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October 31, 2016

The Muppet Show: 40 Years Later – Lena Horne

Filed under: Feature,Reviews — Tags: , , — Julia Gaskill @ 3:14 pm

lena-horne-4Original air date: November 1, 1976

To introduce our reoccurring series, that’s what I’m here to do! So it really makes me happy to introduce to you … the Lena Horne episode of The Muppet Show!!!

lena-horne-1When it was first decided that we at ToughPigs would be reviewing all of The Muppet Show episodes, I was a bit late in snagging my first choices and was left with only a few unclaimed episodes to choose from. Naturally, I assumed I wasn’t going to have any memorable episodes – but how wrong I was! In rewatching the Lena Horne episode – which I don’t think I’ve watched for going on three or four years now – I was reminded just how amazing this episode truly is. Right away the episode kicks off with “Rag Mop” (which I have since learned is an actual song, not just a song written for The Muppet Show. Cue “the more you know” PSA star!), and what followed was a whole slew of other well-known, well-loved Muppet bits.

The main plot of this episode itself is fun but not the most memorable. We see Kermit telling Piggy she can’t sing in the show because she’ll “overshadow Lena Horne,” Piggy learns from Scooter she’s been lied to, and then she proceeds to karate chop both Scooter and Kermit multiple times. That’s really it. What lasts for three different backstage segments probably could have been a much shorter joke. Plus we see these sorts of interactions between Piggy and Kermit frequently throughout the run of The Muppet Show, so these segments aren’t particularly stand outs of the season. That said, Frank’s delivery of Piggy’s over-the-top love of Kermit, melodramatic response to him spurning her advances, and her sudden boisterous rage and karate chops are, as always, perfect in their delivery.

lena-horne-3Okay, now that I’ve given you the main plot line, we gotta talk about the greatest facet of this episode: Lena Horne. Believe that I am not exaggerating when I say Lena Horne makes this episode a great, classic one. Right off the bat, we know we’re in for an amazing performer when Kermit gives Lena such a sincere, kind intro before her first song. She’s got three songs in this episode, by the way, and all of them are killer.

“I Got a Name” is her first segment, and goodness is it a powerhouse of a number in both song choice and delivery. This, to me, is one of the many things that The Muppet Show always did best. It gave celebrities a chance to highlight their skill set and really shine. The Muppets are present in this song, accompanying Lena in the background, but they never draw the attention away from her. All of them stare up at her as she sings, as if they too are enraptured in the power of her voice. (Also worth noting: Lena Horne has some of the most intense singing eyes ever. EVER.)

lena-horne-2So, there are many things in this world that make me unabashedly cry, and two of those things happen to be beautiful renditions of “Sing (a Song)” and emotional Gonzo moments. Oh, what’s that? This episode has both of those things? Well, I guess we know who always cries twice while watching this episode!

I won’t go into how much I love sentimental, emotional Gonzo scenes because, well, I’ve already done so in multiple articles in the past (I swear, every other article I write for ToughPigs has a Gonzo rant in it, even if Gonzo has nothing to do with what I’m actually writing about), so just know that those scenes are always my favorite. So it makes sense that “I’m Glad There is You” is a stand out for me. However, I feel like it’s not just me. It’s such a pure, wonderful scene wherein Lena comforts Gonzo after his act goes awry. It’s sweet and genuine – something the Muppets always excel in when needed. Then, of course, the episode ends with “Sing,” which is simply perfection. It’s one of those songs I’ll never get tired of celebrity guest stars on Muppet/Sesame productions covering, and Lena Horne delivers one of the best performances of that song that I know to exist.

lena-horne-6But it’s not even just the songs that she performs that make Lena Horne so great in this episode. She has a couple of short, one-off gags (her seaweed joke with The Newsman and Animal helping her “find her key”), and a funny interview with Kermit where Fozzie has absolutely no idea he’s speaking to the Lena Horne. It doesn’t matter what she’s doing in this episode, she’s just perfect in every scene, joke, and song throughout. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: a really great guest star in any Muppet production has to be visibly having fun. Yes, talent helps, but you can always tell when a guest star is having a good time and enjoying their interactions with the Muppets (see: absolutely any production with John Denver). Lena most certainly seems like she’s having a blast. You can see it most evidently in her scene with Kermit and Fozzie, in her song with Gonzo, and in the final “Sing” number. She just looks like she’s having an all around amazing time, and that’s what really sells her as a guest star.

