they all begin to shout.” WHY wouldn’t the same standard have been applied to “Pecos Bill”? I don’t understand it at all. 
  • I did enjoy seeing Annie Sue take a prominent role in the last number, though. That was a pleasant surprise.
  • I also don’t like it when Wally Boag comes on stage to do his balloon act firing a gun in the air for no reason that I can ascertain. 
  • The balloon act itself is pretty enjoyable. There are some questionable jokes, but they go by so fast that you don’t really have time to think about them. 
  • There’s a song that was cut from this episode in the Disney+ version. It’s not really worth looking up or watching. 
  • This is the episode in which the Swedish Chef, Beaker, and Animal sing “Danny Boy” as the Leprechaun Brothers. It is undoubtedly the musical highlight, but I’m reluctant to feature it because it is already so popular. 
  • Instead, as an episode highlight, I’ll choose Miss Piggy’s dog act with Foo-Foo, another very good example of her being her well-rounded, complicated, cantankerous self without resorting to violence. The switch between real dog and Foo-Foo puppet is fairly seamless, and Rowlf makes a good foil for Piggy.

Horrific

James Coburn:

  • Ugh. THIS episode.
  • The closing number of this episode starts out as a “Salute to Japan.” It’s alternately described as a “Japanese Square Dance.” In reality, it’s an incoherent mess of Asian stereotypes. The most generous way to describe it is “insensitive.”
    • It was only a few days after I watched this episode that the mass shooting targeting Asian-owned businesses in Atlanta took place. (That was almost a year ago; I’ve been drafting this entry for a long time.) I’m not suggesting any direct causation between this sketch and that event, but it made it even more painful for me.
    • There is no doubt in my mind that the people who came up with this sketch did so without malice. I can well imagine them gathered together in the writing room misguidedly congratulating themselves on coming up with a sketch about different cultures learning to get along.
    • I don’t mean to downplay the importance of having good intentions. I think that meaning well and not wishing harm to anyone counts for a lot. Maybe that diminishes the responsibility one bears for what one puts out into the world, but I don’t think it negates it altogether.
  • I also object to the cold open in which James Coburn shoots Scooter. If gunplay in Muppet productions was ever funny, which is debatable, it isn’t anymore.
  • Otherwise, the interactions between James Coburn and Animal in this episode are mildly amusing. If you particularly like James Coburn and/or gangster movies, you might enjoy the episode overall. I have no affinity for either.
  • Tough Pigs concludes their descriptive portion of the review of this episode by saying: “But I want The Muppet Show to be better than that [closing sketch], because it’s so good at everything else.” To which I respond … Is it? Really? EVERYthing else? I don’t buy into the Muppet fan dogma that The Muppet Show is the best thing they’ve ever done, but that’s a subject for a future post (perhaps several).
  • There is one highlight of this episode: “Close to You.” It’s a song that I’ve loved since I was a tiny, tiny child, and it happens to lend itself really well to Muppet literalism:

Linda Ronstadt: 

  • The guest star is charming, the musical numbers (mostly) stellar. But the backstage plot of this episode is absolutely horrific. 
  • Remember when I said that, over the course of her history, Miss Piggy has displayed all the warning signs of a domestic abuser? Well, she displays all those signs in THIS EPISODE ALONE! 
  • And yet, at the end, when she confesses her “love” for Kermit, Linda Ronstadt embraces her like a sister and promptly backs off. I know that The Muppet Show isn’t intended to be educational, but would it have been unreasonably heavy-handed to point out that people who genuinely love each other don’t lock one another in moldy trunks? 
  • Part of my issue with Miss Piggy’s abusive behavior in general is that she never seems to face any consequences for her actions. And yet, I derive no satisfaction from the fact that she herself gets locked in the trunk at the end of this episode. I guess because it’s implied that Kermit locked her in the trunk, or at least arranged for someone else to do it. I don’t necessarily think that Kermit should be nice and happy all the time, but I don’t think he should stoop to that level of petty vindictiveness. An eye for an eye isn’t justice in my book.
  • I do like the interactions between Kermit and Linda. They really do seem to have some genuine chemistry. 
  • Like Joan Baez, Linda Ronstadt is someone whose work I’m surprised I’m not more familiar with. She seems like someone my parents would like, and I really love all the songs she does in this episode.
  • At the risk of being inconsistent, I don’t really have a huge problem with all the gunplay and explosions during “The Cat Came Back.” Its cartoonish quality makes it hard to take seriously. 
  • I really love Linda and Janice (and the backup singers) belting out “It’s in His Kiss.” But for the musical highlight, I think I have to go with “Blue Bayou,” if only because of the return of the vibraphone:

