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October 13, 2017

The Muppet Show: 40 Years Later – Dom DeLuise

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

Original air date: October 14, 1977

“Hey, it’s The Muppet Show,” Kermit says in this episode’s opening, and hey, it sure is.  It had already been The Muppet Show for an entire season, but by this point, a few episodes into the second season, it’s more The Muppet Show than it’s ever been.  There are lots of things the Muppets are good at, and in this episode they’re pretty darn good at them.

In the years before The Muppet Show – and especially the years before Sesame Street – the Muppets rose to fame doing lots and lots of short, weird comedy sketches on other people’s shows.  Once every few months or weeks, they’d go on a variety show or talk show and do a bit in between other guests’ appearances.  With The Muppet Show, they had a venue to do their short, weird comedy sketches every single week, and they took advantage of it.

One early sketch in this episode takes place on the planet Koozebane, and features guest star Dom DeLuise as an astronaut (perhaps the first human to set foot on Koozebane?) who’s exploring the planet and has a run-in with some mischievous Merdlidops.  They’re pink fuzzy things who pop out of holes in the ground and shout “Merdlidop!” Which is brilliant.  “Merdlidop!”  Just like that.  The sketch is full of the elements that make the Muppets fun to watch.

There are the puppets, which are perfectly designed – they’re simple but suitably weird-looking, and can blast steam out of their heads.  There’s great interaction with the guest star – he’s the straight man, but because it’s Dom DeLuise, he’s an exceptionally goofy straight man. (DeLuise must have been easy to write for, as a comedy guy who was up for just about anything.)  And the whole thing is just agreeably weird.

A later sketch is built around an old, essential Muppet trope: monsters.  As a representative of Sheppard’s Institute of Animal Protection, DeLuise entreats us to adopt one of the poor, helpless creatures under his care.  And then they all go crazy and break loose and mob him and possibly try to eat him.  Like one of the old variety show sketches, it establishes its basic premise very quickly before beginning its descent into chaos.

It’s also at least the third time the Muppets completely get the better of DeLuise, after the Swedish Chef garnishing his head on a platter and the Merdlidop aliens assimilating him into their ranks.  And what’s more Muppety than mistreating a guest star?

Those sketches are terrific, but the really exciting thing about the Muppets having their own regular series is that it gave them a chance to create longer narratives than their brief variety show guest spots had allowed. By season two, the increased importance of the backstage storylines, and the ascension of skilled character-development guy Jerry Juhl to the head writer position, led to some wonderful storylines.

Going into season two, the writers knew that Miss Piggy was the breakout star and the Piggy-Kermit dynamic was a gold mine.  The basic premise here – Piggy secretly pays the audience to cheer for her, not just so she can be a bigger star but so Kermit will appreciate her more – is pure Piggy.  And the denouement, which comes after Kermit discovers the truth and reciprocates with some manipulation of his own, is a great example of how effective Kermit can be when he’s a little bit of a jerk.

The episode ends with a scenario that had already played out a few times, and would be many more times: A Muppet (Miss Piggy) is feeling down, so the guest star (Dom DeLuise) cheers her up by singing a song, and a bunch of other Muppets (Janice, Floyd, Gonzo, Fozzie, Kermit, Scooter, and of course a green Whatnot) gather ’round to join in the song.  We’ve seen it before and we’ll see it again, but it makes me feel good every time.  The song in this particular instance is “We Got Us,” and I sure am glad we got The Muppet Show.

Best Joke: I’m always a sucker for the gag in which we, the audience, hear a character telling the punchline of a strange, possibly non-existent joke.  So I laughed out loud at Floyd wandering backstage, saying to Zoot, “…and then the tuba player says, ‘Never mind that.  Just B natural in bar 11!” (See also: Fozzie’s “koala bear” joke in The Muppets Take Manhattan.  And outside the Muppet world, Milton Berle’s “…a duck?” cameo in Pee-wee’s Big Adventure.)

[Note: I initially misheard and reported Floyd’s punchline as “be natural and borrow a lemon!”  While this would have been an even better joke, my thanks to Tough Pigs’ own Shane for pointing out that we’re pretty obviously hearing the end of a musician joke.]

Oldest Joke: I don’t have the heart to call it lame, because I always find it charming, but the “Veterinarian’s Hospital” sketch has a cow as the patient, and it features one of the Muppets’ many versions of the “Bunch of cows/heard of cows/cows heard” bit.

MVM (Most Valuable Muppet): Miss Piggy.  She sings an old song in a fabulous hat, she spars with Scooter, she calls Dom DeLuise “Dominique,” she completely upstages a “Veterinarian’s Hospital” sketch.  I’m declaring Piggy the MVM, and she didn’t even have to pay me for it.

Coolest Puppet Trick: Other than the steam-shooting Koozebanians, there’s a neat moment when Miss Piggy karate-chops Dom DeLuise, then kicks him – and for just a second, you can see her leg in the shot.  Now, we would have figured out that Miss Piggy was kicking Dom.  They didn’t need to bring in an additional puppeteer just to operate her leg for one kick.  But they did.  Man, I love the Muppets.

Musical Highlight: “Henrietta’s Wedding,” sung by Jerry Nelson’s Slim and Louise Gold’s Lou, is a lively, catchy tune.  But I have to give this one to the Electric Mayhem’s extremely groovy number “Don’t Blame the Dynamite.”

Adultiest Content: Neither song is dirty, but both “Henrietta’s Wedding” and “Don’t Blame the Dynamite” feature themes of loneliness, desperation, and strained relationships that would be lost on the tiny tots in the audience.

One More Thing: When Miss Piggy sings “Don’t Dilly Dally on the Way,” the audience sings along, then bursts into rapturous applause and cheers.  Most of the audience members are being performed by puppeteers, but it’s fun to spot the ones that are either sitting motionless, or (like Brewster), simply wobbling from side to side without moving their mouths or hands.

Okay, One More Thing: Piggy’s hat in that number is the same one she wore during the final number in the Rich Little episode.  Isn’t that interesting?  It’s pretty funny when the feathers get in Scooter’s face and he makes a spitting noise before continuing with his next line.

Click here to shout “Merdlidop!” on the Tough Pigs forum!

by Ryan Roe – Ryan@ToughPigs.com

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