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May 8, 2017

The Muppet Show Season One: Who’s the Most Valuable Muppet of All?

Filed under: Feature,Fun Stuff — Tags: , — Ryan Roe @ 9:00 am

You’ve read all our reviews of season one of The Muppet Show, right?  It’s been a nutty undertaking, but we managed to get through the entire season, posting a review of each episode 40 years after it aired.

In addition to several paragraphs devoted to sharp-eyed critical analysis (or talk about how creepy Mummenschanz is), each review contains a section singling out various elements of that episode: What was the best joke?  What was the musical highlight?  And so on.  Now that we’ve concluded the first season, I thought it would be fun to compile a bunch of those in one place to create an overview of the season.  Starting with…

(MVM) MOST VALUABLE MUPPETS

This title goes to the Muppet who makes the greatest contribution to each episode.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, Kermit the Frog was named MVM most frequently, although it only happened four times (in the Vincent Price, Charles Aznavour, Peter Ustinov, and Juliet Prowse episodes).

After that, Rowlf (Candice Bergen, Florence Henderson, and Rita Moreno episodes) and Scooter (Paul Williams, Jim Nabors, and Mummenschanz episodes) tied for second place, with three MVM titles each.  Animal claims the bronze with two MVMs, for the Harvey Korman and Ruth Buzzi episodes.

Various characters received the MVM designation just once:

Sweetums (Sandy Duncan episode)

Fozzie (Joel Grey episode)

Lena Horne (declared an honorary Muppet for her episode)

Avery Schreiber (same)

Statler (Valerie Harper episode)

Thog (Kaye Ballard episode)

Lydia (Connie Stevens episode)

Miss Piggy (Ethel Merman episode)

Uncle Deadly (Twiggy episode)

The weird pinkish/purplish Muppet Bird who is looking over Ben Vereen’s shoulder at the end of “Pure Imagination” (Ben Vereen episode)

The Duck (Bruce Forsyth episode)

BEST JOKES

In an “At The Dance” sequence, a monster asks his date if she minds if he smokes. She allows it, and so he does – from the top of his head. (Juliet Prowse)

The entire talk spot between Kaye Ballard, Kermit, and Animal, including Animal repeating Ballard’s “DEEP SEATED HOSTILITY.” (Kaye Ballard)

Phyllis Diller says, “Someone had given me a white, mink stole. Within a month I had developed black dandruff.” (Phyllis Diller)

Sam the Eagle on the difference between immoral and illegal: “Immoral is doing bad things. Illegal is me with a tummy ache. I didn’t write it!” (Twiggy)

In the “House of Horrors” sketch, Uncle Deadly says, “…every night at the stroke of midnight, the master turns into a screaming, maniacal, demonic, raging, blood-lusting animal!” Vincent Price adds: “And then I get mean!” (Vincent Price)

In an “At the Dance” sketch, Mildred brings up literature and asks George if he likes Kipling.  George says, “I don’t know. I’ve never Kipled.” (Charles Aznavour)

Statler & Waldorf’s response to the “No, he’s-a not, he’s-a wearin’ a neck-a-tie!” punchline:
Statler: “Did you understand that joke?”
Waldorf: “No. But I don’t speak Italian.”
(Harvey Korman)

Fozzie’s string of terrible jokes after gaining his confidence at the end of Bruce Forsyth’s monologue, like “You call that an audience? It looks more like an oil painting!” (Bruce Forsyth)

When Statler’s attempts to impress Valerie Harper result in the backstage area becoming a jungle, Kermit says, “The only person you’re gonna meet back here is Tarzan!” Statler says, “I hope he’s a good dancer.” (Valerie Harper)

From an “At the Dance” sketch, cited because of Jerry Nelson’s delivery rather than the joke itself….
Loud Lady: “Can I take this moment to announce our engagement?”
Boyfriend: “Sure.”
Loud Lady: “WE’RE ENGAGED!  WE’RE ENGAGED!”
(Florence Henderson)

Peter Ustinov’s callback to an earlier joke about the show being written by a hatrack: “I’ve just been talking to your show’s writer. He’s a man of many talents. Wears more than one hat.”  Later, the Hatrack is listed in the credits. (Peter Ustinov)

Lena Horne is trying to find the key to her dressing room, and upon asking Animal to help her “find her key” he hits her foot with a giant hammer, she melodically shrieks, and he informs her “B flat.” (Lena Horne)

Waldorf: “The show’s good for what ails me.”
Statler: “Well, what ails you?”
Waldorf: “Insomnia.”
(Paul Williams)

Gonzo screaming “Stranger!” at Joel Grey during “Willkommen.” (Joel Grey)

The whole interrogation sketch with Ruth Buzzi. (Ruth Buzzi)

Kermit: “I think somebody’s pulling my leg. Somebody is pulling my leg, it’s the Great Gonzo.” And then Gonzo’s just tugging on his leg for no reason. (Sandy Duncan)

The running gag of Fozzie answering the backstage phone with unpredictably comedic results.  Especially because it’s so quickly identified as a “running gag”. (Rita Moreno)

LAMEST JOKES

(Note: The fun thing about the “Lamest Joke” category is seeing how often one fan’s lame is another fan’s favorite.  Do you agree with this list?)