lena-horne-7Of course, there are several reoccurring segments throughout this episode. We get At The Dance, Muppet Newsflash, Kermit interviewing the guest, Fozzie’s comedy act, and a Swedish Chef bit. At The Dance and Muppet Newsflash don’t necessarily stand out amongst other times they’ve appeared, but they’re both still good fun nonetheless (this At The Dance is the one where the Blue Frackle “blows his top,” which is a damn good joke). Fozzie’s comedy act does the least for me, I think, of all the segments in this particular episode. I know Fozzie’s jokes are purposefully supposed to be bad, but in this one they’re also kind of boring and not particularly memorable. I had to rewatch the scene while writing this review just to remember what the jokes were in the first place (Japanese actors, Marcel Marceau, etc.). The Swedish Chef, however, has one of the best segments of the episode. The spaghetti suddenly crawling right off his plate is such a fun thing to witness. It’s a simple, short gag, but it pays off so well.

I think the two (non-Lena Horne involved) scenes that best highlight what the Muppets mean to me are the “Rag Mop” number and Rowlf and Zoot playing the theme from Love Story. With the Raggmopps, we get a segment that’s so fun and silly. It shows the brilliance of the Muppet creative team that they could come up with the concept of a bunch of mops singing a song and make it entertaining. Then we have Rowlf and Zoot, simply playing a song together on their sax and piano. Yes, there’s a pay off at the very end where Rowlf is so moved by the music that he starts crying, but this whole segment doesn’t actually have much of a gag to it. It’s just two Muppets playing a beautiful piece of music. I feel that this is what most of the Muppet productions in recent years have been missing. No joke, no gag, just the Muppets showcasing a nice piece of art.

Best Joke: Lena Horne trying to find the key to her dressing room, and upon asking Animal to help her “find her key” he hits her foot with a giant hammer, she melodically shrieks, and he informs her “B flat.” The joke is simple, straight forward, and hilarious.

Second Best Joke: Kermit calling “Ms. Horne” to the stage, only for a horn wearing a wig to appear. So silly, but so good.

Worst Joke: I’m not even a little surprised that the worst joke in this episode goes to Fozzie. After all, he is the king of bad jokes. “Speaking of Japanese actors, did you know ‘Toshiro Mifune’ means no smoking in Japanese?” Groooaaaan.

MVM (Most Valuable Muppet): Okay folks, I gotta do it. I’m gonna name Lena Horne as an honorary Muppet for this episode and dub her the MVM. I can’t help myself, she nails ever song, gag, and scene she’s in. The rest of the episode is terrific, but she’s the one who really brings it all home.

lena-horne-eyesRunner up MVM: Lena Horne’s intense singing eyes.

Most Classic Moment: There are so many memorable moments in this episode to begin with, but I gotta give it to “I Got a Name.”

Should-Be-Classic Moment: Zoot and Rowlf’s musical rendition of Love Story. There’s just something pleasant and beautiful about that segment.

Obscure Character Watch: The actual dog Lena sings to in “I Got a Name” suddenly becomes Muppy for a portion of the number, before turning back into the living dog by the end of it.

Rare Muppet Performer Appearance: I guess it’s not all that rare in the first season of The Muppet Show, but we see Frank performing Piggy all throughout the episode, except suddenly in At the Dance she’s performed by Richard.

Coolest Puppetry Effect: Okay, maybe it’s not the “coolest” effect ever, but Fozzie standing on one leg during his comedy act is really well done. It actually looks like Fozzie is struggling to stand on one leg. Props to good puppeteering when it’s due.

Adultiest Content: “You know, my aunt has a chest that goes back to 1700.” “Huh. Must make it tough on your uncle.”

One More Thing: Fozzie coming out of nowhere saying “Who huh?” over and over again in Kermit’s interview with Lena always gets me.

Okay, One More Thing: Did I mention how emotional I get over the Gonzo and Lena scene??? GUYS, IT’S SO SWEET AND WONDERFUL, PLEASE REWATCH IT RIGHT NOW SO YOU CAN FEEL ALL THE EMOTIONS I’M FEELING TOO.

by Julia Gaskill – Julia@ToughPigs.com

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