Sandy Duncan – Air date October 4, 1976
Muppet fans love to argue about whether or not there’s such a thing as a Muppet canon. Some people feel that there’s a line of continuity from one Muppet project to the next – that if you squint hard enough, you can imagine that Kermit and the gang went to Danforth College after completing their Standard Rich & Famous Contract. Others believe that’s a lot of nonsense, because trying to create a Muppet canon can only lead to insanity.
For those of us in the latter camp, it’s not important that the details line up (because they never will). What is important is the world-building – the feeling that the Muppet universe feels like a real place with its own logic. In the primordial days of season one, the show is still figuring out what that logic looks like. This episode is a key step, because in this episode we’re introduced to the Banana Sketch.
The Banana Sketch, written by the Legendary Gags Beasley, is a classic comedy routine that everyone knows. Everyone. It’s a world-famous hit that gets big laughs every time. Everyone’s heard of the Banana Sketch.
Except for Kermit.
To everyone else – Fozzie, Piggy, Scooter, Gonzo, Hilda, Sandy Duncan, everyone – it’s unthinkable that an entertainer of Kermit’s caliber hasn’t heard of it. They’re all astonished. Naturally, the Banana Sketch is never mentioned again after this episode. It isn’t a foundational document of the Muppets. The 2011 movie doesn’t flashback to show us the first time Fozzie heard it. But for this one episode, it’s the most important thing in the entire world.
But why is the Banana Sketch so important? Not because the story requires it, because there really isn’t much of a story here. No, it’s because the *joke* needs them to. It’s funny, and in the first season of The Muppet Show, the joke is always king. The logic of The Muppet Show is and will always be “Is it funny?” Everything else bows to that.
Our guest star, Sandy Duncan, is totally game to slip into this world. In the talk spot, she’s so happy to see Fozzie make a surprise appearance, but she also giggles when Kermit says that Fozzie staying is “the bad news.” Even better, she seems genuinely thrilled that Fozzie got the Legendary Gags Beasley, chiding Kermit for ignorance and cackling like a maniac when Fozzie says he uses a yellow banana (not a green one) in the sketch.
During the good-byes, she laughs and says “I love it, I love all of you” in a casual way that leaves no doubt she absolutely means it. This is clearly someone who loves living in the Muppets’ world. Which makes it all the more disappointing that the closing number doesn’t seem to take place there.
“Try to Remember” from The Fantasticks is a fine song, but Sandy Duncan gives the same performance here that she would have on any other variety show in the mid-70s. It ends the episode on a limp note, which is all the more disappointing after all the build-up about the Banana Sketch. In a later season, I think the closing number would have incorporated that classic hit, or at least put a button on Kermit’s ignorance. The show hadn’t figured out how to do that yet, but they’ll get there. You can’t build a whole world in thirty minutes.
Best Joke: Kermit: “I think somebody’s pulling my leg. Somebody is pulling my leg, it’s the great Gonzo.” And then Gonzo’s just tugging on his leg for no reason. It’s beautiful, and a perfect example of a joke that only works because the Muppets are weird.
Lamest Joke: During At the Dance, a couple have this exchange:
Pig 1: Where’d you say you were born?
Pig 2: In Paris.
Pig 1: How did you do that?
Pig 2: The usual way!
I genuinely don’t understand where the “joke” part of that joke is supposed to be.
MVM (Most Valuable Muppet): Sweetums gets to show off his range with featured parts in two of Sandy’s numbers. He’s the lead monster in “A Nice Girl Like Me,” and later Sandy helps him discover his “Inner Beauty.” He’s got layers!
Most Classic Moment: You mean you’ve never heard of it?
Should-Be-Classic Moment: Animal’s “I’m falling for you” in At the Dance – his commitment to the bit is impressive, bringing it from funny to stupid and back around to hilarious.
Most Dated Joke: Sandy Duncan’s Newflash character is jumping on a hot plate, that staple of 70s apartment living.
First Appearance Of…: Behemoth, who gets the honor of shoving a pie in Sandy Duncan’s face.
Musical Highlight: Danny wrote a whole Tough Pigs article about “A Nice Girl Like Me” because it’s incredible.
Coolest Puppetry Effect: In “Never Smile at a Crocodile,” the crocodile eating frogs right off puppeteers’ hands is very seamless, as are their jumps back out.
Missed Opportunity: It’s too bad Gonzo’s terrific “Nobody” is the UK sketch. Obviously it doesn’t affect our viewing today, but it’s too bad that US viewers missed out on it in 1976, because it was *this* close to being my musical highlight.
Obscure Character Watch: Cinderella’s dog Rufus shows up in “Inner Beauty” to bite and later lick Sweetums’ hand. Nice to see that li’l buddy!
Adultiest Content: Statler: “Sandy Duncan makes me feel like a young boy.” Waldorf: “She makes me feel like a young girl. I think I’ll go find one.” Oof.
One More Thing…: Statler gets the New York Times and the Manchester Guardian! He’s well-read on two continents!
Okay, One More Thing…: Gags Beasley actually did make one on-camera appearance, but not on The Muppet Show. When head writer Jack Burns hosted Saturday Night Live in 1978, he played an over-the-hill comedy writer named Gags Beasley, even boasting that he wrote the Banana Sketch. It says a lot about the difference between TMS and SNL that the Banana Sketch is a revered classic here, and an out-of-date piece of junk there.
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by Anthony Strand – Anthony@ToughPigs.com