During an “At the Dance,” Miss Piggy says romantic things in a foreign language to Kermit, and Kermit asks if that was Italian, Piggy says it was Pig Latin. (Kaye Ballard)

Phyllis Diller: “I was in the backyard singing ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.’ It fell on me.”  (Phyllis Diller)

A reporter asks Twiggy “How is it that a beautiful girl like you only has one nose?” in the press conference setup to “In My Life.”  He turns to face the camera, and he has two noses. (Twiggy)

When Kermit offers to give him his ear for a moment, Gonzo says, “What would I do with your ear?” (Charles Aznavour)

In the “House of Horrors” sketch:
Gonzo: “I don’t understand it, the ad looked so good in the paper!”
Fozzie: “What paper was that?”
Gonzo: “The Wampire Veekly.”
(Vincent Price)

Bruce Forsyth’s terrible monologue, which is supposed to be better than Fozzie’s set but isn’t.

The running gag of Fozzie delivering different stuff to Kermit. A “wire for Kermit the Frog” is just a hanger, a “letter” is a physical version of the letter “R,” and a “flower” is an entire bag of flour dumped on Kermit. (Candice Bergen)

Hilda’s “Easter Bernie/Pinchline” bit. (Valerie Harper)

The Primal Scream theory climax of the panel discussion sketch. (Peter Ustinov)

Fozzie: “Speaking of Japanese actors, did you know ‘Toshiro Mifune’ means no smoking in Japanese?” (Lena Horne)

The Telephone Pole bit. (Paul Williams)

Kermit’s top-of-the-show promise of a fantastic act followed up by saying basically “Psych, we don’t have that! We have a great guest star who is much better!” (Joel Grey)

From an “At The Dance” segment:
George the Janitor: “I wish they had Rock N Roll in the Forties.”
Mildred Huxtetter: “Why?”
George the Janitor: “It would be dead by now.”
(Ruth Buzzi)

During “At the Dance,” a couple has this exchange:
Pig 1: “Where’d you say you were born?”
Pig 2: “In Paris.”
Pig 1: “How did you do that?”
Pig 2: “The usual way!”
(Sandy Duncan)

Statler: “They don’t write the old songs anymore.”
Waldorf: “Yup. They only write new ones!” (Jim Nabors)

Kermit’s introduction at the top of the show with a joke about 225 dancing elephants who forgot to pack their trunks. (Rita Moreno)

COOLEST PUPPETRY EFFECTS

Kermit drinking his milk through a straw. (Juliet Prowse)

Vend-A-Face switching the facial features of a monster and a young woman. (Kaye Ballard)

When Connie Stevens descends her staircase to dance with Bert, the camera pulls back, then swoops around a bit to follow them, but not once do you see Frank Oz’s head or arm or any other body part. (Connie Stevens)

The glass in Piggy’s hand shattering when Merman hits the high note during the Talk Spot. (Ethel Merman)

The Hugga Wugga monster shooting smoke out of his nose whenever any of the other characters sing a song he doesn’t like. (Phyllis Diller)

The Muppaphones floating around in front of Ben Vereen while he’s singing “Pure Imagination.” (Ben Vereen)

A puppet design trick: Dr. Teeth’s elastic arms stretching and snapping as he boogies at the keyboard. (Harvey Korman)

The Gawky Bird, a marvel of both design and puppetry. (Bruce Forsyth)

The Clodhoppers. (Valerie Harper)

Sweetums tells Florence Henderson that he could really fall for her, and then proceeds to fall forward (cited for Richard Hunt’s physical commitment to the gag).  (Florence Henderson)

Fozzie standing on one leg during his comedy act. (Lena Horne)

In “Never Smile at a Crocodile,” the crocodile eating frogs right off puppeteers’ hands is very seamless, as are their jumps back out. (Sandy Duncan)

Anything besides Mummenschanz’s mushy clay masks, which should never be mentioned again. (Mummenschanz)

The Whatnot woman who changes her entire face while singing “I Feel Pretty.” (Charles Aznavour)

ADULTIEST CONTENT

Miss Piggy’s moves on Kermit during “Temptation.” (Juliet Prowse)

Waldorf: “I could watch Kaye Ballard all night.”
Statler: “I tried it once but she pulled the shade down!”
Waldorf: “You dirty old man!”
(Kaye Ballard)

