by Dan Goldwasser
30 years ago, a man name Jim Henson, who had already made his mark on television with such shows as "Sesame Street" had a new idea: take his troop of characters known as "Muppets" (which had already been seen in various forms on TV specials, including The Frog Prince and The Muppets Valentine Show), and create a show just for them. The format would be set up as a variety show, with lots of sketches and jokes that would come fast-and-furious. Henson produced and recorded a pilot episode, entitled "Sex and Violence". Apparently it was a success, as the show was picked up and thus "The Muppet Show" was born. Running from 1976-1981, dozens of guest stars would appear on the show, ranging from Vincent Price and Harvey Korman, to Carol Burnett and Roger Moore.
Muppet characters were fleshed out and personalities grew on the show, thanks to the talents of Henson, Frank Oz, Jerry Nelson, Dave Goelz, Richard Hunt, and Steve Whitmire. The blooming romance between Miss Piggy (Oz) and Kermit the Frog (Henson). Gonzo (Goelz) and his love of chickens. Fozzie Bear (Oz) and his rivalry with hecklers Statler (Hunt) and Waldorf (Henson). And many others. Usually recorded over three day, one very important aspect of the show was the music. Conducted by Jack Parnell, guests would usually have a few showcase songs per episode - classic oldies, jazz standards, and Broadway musicals were usually the sources.
Whether it's Joel Grey singing his signature Kander & Ebb tunes "Wilkommen" (from Cabaret) or "Mr. Cellophane" (from Chicago), or Paul Williams singing his classic "Old Fashioned Love Song", "The Muppet Show" was a great way to expose the youth of America and England to the different types of music out there. Now, after a few "greatest hits" releases on DVD, the first full season of "The Muppet Show" has come out on DVD, to open up a whole new generation to some classic songs, gags, and characters.
Fozzie Bear cracks a bad joke
There were 24 episodes in the first season of the show. Notable guests included Joel Grey, Ruth Buzzi, Florence Henderson, Harvey Korman, Peter Ustinov, Candice Bergen, Phyllis Diller, Twiggy, Vincent Price, and more. As the season progresses, you can't help but notice how smooth things seem to get as the show continues. The dancing duo of Wayne and Wanda, who start singing a classic song - but never get to finish due to some kind of literal interpretation of the lyrics. The Swedish Chef (voiced by Henson, hands performed by Oz) gets smoother and funnier, as Oz tries to improv with the hands, keeping Henson on his toes. Scooter using the fact that his uncle owns the theater to exert influence over show-master Kermit. Things like that - it's fascinating how a show intended for kids can appeal just as strongly to adults. Where "Sesame Street" is specifically aimed at kids, "The Muppet Show" was bridging the gap, and providing entertainment to everyone.
Filmed in the UK, the show would typically air in the USA with a sketch removed for commercial times. Luckily, the episodes here on the DVD are presented uncut, with the missing UK segment intact. The show was shot on tape, and here the quality reflects that. It's soft at times, but ultimately clear and colors are as vibrant as you would hope. Considering any television show from the 1970s usually looked this way, this is pretty good! The 24 episodes are spread out over 4 discs.
There is only one audio track on the DVD - a standard Dolby Digital 2.0 mix. It's got some decent separation when it comes to the music, and the dialogue is clear and sharp, given the limited range.<#GOOGLEAD#>
Ahh, the part everyone was wondering about. Missing from the set is a commentary, which would have been great. In its stead, we do have a "Muppet Morsels" (pop-up trivia track) which is disturbingly verbose. The sheer amount of information provided here, for every episode, more than makes up for the lack of commentary. You might find yourself going back to watch episodes multiple times just to catch the small nuances or references that the trivia track talks about. Given the show's age, many one-liners and cultural references might fly over the heads of modern viewers. Thankfully, the trivia track fills us in on what they're referring to. With numerous running gags, we sometimes get repeated information, but that is rare.
On the fourth disc, we have a "promo gag reel for Season One". These are some funny moments from the television promo spots for Season One. It would have been nice to have the actual promos as well, however. We also get Jim Henson's original pitch for the show, to convince network executives to buy "The Muppet Show". It's quite funny, and I can see how he got the show picked up! Finally, the original "Sex and Violence" pilot is included. A full episode that has no Kermit, and no guest star, it's fascinating to see the primitive versions of certain characters before they were fleshed out once the show got picked up.
I would love to see future season DVDs include retrospective interviews with the cast and crew - and we definitely should get some behind-the-scenes footage or photos. I am still trying to figure out how exactly a large-scale Muppet like Sweetums is actually operated!
All in all, this DVD set is a must-have for Muppet fans of all ages. It even comes with a nice felt-covered box! If you're new to the show, you'll find it fresh and entertaining, and if you're someone who watched it as a kid (as I did), you'll definitely want to take the chance to rediscover it all over again. The great thing is, as good as Season One is, I know that things get better - and I can't wait for Season Two.
Images © The Muppets Holding Company, LLC. and BVHE. MUPPETS and The Muppet Show are trademarks of The Muppets Holding Company, LLC. All Rights Reserved.