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March 9, 2017

The Muppet Show: 40 Years Later – Kaye Ballard

Filed under: Feature,Reviews — Tags: , , — Evan G @ 10:15 am

Original Air Date: March 7, 1977

So many of Jim Henson’s early bits revolved around the neverending war between hipsters and squares. Whether it was on Sam and Friends, Sesame Street, or The Muppet Show, cool cats with big imaginations were constantly clashing with grumpy, tightly-wound puppets usually voiced by Frank Oz. (Do you think Bert and Sam the Eagle hang out on weekends?) So suffice it to say that by the time we reached the end of Season 1 of The Muppet Show, these kinds of jokes probably came pretty easy for Jim and the gang.

On The Muppet Show, of course, Floyd Pepper was quickly established as the quintessential hipster. If there’s one thing the Kaye Ballard episode of The Muppet Show presents, it’s just how well-developed Floyd was in the show’s first season. We’ve spent a lot of these reviews discussing the growth of Kermit, Piggy, Gonzo, and Fozzie, but Floyd was Floyd from the first moment he did that weird, staccato strut into Kermit’s office. His language is too cool to understand, his patience for those less hip is minimal, and his sway over Animal’s emotions is complete. This is a character who is going places.

This episode wisely addresses one of the biggest questions of the show: why would someone as chronically groovy as Floyd play “The Muppet Show Theme” every night? Answer: he’s not going to any longer. To borrow his language: he’s anklin’. Or should I say, he’s reached the coda. He’s using the door marked exit. Folks, like a banana in the presence of ice cream, Floyd intends to split… and he’s bringing the band with him. This episode is chock-full of jokes like these, which I gotta say are 100% worth adding to your own dialogue. Perfectly formed Floyd lines, right here in Season 1. By the time Floyd comes back with “Fugue for Frog,” his new, cacophonous song to replace the original theme, I’ve officially become 100% TEAM HIP MUPPETS.

Because here’s the thing: the Electric Mayhem’s screaming jam is a delight. The band performs a Zappa-esque number where the only lyrics are “MUP! MUP! MUP-PET SHOW!” Kermit hates it, but folks, it is absolutely something I’d listen to outside the episode. Floyd explains his talent by saying “Nobody understands my music. I mean, I don’t even understand it. I mean, if I didn’t know I was a genius, I wouldn’t listen to the trash I write.” If that’s not the kind of thing that keeps Thom Yorke awake at night, I don’t know what is.

While the band’s strike ultimately results in a hilarious ending where only Nigel and Rowlf are left to play the credits, we never get any further resolution. The Mayhem is back next week, and they sure won’t be playing “Fugue for Frog” ever again, at least not until the Muppets hire me as music director. Still, this might be one of my favorite Season 1 episodes, and Floyd is absolutely the reason why.

Most Classic Moment: The ending scene with Rowlf and Nigel performing alone is the first time Statler and Waldorf don’t get the last joke, and one of the only episodes to feature a modified credits scene. These are always memorable.

MVM (Most Valuable Muppet): Kaye Ballard performs “Oh Babe What Would You Say” with Thog. Thog is one of the most fun puppets on the show, with a huge range of motion. I love it whenever his ears perk up.

Adultiest Content:
Waldorf: “I could watch Kaye Ballard all night.”
Statler: “I tried it once but she pulled the shade down!”
Waldorf: “You dirty old man!”

First Appearance Of…: A speaking part for Trumpet Girl. (Her first line is saying “Drag city!” when hip-ly quitting the show.)

Last Appearance Of…: A speaking part for Trumpet Girl. (Her final line is saying “Drag city!” when hip-ly quitting the show. But you knew that.)

Best Joke: It’s not really a one-liner, but the entire talk spot between Kaye Ballard, Kermit, and Animal is gold. We all should start saying “DEEP SEATED HOSTILITY” in Animal’s voice.

Worst Joke: Of course it’s during an “At the Dance.” Miss Piggy says romantic things in a foreign language to Kermit, Kermit asks if that was Italian, Piggy says it was Pig Latin. It’s… because… pig… is… you get it.

Coolest Puppetry Effect: Back when I was in high school, I was obsessed with the Vend-A-Face Muppet (but what teenager wasn’t?). When rewatching this episode, I realized that there’s really only one joke you can do with Vend-A-Face, and it’s… the joke it does in this episode. Still, Vend-A-Face switching the facial features of a monster and a young woman is a cool effect. We’ve seen this kind of thing before, but I love the machine’s glowing eyes and poofy metal arms. Gotta give that robot credit in its one shining moment of glory.


Other Musical Highlight: The Country Trio (Jim, Frank, and Jerry) are in this one, and they’ll always earn my point for Musical Highlight.

One Last Thing: Ask your musician friends if they agree with Floyd’s comments. Tell me if any of you get to ask Philip Glass.

Click here to ankle it to the Tough Pigs forum!

by Evan G

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