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November 24, 2017

The Muppet Show: 40 Years Later – Don Knotts

Filed under: Feature,Reviews — Tags: , — Matt Wilkie @ 12:59 pm

Original Air Date: November 18, 1977

Y’know how there are some episodes of The Muppet Show where it ends and you’re just screaming for more? Sometimes it’s the sketches and songs that are just hitting on every level, blowing you away with every segment. Or the backstage plot is so well done and the core cast are perfectly encapsulating what you love about the show. Or there are one-off characters that are bringing the world of the Muppets to life. Or it’s that the guest star is so amazing and works so well with the Muppets that you want to see them come back next week for more fun.

Well, buckle up because … this is not one of those episodes.  Like, at all.

It could’ve been. It should’ve been. Don Knotts has the wide comic range and the rubbery face of a comedy genius. But I left this episode asking, “Did I just have an existential crisis?” Now it really doesn’t help that this episode’s opening number is the truly atrocious and horrifying “Sweet Gingerbread Man.” It’s an attack on the senses in every way. Search for this clip at your own risk. But then it’s followed up by the equally infamous Screaming Thing and his rendition of “The Windmills of Your Mind.” Searching for strange Muppet clips late at night will most likely bring you to these two songs, but to have them back to back in the same episode will make you question the good taste of the Muppets on a large scale. Let’s just say it was a product of its time and move on from there.

But the strangest thing to me is that it seems that the Muppets themselves immediately want to forget that they even did a sketch with life-sized Gingerbread Men because they refer to the “Windmills” song as the opening number not once but twice, first by Statler and Waldorf and then by Kermit. It’s as though even the Muppet performers want this bit to be erased from their memories. So say we all.

The backstage plot is a little better, but not by much. I know that watching TV shows on DVD without commercials is a true benefit of the modern era, and I try to appreciate the product as being of its own time, but if I had to listen to Floyd remind the audience one more time that Fozzie chose the song “Lullaby of Birdland” by saying something like, “Hey Fozzie, my fuzzy, you remember how you chose the song ‘Lullaby of Birdland’ to the band to sing for the closing number? We’re still excited about that!” ONE more time, I was gonna lose it. How short were attention spans in 1977?

Oh also, Don Knotts guest stars. He’s fine.

Ultimately, this episode is a good reminder that not all episodes of The Muppet Show are created equal. And that can make us appreciate the great ones even more. And ones like this … hey, they’re still all right. Any 26 minutes spent with the Muppets is time well-spent.

… Except for the middle 26 minutes of Lady Gaga and the Muppets Holiday Spectacular.

Best Joke: Physical comedy is Don Knotts’ forte, so the “Beast of the Week” bit did strike a big chord with me (Unlike the chords he struck during the closing number). You don’t get mugs much better than Don Knotts’.

Lamest Joke: This exchange during an otherwise groan-worthy (in a good way!) Veterinarian’s
Hospital sketch.

Janice: He has three feet on the table.
Screaming Thing: That’s nothing, I left two feet in Cincinnati.

MVM (Most Valuable Muppet): Although the storyline got repetitive, Fozzie shone through the backstage plot with usual aplomb. Frank Oz’s characterization and puppetry was a bright spot in this episode.

Most Classic Moment and Musical Highlight: A beautiful rendition of “What a Wonderful World”
sung by Rowlf, with special appearance by a real puppy!

First Appearance Of…: Chronologically by production numbers and DVD order, this is the debut of Mean Mama, who is great! By all of those parameters and also airing order, this would be the debut of The Screaming Thing, who is not as great!

One More Thing…: I know US audiences aren’t meant to have a strong affinity for the UK Spots, but good lord was “Burlington Bertie from Bow” a PAIN to get through! There was just nothing entertaining in it at all, even though the design of the Bertie puppet was so interesting to look at.

Okay, One More Thing…: I still hate the Gingerbread Men. *shudder*

Click here to have an existential crisis on the Tough Pigs forum!

by Matt Wilkie

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