Lydia’s display of pigskin, and her gyrations. (Connie Stevens)

“I don’t want to be your agent, I just want to handle ya.” (Ethel Merman)

It’s possible that Uncle Deadly was actually murdered by critics. (Twiggy)

Fozzie’s opening joke, “If a man born in Poland is a Pole, is a man born in Holland a Hole?” (Bruce Forsyth)

The Koozebane mating sketch. (Florence Henderson)

“You don’t wear any pants.” “Let’s see him get away with that on television.” (Peter Ustinov)

“You know, my aunt has a chest that goes back to 1700.” “Huh. Must make it tough on your uncle.” (Lena Horne)

Wind-up Kermit tries to seduce Piggy by saying “How bout’ you and me getting together and making some steam heat! Let me take you away from all this. A marriage made in heaven, a frog, and a pig, we can have bouncing baby figs!” (Ruth Buzzi)

Statler: “Sandy Duncan makes me feel like a young boy.”
Waldorf: “She makes me feel like a young girl. I think I’ll go find one.” (Sandy Duncan)

Zoot: “Do You believe in the hereafter?”
Janice: “Yes!”
Zoot: “Then you know what I’m here after!” (Jim Nabors)

Rita Moreno tells Sweetums that he can’t hold cue cards, but he can hold whatever else he wants. So he picks her up and carries her off to Frog-knows-where. (Rita Moreno)

MOST DATED JOKES

Rowlf & Muppy are concerned with “ecology” because they don’t want all the trees to disappear.  (Harvey Korman)

The treatment of Miss Piggy as a lovelorn fool does not read as funny as it did in the ’70s. (Mummenschanz)

In the banter leading up to Connie Stevens’s performance of “Teenage in Love,” she recalls her high school boyfriend, Jimmy McAfee: “He had this long, thick, greasy hair, and he wore a big leather jacket, and you know something?  If we had saved Jimmy’s hair, we wouldn’t have any oil shortage today!” (Connie Stevens)

“Piggy, why would anyone want to hear you sing Mrs. Merman’s songs when Ms. Merman is here to sing them herself?” “Well… since I’ve rehearsed them, why don’t I just do them and call it a tribute to Irving Berlin.” (Ethel Merman)

Not a joke, but the look of the dancing feather boas in the opening number “Dance” couldn’t possibly be any more 70s. (Twiggy)

Bruce Forsyth discusses a bunch of then-current hit shows from both sides of the Atlantic, including Starsky & Hutch, Kojak, Upstairs Downstairs, and The Forsyte Saga. 1976 was so long ago that all four of those have been remade. (Bruce Forsyth)

Peter Ustinov’s robotic politician portrays Winston Churchill, Richard Nixon, and Mao Zedong (Peter Ustinov)

Sam the Eagle mixes up yoga and yogurt. (Ruth Buzzi)

Sandy Duncan’s newsflash character is jumping on a hot plate, that staple of 70s apartment living. (Sandy Duncan)

MOST CLASSIC MOMENTS

“Mahna Mahna” (Juliet Prowse)

“Tenderly” (Avery Schreiber)

“Java” (Ethel Merman)

“I’ve Got You Under My Skin” (Vincent Price)

“Pure Imagination” (Ben Vereen)

Candice Bergen smashing The Patriarchy during “Put Another Log On The Fire!” (Candice Bergen)

“Tit Willow” (Valerie Harper)

“Bein’ Green” (Peter Ustinov)

“I Got a Name” (Lena Horne)

“I Never Harmed an Onion” (Ruth Buzzi)

The Banana Sketch (Sandy Duncan)

“Fever” (Rita Moreno)

MUSICAL HIGHLIGHTS

“You and I and George” by Rowlf (Juliet Prowse)

“May You Always” by Rowlf and some other dogs and a cat (Avery Schreiber)

Ethel Merman’s Broadway medley by Ethel Merman and a bunch of Muppets (Ethel Merman)

“Dance,” by a fuzzy Muppet who sings in Jerry Nelson’s highest falsetto ever (Twiggy)

“I’m My Own Grandpa” by the Gogolala Jubilee Jugband (Bruce Forsyth)

“Searchin’” by Floyd (Valerie Harper)

“A Nice Girl Like Me” by Sandy Duncan (Sandy Duncan)

And there you have it!  Season one in a nutshell.  There were a few other categories, but we didn’t use them quite as often as these.  Keep your eyes on this website for our season two reviews in the fall, and if you haven’t already, be sure to check out our Season One Review for all the Tough Pigs folks’ opinions on the season as a whole.

Click here to tell a dated joke on the Tough Pigs forum!

by Ryan Roe – Ryan@ToughPigs.com

 



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