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March 1, 2017

The Muppet Show: 40 Years Later – Connie Stevens

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

Original Air Date: February 28, 1977

This is an odd one.  It’s simultaneously the the second and 20th episode of the show.  It was the second one to be taped, but the producers held onto it for a while, did some reshoots, and aired 19 slightly more polished episodes first, at least in the US.  That explains why sometimes it resembles The Muppet Show more than other times, and why Fozzie has two different sets of eyeballs.

Speaking of Fozzie, he spends a lot of time feeling bad about himself in this episode, thanks to a backstage story of eavesdropping and wacky misunderstandings which I’m going to assume inspired Three’s Company, a show that premiered not long after this episode aired. Gonzo brings his teddy bear to the theater for Hilda to repair, but Hilda refuses, declaring that “that bear is the worst thing I have ever seen in this theater!  Why not get rid of him?”

But uh-oh!  Fozzie is listening from a dressing room upstairs, and he’s a bear, so he thinks she means him!  Then they pretty much repeat that same joke five more times, with Fozzie overhearing people saying mean things about the bear and taking it personally.

Muppets feeling bad about themselves is something of a recurring theme in this first season.  The show would frequently return to the idea of guest stars cheering up Muppets throughout the series, but in the first season, Muppets feel bad about themselves all the time.  Fozzie feels bad about himself because nobody likes his act.  Gonzo feels bad about himself because… well, nobody likes his act either.  When Hilda gets her own story, it’s all about her feeling bad about herself because she’s not young and attractive anymore.  Droop’s big moment this season, and possibly on the whole series, is when he’s feeling bad about himself just because.

There are two other performers billed as guest stars in this episode besides Connie Stevens: Ernie and Bert from Sesame Street.  Now we’re talkin’!  Sesame Street is the place for sunny days!  It’s where everything’s A-OK!  Surely these two fun-loving fellows will bring some joy to the show.

And then the curtain comes up on them, and Bert is feeling bad about himself because he doesn’t think they have what it takes to be on a big variety show, and he’s afraid Ernie will make fun of him for his pointy head and his floppy, soggy arms.  Then Ernie throws a tuxedo on him, Bert does a fancy dance number with Connie Stevens… and then Bert feels bad about himself because he made a fool of himself in front of everyone.

It’s contagious!  Every Muppet who crosses this threshold will immediately find their self-esteem dropping.  Fortunately, Miss Piggy is growing stronger every day, and while she certainly has her own insecurities, next season she’ll blossom with enough self-esteem to fill the whole theater.

Most Classic Moment: “Sax and Violence.”  It’s such an old-school-style Muppet bit.  You have Zoot the straight man, who comes out and attempts to do his act, only to be interrupted the chaos-bringer Mahna Mahna, who humorously messes things up, and then there’s an explosion.

It’s exactly the kind of thing the Muppets had been doing for years on variety shows, and even on Sam & Friends.  Not that there’s anything wrong with revisiting a classic formula.  Seeing Mahna Mahna punch Zoot in the face still makes me laugh… and of course the intro that sets up the whole thing gives Nigel one of his few shining moments on The Muppet Show after he proved to be an unsuitable emcee for the pilot.  Which, come to think of it, was called Sex and Violence.  Nigel is forever associated with violence and sex and sax and more violence.

Second-Most Classic Moment: “Lydia the Tattooed Lady” is in this one.  It’s a smart choice for an opening number early in the series.  They don’t have to do anything too clever or creative with the staging, other than making Lydia a tattoo-covered pig.  The heavy lifting is done by the song’s wonderful lyrics, and by the tattooed lady herself.  In fact…

MVM (Most Valuable Muppet): Lydia!  She makes the most of her screen time without ever saying a word.  She’s constantly moving during the song, totally upstaging Kermit.  Do we know who performed her?  Do any of my eagled-eyed puppetry experts want to guess?

Adultiest Content: Lydia shows a lot of pigskin, and some of her gyrations are… well, they’re very gyratious.

First Appearance Of…: In production order, it’s the first Swedish Chef.  I’m pretty sure it’s also (in production order) the first example of the Newsman getting injured, when he picks up the hotline phone and gets burned.  And, as the Muppet Morsels on the season one DVDs tell us, it’s also (in production order) the first time Miss Piggy hits Kermit, with a good old-fashioned sock in the face.  I wonder, if Frank hadn’t ad-libbed a karate chop the next time around, would punching people have become Piggy’s trademark?  Or would it have faded into obscurity like Gonzo’s teddy bear?

Oh, and it’s the first appearance of the Mutations!  I had completely forgotten that their name comes from a joke where Connie Stevens asks if her backup singers are the Temptations.  At the end of the episode, there’s a credit for a John Bottoms for “Special Muppet Dancing” so I can only assume he was inside the most coordinated Mutation.

Most Dated Joke: 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!”

Coolest Puppetry Effect: A skillful trick of puppetry, choreography, and camera work: 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.  Great work, guys!

Musical Highlight: Say, there are some good musical numbers in this one.  Since I already called out some of the others elsewhere, I’m giving this one to the UK Spot “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” performed by an unusually low-voiced Floyd backed up by Janice and Zoot.

One More Thing: When Ernie is cruelly responding to his best friend’s insecurities by taunting him, he ends up pulling Bert’s nose off, and Bert calls it “the loose nose gag.”  Did they really do that enough times back in the day to give it a name?  And as an aside to the Sesame Street people: Can they please do it again?

Okay, One More Thing: As Fozzie and Gonzo are clowning around backstage, Kermit sighs “Sometimes the crown weighs rather heavy on this little froggy head.”  I love it when Kermit says stuff like that.

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by Ryan Roe – Ryan@ToughPigs.com



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