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December 16, 2016

The Muppet Show: 40 Years Later – Harvey Korman

Filed under: Feature,Reviews — Tags: , , — Ryan Roe @ 8:00 am

Original air date: December 13, 1976

In these reviews, we usually single out one standout “Most Classic Moment” from each episode.  But what happens when there are so many Most Classic Moments in a single episode that it’s impossible to narrow them down to one?  How many Most Classics Moments does an episode have to rack up to be in the running for the title of Most Classic Episode?

This is what I kept thinking while re-watching the Harvey Korman episode.  It started with the opening number: Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem’s “Love Ya to Death.”  It’s the song that goes “I’m gonna light some dynamite/And blow open your heart (ooh-ooooh, skiddly-bap!)”  You know the one.  Previously performed in The Muppet Show: Sex & Violence, it’s an example of the Electric Mayhem doing what they do best… They’re loud, they rock hard, and it’s fun to watch Animal’s little foot tapping.  I figured that was the highlight of the episode, and made a note to feature it as the Most Classic Moment.

But then came Kermit’s interview with Animal.  It’s early in the show’s run, but the creators are already starting to realize there’s something special about that crazy guy.  In just a few short minutes, he bangs his head on his snare drum, he attempts to eat his cymbals, and he beats up Kermit.  If the “Fever” number in the Rita Moreno episode was the first sign that Animal was destined for greatness (and merchandise immortality), this segment seals the deal.  So far this episode’s Classic Moments Per Episode average is very high.

The next thing in the episode is the Talking Houses.  Oh well, I thought.  It was nice while it lasted.

Then there’s a bunch of other stuff that’s okay, and maybe I’ll talk about it in a minute.  And then, when I least expect it, there it is.  It’s time for Fozzie’s act, and he cajoles Kermit into doing the “Good grief, the comedian’s a bear!” joke with him.  And right here (No, not that here; the other here), the episode’s Most Classic quotient jumps through the roof.  If you’re reading this, I don’t even have to tell you anything else about this sketch.  Except maybe that I’ve always thought the re-recorded album version is actually better.

And then — AND THEN — just when I think there can’t possibly be any more Classic Muppet Moments in this one, a little green guy shows up to prove me wrong.  Yep, it’s “Halfway Down the Stairs,” a closing number consisting of nothing but Robin sitting on a stair singing a musical version of an A.A. Milne poem.  Director Peter Harris does a great job of keeping the camera moving throughout the song, but otherwise, that’s all it is.  A frog, a stair, a song.  And yet it became a top-ten single in England, and it made millions of people around the world go “Awwwww.”  More classic points for this episode!

Maybe I’ll be proven wrong later, but I’m going to go ahead and say it now: This is the classicest episode of season one.

You may have noticed I haven’t said anything about Harvey Korman yet.  He was a talented performer, and he’s certainly good in this episode, especially when he plays an animal trainer who dramatically introduces us to a vicious beast who turns out to be Thog.  And he looks great in a chicken costume. (Could it be the same one worn by Margaret in The Muppets Take Manhattan?)  But the fact that his perfectly entertaining segments don’t stand out in this episode just shows how good the show is getting.  The Muppets may have needed celebrity guests to get their show on the air in the first place, but they don’t need them to crank out future classics!

Best Joke: As hilarious as “the comedian’s a bear” is, I laughed louder at 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.

Honorable Mention: From “At the Dance”…

MILDRED: Even though we come from two different worlds, I find myself strangely attracted to you.

GEORGE: Yeah, I feel the same way.

MILDRED: You mean you’re attracted to me?!

GEORGE: No, to me.  Weird, huh?

MVM (Most Valuable Muppet): I love Fozzie, and I’m so happy for his big breakthrough, but I’m going to give this to Animal.  In addition to the aforementioned segments, his exclamations (“JAM!  JAM!”) make the Mayhem’s UK spot “Sweet Tooth Jam” feel genuinely exciting even though it’s just some puppets pretending to play music.

Coolest Puppetry Trick: A puppet design trick, specifically: Dr. Teeth’s arms were fully elastic at this point, and it’s mesmerizing watching them stretch and snap as he boogies at the keyboard.

Obscure Character Watch: Good ol’ Muppy appears in an extremely brief one-joke scene with Rowlf and Korman, and again when Korman gets his chicken suit.

Most Dated Joke: The Rowlf & Muppet joke is about how they’re concerned with ecology because they don’t want all the trees to disappear.  You might get a joke like that today, but I don’t think anybody uses the word “ecology” much anymore.  Unless everyone does and I’m just not paying attention.

One More Thing: Man, Thog is huge.

Click here to read Balzac, only in translation, on the Tough Pigs forum!

by Ryan Roe – Ryan @ToughPigs.com

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