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January 16, 2017

The Muppet Show: 40 Years Later – Charles Aznavour

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

Original air date: January 17, 1977

We’ve talked a lot in these reviews about how fun it is in this first season of The Muppet Show to watch the writers figuring out what the show is and who the characters are.  This episode features what I believe to be the beginnings of a character trait I never really thought about: Miss Piggy’s fondness for French vocabulary words.

Everyone knows Miss Piggy says “moi” and “vous” and occasionally slips a few other choice phrases like “mon chere” into conversation.  But like, everything else, it had to come from somewhere.  At some point, a writer had to say, “What if Miss Piggy, who lusts after Kermit and is violent, but who we haven’t yet figured out is funniest when she’s aspiring to be a big star, also likes French?”

The first hints of it come in the Talk Spot with the guest star, charming international superstar Charles Aznavour (Who?  He’s a singer, mostly famous in France).  Aznavour tells Kermit that the French man’s secret to wooing the ladies is the language, and he proceeds to prove it by whispering sweet nothings to Piggy, who Kermit explains doesn’t know any French (and who is performed by Frank Oz despite being performed by Richard Hunt just a few sketches ago).  And I do mean “nothings.”  The words he says translate to “Your oil filter has a leak and your transmission is sagging,” but it’s enough to drive Piggy wild.

Piggy is not quite the character we know yet, but here she takes a tiny step closer.  I can only assume that after this experience, Piggy was so smitten with the sounds of French that she started studying the language herself, but then got bored and gave up after only learning the few words she uses now.  Either way, I’ll be keeping an eye out for the first time the pig calls herself “moi.”

Elsewhere in the episode, there are several solid musical numbers, most of which are played pretty straight, including Charles Aznavour singing his hit “Dance in the Old-Fashioned Way.”  That number was cut from the season 1 DVD release, greatly decreasing not only the guest star’s screen time but also Mildred’s.

One of the numbers stands out as a great example of the show’s knack for creatively twisting a well-known song.  “I Feel Pretty” features a Whatnot (performed by Fran Brill in one of her few Muppet Show appearances) getting ready for her big date by yanking off all of her conventionally nice-looking facial features and replacing them with monstrous ones.

It’s the perfect combination of a funny concept, nifty puppet tricks, and a fully committed performance, as Brill gradually changes her voice with each change to her face.  Eventually, the Muppet’s voice switches to that of Jim Henson’s.  Jim rarely did falsetto voices, but his high-pitch screech is just what this number calls for.

Best Joke: In the “At the Dance” sketch, Mildred brings up literature and asks George if he likes Kipling.  George: “I don’t know. I’ve never Kipled.”

Honorable Mention: Early in the episode, Gonzo hires Scooter to be his new manager.  But at the end, Scooter tells Kermit it didn’t work out, because…

SCOOTER: When I gave him the standard, 50-page managerial contract…

KERMIT: Yeah?

SCOOTER: He ate it.

KERMIT: I just hope it’s not binding.

Lamest Joke: “Gonzo takes common idiomatic expressions literally” was a big part of his character early on, and it gets old pretty fast.  When Kermit offers to give him his ear for a moment, Gonzo says, “What would I do with your ear?”

Most Valuable Muppet: I certainly was tempted to give this to Mildred.  She appears in Charles Aznavour’s aforementioned first number, in the Panel Discussion, in At the Dance… She’s all over the episode!  But Kermit deserves the title.  He’s at peak Jerk Kermit in the backstage scenes, responding to Gonzo’s attempts at more stage time with snark and eye-rolling.

Coolest Puppetry Trick: It’s the facial feature-switching mentioned above, which feels like something straight out of one of the Muppets’ earlier variety show appearances.  The little worm puppet in Aznavour’s “Inchworm” number is also worth mentioning… Such a small, simple puppet, but surprisingly expressive, much like his distant relative Slimey.

Obscure Character Watch: There are these Muppets in the “Old-Fashioned Way” number that Muppet Wiki calls “Full-Bodied Humanoids.”  I don’t recall seeing them in any other Muppet thing.

One More Thing: Gonzo takes Kermit’s advice to get a new manager, and shortly thereafter Hilda complains to Kermit that Gonzo raided the wardrobe department for his new costume act.  Kermit’s response: “Hubba-hubba wha?”  That’s an exclamation I associate with Frank Oz characters, but it cracked me up.  My question, though: Where did Frank get that?

Okay, One More Thing: My initial re-watch for this review was via the season one DVD, which, as I mentioned, omits the “Old-Fashioned Way” song.  When the episode was over, on a whim, I called out to the Amazon Echo in the room: “Alexa, play ‘The Old-Fashioned Way.’”  And she played it!  And it was Charles Aznavour singing!  I promise I’m not a paid shill for Amazon, I’m just marvelling at how crazy technology is these days.

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by Ryan Roe – Ryan@ToughPigs.com



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