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December 1, 2017

The Muppet Show: 40 Years Later – Teresa Brewer

Filed under: Feature,Reviews — Tags: , , — Julia Gaskill @ 11:30 am

Original air date: November 21, 1977

Buckle in, kiddos, cause this review is gonna get a bit preachy.

Normally I start my reviews by focusing on the main plot of the episode, then delving into the structure, guest star appearances, side gags and songs, character relevance, etc. This time, I’m going to shake things up a bit. Let’s look at the brunt of Teresa Brewer’s Muppet Show episode before examining why it doesn’t hold up well.

This episode has a very fast-paced feel to it. Kermit comes out after the theme song, gives a one-line intro (“Welcome to The Muppet Show, where anything can happen – unfortunately”), and then immediately introduces Teresa Brewer’s first number. The entire episode feels this way, rushing from one bit to the next.

Teresa Brewer as a guest star isn’t necessarily bad, but she’s not the best either. Both her songs are well sung (“Cotton Fields” and “Music Music Music”), but other than that, there’s not much to say about each number. To be blunt, they’re not fun – they’re just boring. In both songs, the Muppets dance off to the side while Brewer serenades the camera. I always enjoy a guest star more when they’re eagerly interacting with their felt co-stars. (Though I’ll admit, Brewer’s yodeling in “Cotton Fields” is awesome.)

Brewer is also given a song-gag, “Spinning Wheel,” wherein Sweetums is pushing her on a swing and shenanigans ensue. This is definitely Brewer’s best bit and might also be the highlight of the episode for me. It’s fun and lighthearted; a simple gag, sure, but the payoff is there. Brewer is also in two dressing room scenes. One of these is with Piggy (I’ll get to that one later), and one is with Kermit and involves Animal autographing her forehead. A fine bit, but not exactly memorable.

The stand out act of this episode is Dr. Teeth singing “Cheesecake” and was, in fact, the only bit of this episode I remembered before this rewatch. There’s also a Muppet Labs, an At The Dance, and a Veterinarian’s Hospital. Muppet Labs focuses on Bunsen building an electric nose warmer, which, unsurprisingly, makes Beaker’s entire head start to smoke. The other two, again, we will look at in just a moment.

In comparison with all the other episodes I’ve reviewed for this ToughPigs series, the thing that really stood out I’ve already mentioned but will say again: Pacing.

Everything moves so quickly through this episode. There are plenty of super short sketches (“At The Hop,” Gonzo reciting Shakespeare, Animal singing “Wild Thing,” etc.). Even the reoccurring sketches and backstage moments feel rushed. There’s so much jam-packed into this episode, none of it really stays with you – that is, except for the main plot, which doesn’t leave a good taste in my mouth: i.e. Miss Piggy’s weight.

I think we all can agree that the treatment of Miss Piggy has never been perfect, and this episode is a shining example of just that. The entire focus is how Piggy needs to drop some pounds – cue the audible groans.

The first (and only) backstage segment has Miss Piggy overhearing Kermit saying he’s going to cut her ballet number because “I mean, she’s getting a little bulgy. The pork no longer fits in the barrel,” with Scooter chiming in to joke as well. The rest of the episode follows suit. The “At The Dance” only makes jokes about people being overweight. Veterinarian’s Hospital has Hogthrob and Strangepork making lots of “go to the kitchen and cook” jokes at Piggy. Miss Piggy tries to work out to a TV show called “The Chub Club” – and of course fails at this. She goes to Brewer for advice but ends up drooling over Brewer’s delicious and abundant lunch. Kermit and Piggy auction off how much weight she’s willing to lose. She steps on a scale and it breaks. At one point, Kermit looks her in the eyes and calls her “fat-stuff.” I think you get the idea.

(I will say, if you have ever encountered someone who complains about Kermit being “not nice enough” in any recent Muppet productions, for the love of god, show them this episode, because he is anything but nice.)

Look. I know that this show came out in a different time, and I know that Miss Piggy is, well, a pig and pigs are seen as fat creatures. But when you have a show with so few female characters to begin with –  and really only one who regularly gets featured – the fact that she has an entire episode focused on her appearance is, unfortunately, super sexist. The Muppets has always been a boys’ club, but it’s when Piggy is treated in this manner that this becomes glaringly obvious time and time again.

While Piggy does get some jabs in here and there (she pushes Kermit’s face into a cake, she makes everyone at episode’s end work out, she karate chops a scale, etc.), they hardly make up for the rest of the episode. What’s more, there’s really no resolution in the end. No one apologies to Piggy for the way she’s been treated. Piggy doesn’t realize she’s perfect the way she is. Brewer doesn’t stand up for how Kermit treats Piggy. Nothing. We, as an audience, are left with a Piggy who is surrounded by people telling her she’s too fat and her just accepting it.

I think the reason this episode gets to me so much is because, well, it’s not like this is a theme the Muppets have stopped perpetrating with Piggy.

While Piggy is considered a feminist icon these days, even in the recent The Muppets, there were plenty of jokes about Piggy’s weight and her appearance. Her being fat is still a gag to this day. Let me make myself clear, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with having a fat female character. The fact that her fatness is the butt of so many jokes is where the problem lies. While I can maybe look at an old Muppet Show episode and shrug off outdated jokes on how women should be perceived, the fact that it still comes up in recent Muppet productions makes me wince. I love the Muppets, and god knows they are not perfect in so many respects. Here’s hoping the Piggy-is-too-fat puns go back to the 1970’s.

In the end, the Teresa Brewer episode ends up feeling so dated and cruel that the rest of the bits that don’t have to do with Piggy fall to the wayside and become unmemorable.

Best Joke: Crazy Harry’s signature being a burnt hole in Brewer’s autograph book.

Lamest Joke: Ignoring all the fat jokes, Brewer turning to the camera after Kermit’s been shoved into a cake and saying: “How about that! Frosted frog!”

MVM (Most Valuable Muppet): Miss Piggy. She puts up with so much in this episode, no one deserves it but her.

Musical Highlight: “Cheesecake” is the most entertaining musical number!

Most Dated Joke: Uh. Basically this entire episode.

Most Classic Moment: I’d say it’s a tie between Dr. Teeth’s “Cheesecake” and Gonzo’s reciting Merchant of Venice while hanging on a feather boa.

Should-Be-Classic Moment: I gotta go with “Spinning Wheel.”

Obscure Character Watch: Trumpet Girl is prominently rocking out with the Electric Mayhem in “Cotton Fields.”

One More Thing…: I realize Fozzie wasn’t in this episode (besides his cameo in “Cotton Fields”) because Oz was busy doing Piggy in almost every bit, but it still felt strange that the bear had zero gags, let alone lines.

Okay, One More Thing: Hey friends, women are not defined by their physical aesthetics. What’s more, female-identified people who are thick and/or fat are beautiful and deserve your respect. Don’t take them for granted.

Click here to shove Kermit’s face into a cake on the ToughPigs forum!

by Julia Gaskill

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