Going into The Muppet Show seasons 4 and 5 after having watched the previous seasons on DVD, my hypothesis was that every TMS episode has at least one really enjoyable thing going for it and every episode has at least one moment that is horrific or cringeworthy. Having watched the remaining episodes available to me, I am glad to find that I am only half right. Every episode has at least one really good moment, but some episodes are completely devoid of any bad moments. 

And a majority of the episodes from seasons 4 and 5 have more enjoyable moments than otherwise. Nevertheless, the misguided moments are even more upsetting to me given my lifelong appreciation for the Muppets and the innate knowledge that they can do so much better, and usually have. 

Ultimately, the Muppets themselves are lovable because of their flaws. The Muppet Show is lovable in spite of its flaws.

7 thoughts on “Muppet Show Viewing Guide: Season 5

    • Thanks, Andrew. I worked really hard on this entry for a long time, so I’m glad you liked it. I know I have a unique perspective on the Muppet Show, so I don’t expect anyone to agree with me completely.

      Like

      • I must admit i’m hard put to express my feelings and impressions when it comes to the original Muppet Show. It probably depends a lot on just when you first saw the series. Myself, i take more holistic approach to it as a whole, something of an overall “it is that” feeling i get (sort of knowing I am in good hands for the next half an hour), be that due to the sheer quality of people behind the performance, or to that general feeling of sympathetic acceptance and comradeship that is the core muppet ideology (“The Muppets… they all like each other!” — Frank Oz), to the influence of something so fresh and original and funny during my tender age, or, most likely, all of that combined.

        Subsequent productions range from “hey it was that!” through “almost that” or “i wish it could be that” to “not that at all”, but the original TMS episodes still have the same old “that” flavor for me.

        Of course, times change, and changes in society attitudes and pain points influence the contemporary humor as well as personal experiences (after all, any guy unlucky enough to have his plans misfire and cause a decent size anvil drop on him from considerable height would hardly enjoy watching Road Runner cartoons ever since). Thus the boundaries move. Some of the old gags, if originated today, would raise a watchful eyebrow or two. However, looking at things in perspective, i still find that something to enjoy in every TMS episode — the main distinguishing point being, I honestly don’t think these guys ever wanted to harm or insult anybody.

        Like

        • the main distinguishing point being, I honestly don’t think these guys ever wanted to harm or insult anybody.

          On that, I agree with you 100%. And I think the lack of malice counts for a lot. I guess it’s possible for discrimination to take place unintentionally, but as far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t really count as racism or sexism, etc., unless there is genuine hatred behind it. Anything less is mere insensitivity, and I think that one of the greatest and most destructive tragedies in modern life is that people no longer seem able to differentiate between the two.

          In my experience, decent people who say or do something insensitive typically apologize and try to make amends if their missteps are gently and reasonably pointed out to them. But so few of them get the chance because people are no longer able to differentiate between insensitivity and genuine hatred, so they respond to the former the only way that they can possibly respond to the latter, which swift and harsh repudiation. This is counterproductive because it robs the basically decent people of the chance to rectify their mistakes and it contributes to the inability to differentiate between genuine hatred and innocent insensitivity. Otherwise decent people who are shamed and ridiculed without having the opportunity to correct their mistakes may become bitter and resentful, and a lack of communication just fuels further misunderstanding.

