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October 27, 2017

The Muppet Show: 40 Years Later – Nancy Walker

Filed under: Feature,Reviews — Tags: , — Julia Gaskill @ 10:57 am

Original air date: October 24, 1977

I have to be honest, if you were to have asked me what happens in the Nancy Walker episode of The Muppet Show about a week ago, I wouldn’t have had a response for you. Not for any reason except that it’s been six years since I last watched it and no iconic sketches tie in with Ms. Walker herself – at least, not in my memory.

Lucky for me, the Nancy Walker episode ended up being more delightful – and surprisingly fun! – than my lack of memory deemed it!

Now, I’ve confessed in the past to being a sucker for Gonzo-centric plots, but I gotta admit, Fozzie circa The Muppet Show has a very special place in my heart. The dude just tries his darnedest to help make the show run smooth, and though his attempts are usually fraught with failures, his heart is in the right place. Also, Frank’s A-game was really at its peak with The Muppet Show since, unlike the films, he had more wiggle room for character improvisation and experimentation, which we get so much in Fozzie’s reactions and line delivery – especially in this episode. At one point, Fozzie is so nervous that he picks up the housing of a phone and starts speaking into it, instead of the phone’s receiver. While I’m certain this joke was written into the script, Oz has a way of playing it so that it seems more spontaneous, making the gag work even better in his favor.

The story arc presented in this Muppet Show episode is fairly straightforward. Kermit is out sick and has left Fozzie in charge of the theater. To no one’s surprise, things are shaky from the get-go. Due to Fozzie’s nervous energy, he manages to forget the guest star’s name repeatedly, as well as what comes next on the show’s roster. Scooter is a constant throughout the episode, always reminding Fozzie what comes next and at one point begins hawking magazine subscriptions to the audience while stalling for Fozzie. Gonzo’s also around, but he’s mostly there to remind Fozzie of how poorly the show is going. Thanks, Gonzo!

In true Muppet fashion, several of the acts go awry. The first act blows a hole in the wall thanks to Crazy Harry (who else?), Luncheon Counter Monster and Nancy Walker start eating props and the set, the audience almost walks out when Fozzie forgets to introduce the next sketch, and several of the crew members threaten to quit because of how poorly the show’s running (“I think you should start with the lighting man” quips Scooter to Fozzie, when all the lights in the theater suddenly turn off). The biggest blunder is that two of the most reoccurring segments, At The Dance and Veterinarian’s Hospital, go on at the same time. Sure, that wasn’t supposed to happen, but it lends itself to a lot of great medical-dancing crossover puns, in my humble opinion.

Kermit calls several times throughout the episode, talking to Fozzie – and at one point Piggy – to check in on the show. So, rightfully concerned, the frog makes an appearance at the episode’s closing moment, only to sneeze before thanking Nancy Walker – messing her name up akin to how Fozzie did throughout most of the episode.

Speaking of Nancy Walker! She’s an all around great guest star. She showcases her humor at the get-go in the cold open, with a pretty groan-worthy pun involving Timmy Monster standing on her (see Lamest Joke below), but even still the quick gag immediately shows the audience that she’s not afraid of physical comedy.

Her first real bit is the diner sketch with Fozzie and Luncheon Counter Monster (in fact, this sketch is where LCM gets his name). The concept is simple: Fozzie and Walker keep putting items on the counter and, when they’re not looking, Luncheon Counter Monster eats said items. Mostly he devours varying glassware, but he also throws a scarf and a menu into the mix – the mix being his mouth. While the gag is a common one with the Muppets, the fact that once he’s caught, Walker starts eating glasses and the counter makes for a great pay off. Not to mention she and Fozzie have great comedy chemistry – always a good sign for a guest star when they play well off the bear!

Nancy Walker has two different dressing room scenes. One is a quick bit with Piggy, wherein Piggy tells Ms. Walker that she seems like an “overly considerate, protective, mother-type person.” Walker attempts to deny this, but when given a call by a sick Kermit she immediately starts listing off remedies.

The other dressing room bit is one of the highlights of the episode for me. Much like Gonzo and Fozzie-centric episodes, I am a sucker for the tender moments that happen in The Muppet Show’s guest star’s dressing rooms. Usually these moments involve guest stars serenading Muppets with advice, positivity, and love – and that’s certainly what we get in this scene. Fozzie comes to Nancy Walker feeling downtrodden that the episode is going wrong, and she sweetly sings “Pick Yourself Up” to help raise his spirits. I know most guest stars get moments like this with a Muppet in their dressing room, but they always get me. This is such a sweet, lovely moment in an otherwise high energy episode.

