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April 26, 2017

The Muppet Show: 40 Years Later – Juliet Prowse

Filed under: Feature,Reviews — Tags: , , — Matt Wilkie @ 10:00 am

Original air date: April 25, 1977

And so at last, we come to the beginning.

As you may have noticed by now, and as we’ve pointed out before, the production dates on many episodes of The Muppet Show are out-of-sync with their air dates. According to the Muppet Wiki, the Connie Stevens episode, for example, was the 1st episode filmed but the 20th to air. That episode and the Juliet Prowse episode were filmed as pilots to show to networks in the hopes of getting them picked up for syndication. So while this may be the season finale, it’s also the pilot. And isn’t that just perfectly Muppety?

So while this episode is full of classic bits and moments that many Muppet fans can quote beginning to end, this is not the first time audiences have seen these characters. Over the first season they’ve gotten to know them inside and out, learned their quirks and foibles, and have steadily been tuning in week after week in increasing numbers. By the time the world saw Kermit popping out of a giant letter O to introduce Miss Juliet Prowse, they’ve seen it multiple times. But consider this: on a January day 41 years ago, on a soundstage in England, on a tiny monitor sitting on the floor of a studio set, Jim Henson saw that very image for the first time, most likely during the taping of this episode. Years of hard work and dedication finally found him in the place he longed to be – filming The Muppet Show. What an amazing moment that must have been. And not just for Jim, but for everyone who had come along for that crazy ride.

(For more information on that crazy ride, check out the aptly titled The Muppet Movie, available wherever fine Blu-rays are sold! It’s sort-of approximately how it happened!)

For the Muppet performers, knowing a character inside and out – quite literally – was the name of the game throughout the first season. How would Fozzie Bear sound? What would Miss Piggy do when given the opportunity to sing a song about desire to her unrequited love, Kermit? What the heck is Gonzo doing with his life? We’ve seen a lot of growth and development in these characters over the past few weeks and months, and this trip back to the beginning can also serve as a reminder to how far the Muppets have come – both the characters and the performance troupe below the scenes. From a tiny acorn, a mighty oak tree has grown.

So what’s this episode all about, anyway? As with most first season episodes, it’s got a pretty thin backstage plot going on – Scooter’s uncle who owns the theatre wants his favorite nephew and his favorite pet to perform a favorite song of his, but when the pet (a dog named Muppy) has ever-increasing demands, Kermit gets fed up and Fozzie is used in his place. Like I said, the plot is thin, and is mostly just a set-up for a song with a jokey title (and an amazing upstaging performance from Frank Oz as Fozzie), but like we’ve been forgiving them for all season, they’re just starting out so let’s give ’em a break.

Also underused here is the guest star, Juliet Prowse. She’s in exactly one real number, a beautiful dance with some weird gazelles, and is then interviewed by Kermit and has a quick black-out sketch with a pretty solid joke that at time of filming was underused, but had been used multiple times throughout the season that by the time this aired, it felt staler than most of Fozzie’s bits. It’s interesting to note that since this was being used as a showcase for networks that might use The Muppet Show in their syndicated lineup, this pilot focused very much on the Muppets themselves and their zany sketches, songs, and various feats, that I almost feel bad for Juliet, who has a great rapport with Kermit. But then I remember that she’s one of the very few people who was presented a Muppet likeness of herself, a tradition that was done away with in only a few episodes, so I hope that little felt Eren Ozker-voiced Juliet helped comfort her.

What else is there to say about this last/first episode? Not much. So I’ll close by paraphrasing a song lyric and inspirational quote to live by – “Life’s like a TV show, write your own pilot.” This was only the beginning for The Muppet Show, and after our summer hiatus, come back and see just how wild things can get!

Best Joke:
….. is also the Lamest Joke, because boy do I love a lame joke! In the At The Dance sequence, a monster asks his date if she minds if he smokes. She allows it, and so he does – from the top of his head. Bonus point to Frank-as-Mildred’s frantic shout of, “Manager!”

MVM (Most Valuable Muppet): Gotta go to Kermit on this one. Since this was the pilot and they wanted to use it to sell the show to networks, this episode leaned heavy on the Muppets themselves, no one moreso than Kermit. And boy does he shine!

Most Classic Moment: Mahna-Mahna, of course! It really showed what the Muppets could do-doo do-doo-doo.

Should-Be-Classic Moment: While arguably a classic in its own right (and one of Jim’s favorite songs), “Simon Smith and his Amazing Dancing Bear” should deserve some more recognition. But to me, the true underappreciated sketch here is “Cowboy Time.” It’s a laff-a-minute cavalcade in the vein of “Sam & Friends” and boy do I adore it.

First Appearance Of …: Not to harp on it too much, but this is the pilot after all, so what we’re watching here is the first … well, almost everything! It’s the first appearance of Fozzie Bear! Of Scooter! The first elevation of Gonzo from a Cigar Box Frackle to a full-fledged Weirdo! The first shot of Statler and Waldorf in their opera box! The first glimpse of the Muppet Theatre itself! The first peek at Mildred Huxtetter! That’s truly Muppetational!

Coolest Puppetry Effect: Sometimes the simplest effects are the best, so Kermit drinking his milk through a straw still amazes. It’s so simple yet effective that even Star Wars: The Force Awakens used the same trick just last year.  Close runners-up would have to be Fozzie’s ears and mouth mechanisms, and Kermit’s kickable legs on the wall during the Interview segment.

Musical Highlight: Any song in this episode could definitely be a highlight, but I’m gonna pick another underappreciated piece – “You and I and George.” What a great little ditty!

Obscure Puppeteer Watch: Breathe it in, folks: This is the last we’ll see or hear from Eren Ozker and John Lovelady on The Muppet Show. And while she’s uncredited in the broadcast version, Jane Henson was listed in the pilot version, making this the only time other than the Joel Grey episode where we know for certain that Jane performed.

Adultiest Content: Miss Piggy’s moves on Kermit during “Temptation” – wowie zowie!

One More Thing…: I got so confused re-watching this episode with the Muppet Morsels on. They said that the episode was filmed starting on January 29th, 1976 and that the DVD collection was in production order. But then the next episode (Connie Stevens) said it started filming on January 19th, 1976, so wouldn’t that be the first in production? Muppet mysteries will never end.

Okay, One More Thing…: There is a much different pilot version of this episode available for viewing at both the New York and Los Angeles locations of The Paley Center, so look for an upcoming comparison piece of the two, right here on ToughPigs dot com!

Click here to join the Muppet Glee Club on the ToughPigs forum!

by Matt Wilkie – Matt@ToughPigs.com

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