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February 9, 2018

The Muppet Show: 40 Years Later – Elton John

Filed under: Feature,Reviews — Tags: , — Matthew Soberman @ 12:01 pm

Original air date: February 6, 1978

According to one of the great Muppet tomes, Jim Henson: The Works, a key moment in Muppet Show history occurred in season two: when famed ballet dancer Rudolph Nureyev appeared on the show, the producers would never have trouble getting a guest star for the show again. I like to believe that Nureyev was the first major blow, and Elton John was the knockout punch. To get one of the biggest rock star on the planet (and still one of the best known musicians to this day) must have been a major coup for the Muppet Show staff. And naturally, they produced an episode that reflected John’s performing style. If I had to describe Elton John’s episode in a couple of words, I think I would go with “a lot.” Because like the wild and excessive outfits that John made famous, there are two big elements that show up a lot in this episode.

The first element, unsurprisingly, is music. In the episodes that I’ve reviewed for this series, I haven’t seen an episode that featured musical numbers this much. Including the UK spot, there are a total of five musical numbers in the show. John performs almost a mini-concert of four of his biggest hits, (“Crocodile Rock,” “Bennie and the Jets,” “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” and “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart”) with a presentation that only The Muppet Show could provide. I mean, where else could you see Elton John sing “Crocodile Rock” in a swamp with actual (Muppet) crocodiles! The imagination and flair of Elton John match perfectly with that of the Muppets. I suppose, that’s where my lone complaint about this episode comes in: I would’ve liked to see John go outside of his wheelhouse and appear in a proper sketch or two. Wouldn’t he have been fun to see in a Muppet Labs sketch? Or have him wear one of his costumes as an invading alien in Pigs in Space? (More on that in a moment.) Again, John does what he does very well, but on a show like The Muppet Show, it’s nice to see someone branch out and do something different.

And moving on to the second element, The Swedish Chef’s sketch turns into a running gag throughout the episode. To summarize: the Chef is preparing “Egg du Chef;” the eggs being laid by a guest chicken. The eggs turn out to be ping-pong balls, and so the Chef changes gears, making “Chicken du Chef” instead. And so the Chef chases the chicken around with a cleaver through his kitchen, and ultimately throughout the Muppet Theater. And it’s just so darn funny. In the Chef’s sketch proper, the camera seems to be just barely keeping up with the pace of Jim Henson, Frank Oz, and Jerry Nelson (who performed the chicken). You don’t expect it to become a running gag, and then BOOM! There they are interrupting Scooter’s introduction. BOOM! There they are running through the Swinetrek during Pigs in Space. BOOM! They’re in Statler and Waldorf’s box, and now the chicken has the cleaver. They show up where you least expect them. And that’s what makes the Muppet style of comedy so great.

So yeah, there’s a whole lot of music, and a whole lot of potential Chef/chicken violence. It’s a gloriously excessive episode of The Muppet Show, and it’s an awful lot of fun.

Best Joke: (In this week’s Veterinarian’s Hospital, where the patient du jour is Baskerville the Hound):

Rowlf: Oh, I wish he was a dachshund.
Janice: Why?
Rowlf: I’d like to get a long little doggy.

I think it’s cute, even if there is no mention of asparagus.

Worst Joke: Statler and Waldorf’s moment during the show opening, where they usually have something witty to say, it just shows them getting to their seats. I can’t tell if that’s a terrible bit, or if it’s so unexpected from what they usually do that it’s hilarious. I’m leaning toward terrible.

MVM (Most Valuable Muppet): Smashing their way through the show and into my heart, the honors go to The Swedish Chef and the chicken. You just can’t beat a manic running gag. Though Scooter and his awesome denim jacket run a close second.

Most Classic Moment: It’s probably “Crocodile Rock.” A classic rock performance in a wild setting with animals (and Animal) seems like a great example of what made The Muppet Show unique.

Should-Be-Classic-Moment: I’m going to say it’s “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.” It’s a very simple set, with John performing brilliantly, backed by the Electric Mayhem, but it’s executed so well that it provides a quieter moment on a high-energy show.

Cut…Er…Added-To-the-DVD Release Alert: On the Season Two box set, “English Country Garden,” the UK spot from the Jaye P. Morgan episode, is added after Veterinarian’s Hospital.

One More Thing: Outside of his usual appearance in the opening, Gonzo is nowhere to be found in this episode. Come on, Elton John sings of the “weird and the wonderful,” and Mr. Weird and Wonderful is AWOL!

Okay, One More Thing: Getting back to the idea of Elton John’s eccentric costume choice, I think it’s—

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by Matthew Soberman – Matthew@ToughPigs.com

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