          I agree with you that sometimes the boundaries do move. For example, the swastika was literally nothing more than a harmless good-luck symbol until the Nazis got ahold of it, but now it can never be completely free of the association with a movement of autocracy and genocide. However, I think it happens at least as often that the people on the margins try to define their own boundaries and the hegemony rejects them until the outcry becomes so loud that it can no longer be ignored.

          For example, from one point of view, the term “r-dskins” that was so cheerfully used in the Wally Boag episode (twice) only became unacceptable in 2020 when the Washington football team decided to stop using it as its team name and mascot. However, it would be more accurate to say that that’s when it stopped being *accepted.* My college mentor (who was and is Native American) was lecturing us about how unacceptable not only that term but all Indigenous mascots, team names, and ethnic slurs are 20 years ago, and it wasn’t a new issue for him at that point. Now, should the Washington football team, and the NFL, and the MLB, and all the teams and organizations that have finally decided to do the decent thing and stop using those slurs and stereotypes get credit for it? Sure, to a certain extent. But we also can’t ignore the fact that they knew that these terms and images were offensive and hurtful for literally decades and either ignored it or made excuses for it. That’s the distinction between acceptED and acceptABLE that I think is important to draw.

          And by the way, I’ve certainly committed my fair share of insensitivities myself. I’m not really qualified to cast stones at anyone who has made an honest mistake. I’m just lucky that most of the cringeworthy things I’ve said and done were committed before the advent of the Internet and ubiquitous cellphone cameras so that they were passed over without comment. Nevertheless, I know that they must have caused pain in the moment and I regret that. I can’t take that pain away, but I can do whatever I can to help to alleviate the pain going forward.

          Because of the education I’ve been fortunate to receive, I feel like I have a responsibility to share what I’ve learned. However, there’s a fine line between amplifying the voices of those who are often ignored or silenced and appropriating their grievances, which can in itself be an exercise of privilege. I’m very aware of the limits to my own knowledge and the extent of my own ignorance, and I use that knowledge to try to stay on the right side of that line.

          It probably depends a lot on just when you first saw the series.

          I think that that’s absolutely true, and my primary audience for this blog post is people like me who don’t already have an existing relationship with the Muppet Show and are coming to it for the first time. Don’t get me wrong; I’m delighted that you’ve read it and derived some enjoyment from it, but if it doesn’t really resonate for you, that might be why.

          looking at things in perspective, i still find that something to enjoy in every TMS episode

          So do I, and I’m actually surprised that, even looking at it from my unique perspective, I found a lot less material that was objectionable in the last two seasons than I expected based on my experiences watching the first three seasons on DVD. I’m surprised by how many episodes I found completely enjoyable. My main objection to the Muppet Show, and something that sets me apart from the self-consciously progressive mainstream fandom, is Miss Piggy’s behavior toward Kermit, so I was surprised by how little of that there was in the last two seasons and how often I found myself actually sympathizing with her.

          But to use your terminology, the “that” for me is the movies, especially the original Muppet Movie. So when I look at the Muppet Show from my perspective, most of it only qualifies as “almost that” at best.

          Like

          • Lol, it really depends what we start with =) To me the first Muppet Movie was “hm, almost that” (btw, i think a certain analogy can be drawn here between Miss Piggy being her unique self on TMS and Doc Hopper mercantile presence in TMM. Believe it or not, I clearly recall that i did not like Hopper being in the movie as my first impression =)), Muppets Take Manhattan was “hey that”. Then after Jim’s death, the Carol was “amazingly that”. 2011 was “hm” and 2015 was “oh well”. Much later i read Frank’s interviews and was amazed to find that i’ve been sharing his opinions on both all along, quite unknowingly. I fully acknowledge though that for younger audience that “that” may just as well be 2011/2015 productions, if that’s what brought them onboard, and respect that opinion.
            With this rambling side note, i completely agree with your comment!

            Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s