Making the Grades
Do you remember Veterinarian's Hospital and Dr. Bob, the quack that's gone to the dogs? Or The Zuchinni Brothers and their human-cannon ball act? How about those informative Muppet News Flashes where things like fish or opera singers had a propensity to fall on the journalist?
If you do, you were likely around in 1976 when The Muppet Show, one of the wackiest programs to ever hit the airwaves, debuted on television. Jim Henson and his motley puppets were already a household name thanks to their appearances on Sesame Street, and this new venue was the vehicle to move them from an educational mandate into the world of entertainment.
Expanding his already famous humor to include adults as well as children, the series featured crossover character Kermit the Frog (Jim Henson -- voice and puppeteer), posing as an entrepreneurial theater manager struggling to run a variety show. Introduced as his loyal company of show-biz-wannabes were a multitude of new Muppets, including Miss Piggy (Richard Hunt), Gonzo (Dave Goelz), Fozzy Bear (Frank Oz), and the drum-playing Animal (also Frank Oz).
The idea was that each week a guest star would act as the pivotal point around which the plot revolved. However, the fledgling production was having trouble convincing celebrities to sign up for such an unusual gig, in what appeared to be an example of life imitating art. But after the first year, which showcased mostly entertainers who were personal friends of the cast and crew, the growing popularity of the quirky premises had starlets anxiously lining up for their chance to share the green host's limelight.
Twenty-five years later, some of the series' most memorable moments are being made available on DVD. The one I screened contains three episodes from the second season introduced by Brian Henson, Jim's son.
In the first, Gonzo fiddles while George Burns (yes, of course I am quoting the script!). Performing numbers from his vaudeville days, he openly swaps puns with the frog while managing to disclose nothing to the Muppet character Fleet Scribbler (Jerry Nelson), a tabloid journalist from the "Daily Scandal." The second has Dom DeLuise and Miss Piggy exchanging insults when the porky lady insists on sharing his tiny dressing room (that obviously isn't big enough for both of their egos), because her own is too full of flowers and fan mail. The last saddles Bob Hope with a singing horse despite the veteran comic's crooning Don't Fence Me In.
Spiced up with vignettes of Bunsen Honeydew's gobbling trash can (poor Beaker), the Swedish Chef trying to press a duck -- with an iron, and an environmental message by some cuddly woodland creatures, The Muppet Show served up comedy sure to make you smile.
Content concerns are minimal, including slight sexual humor when Miss Piggy hams up her sensual side, some cultural stereotyping, slap stick humor and George Burns' cigars (how did that man live to be 100?!). For parents, the biggest issue will be explaining who all those old celebrities are. Fortunately, the zany antics of the non-human cast are ageless. If you enjoyed this TV series when you were younger, then it's time to share the memories with a new generation.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about The Best Of The Muppet Show - Volume 6.
Watching these Muppet Show episodes is like looking at a twenty-five-year-old time capsule of the biggest names in the entertainment industry. What do you learn about pop culture and the fickleness of fame from this experience?
If you are a big Muppet fan you may enjoy a website called The Kermitage which list facts about each of the characters, as well as every episode of The Muppet Show, with guest stars, scene lists, and some trivia.