Nancy Walker’s biggest moment of the episode is a dance routine she does with Sweetums to the song “They Can’t Take That Away From Me.” Much like her diner sketch, guest stars being paired up with full bodied Muppets as dancing partners isn’t anything new and we see it several times in The Muppet Show’s five seasons. While this routine isn’t a stand out of the entire show’s run when it comes to acts like it, it’s still a sweet, fun bit. Plus it shows off Walker’s singing and (tap!) dancing skills, while still being funny.

Most of the sketches, gags, and songs in this episode are either tied in with the main story arc and/or Walker’s own sketches, but there are a few stand alone bits.

As already mentioned, the At The Dance / Veterinarian’s Hospital crossover is a delight. The “Night Train” sketch – which is the act early on that blows up parts of the theater – doesn’t do a whole lot for me. While it’s nice to see Crazy Harry utilized, the act is mostly just him directing where gun fire should go, and then things – obviously – blow up. The punchline just isn’t there for me on this bit. However, this bit being pretty violent, a part of me did want to shove this scene in the faces of everyone who complained that the most recent The Muppets series was “too adult.”

Alongside “Night Train,” the other low point of the episode for me is “My Old Dutch” sung by Burlington Bertie. While Jerry Nelson nails it with the singing, as always, the number seems to stop this episode dead in its track, losing the momentum all the previous sketches and gags had already built up. I think the problem with it is that it’s the first musical act of this episode and it doesn’t happen until halfway through, making it feel out of place.

The most obscure gag of this entire episode has to be the Birds sketch. A man is listening to his caged canary sing, and then one-by-one birds from outside start appearing in his window to sing along. Their squacks, quacks, and chirps make for a strange, yet intriguing melody.

And then? Out of a nowhere?

A giant chicken bursts through the wall, picks up the man, forces him into the birdcage, and frees the canary. I’m not going to go on record saying this is The Greatest Twist of any sketch, but it caught me so off guard that I shrieked with delight.

Last but certainly not least is Sam the Eagle’s nudity speech. I had entirely forgotten that this speech happens in this particular episode. I don’t really need to delve into this one, since I’m assuming you all know it, but in case you have not had the joy, please watch this immediately:

Overall, with a couple sketches and bits that feel a bit out of place with the flow, this episode is fun, wacky, and filled with plenty of great Fozzie moments to boot!

Best Joke: In the At The Dance / Veterinarian’s Hospital crossover — Female Whatnot: “Are you the doctor? Would you remove a large growth from my toe?” Rowlf: “Sure, what is it?” Female Whatnot: “Him.” (references dance partner)

Lamest Joke: Nancy Walker, when called for stand by, saying, “Are you kidding, stand by? I can’t even stand up!” as Timmy Monster stands on top of her. AUDIBLE GROAN.

MVM (Most Valuable Muppet): My main man Scooter. Without him assisting Fozzie and writing fake notes from Nancy Walker to raise the bear’s spirits, this episode would’ve ended as soon as it began. Sure hope he got that skateboard he was saving up for!

Coolest Puppetry Effect: It’s not the coolest effect, but my favorite of this episode is the chicken Muppet bursting through the wall and picking up the Whatnot.

First Appearance Of…: Luncheon Counter Monster!

Musical Highlight: I gotta give it to Nancy Walker singing to Fozzie in her dressing room. Super simple, but super sweet.

Most Classic Moment: Sam’s speech on nudity. No competition.

Should-Be-Classic Moment: The Nancy Walker and Sweetums dance number. This bit is outshined, perhaps, by other similar acts wherein guest stars dance with full bodied Muppets, but still fun nonetheless.

Obscure Character Watch: This episode is one of only two times Burlington Bertie makes an appearance.

One More Thing…: Apparently, Jim had to leave the set early when filming this episode, and the show’s creative staff had a ton of trouble figuring out how to go about filming scenes – very similar to how Fozzie was having problems running the show while Kermit wasn’t around.

Okay, One More Thing: This episode was the first time The Swedish Chef appeared in a sketch other than his own.

Click here to dance with Sweetums on the Tough Pigs forum!

by Julia Gaskill

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