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Category:    Home > Reviews > Children's Television > Puppets > Variety > The Muppet Show - Season One

The Muppet Show – Season One

 

Picture: C+     Sound: C+     Extras: B     Episodes: A-

 

 

Jim Henson had first established the idea of a Muppet back in 1955 with the original appearance of Kermit The Frog.  Slowly, his unique combination of puppet and marionette grew into something unique and distinctive.  Immortality arrived with the debut of Sesame Street in the late 1960s, making Muppets a permanent staple of childhood worldwide forever.  Henson continued to have more ideas for his talents and besides increasingly clever and abstract characters; he decided The Muppets could expand into their own show.  When he initially offered The Muppet Show to the big three networks, none of them were interested.  Instead, the show went into the growing syndication market and was a huge hit.

 

Disney has been issuing some of the shows individually, but finally decided to launch the entire series and Season One (1976 – 1977) was worth the wait.  Between the nice packaging, extras, top-flight transfers and content, more than a few adults will be running out to buy this set than they will ever admit.  The episodes in the first season are nothing short of remarkable, attracting some of the greatest stars in entertainment history as much as Sesame Street.  See for yourself:

 

1)     Juliet Prowse

2)     Connie Stevens

3)     Joel Grey

4)     Ruth Buzzi

5)     Rita Moreno

6)     Jim Nabors

7)     Florence Henderson

8)     Paul Williams

9)     Charles Aznavour

10)  Harvey Korman

11)  Lena Horne

12)  Peter Ustinov

13)  Bruce Forsyth

14)  Sandy Duncan

15)  Candice Bergen

16)  Avery Schreiber

17)  Ben Vereen

18)  Phyllis Diller

19)  Vincent Price

20)  Valerie Harper

21)  Twiggy

22)  Ethel Merman

23)  Kaye Ballard

24)  Mummenschanz

 

 

It is hard to believe a show once existed that had attracted that kind of talent, but since it was at a time when that was more possible, no one knew just how special and important this series would really be.  My only complaint (besides the commercial breaks we were not used to) was that the shows were too short at under a half-hour.  Furthermore, these stars were all at their peak when they showed up.  Juliet Prowse was one of the world’s best-known dancers, Connie Stevens an extremely popular character actress.  Joel Grey had won his Oscar for Cabaret only a few years before his show and Ruth Buzzi was (and still is) one of the industries most distinct personalities.

 

What this amounted to was a show that had great moments of palpable art beyond the fun jokes and characters that became worldwide phenomena.  Only Kermit was brought over from Sesame Street, so this is the show that introduced Gonzo, Fozzie Bear, Scooter, Rolf, Animal, Muppy The Dog, Dr. Teeth, and Miss Piggy.  Here, however, Piggy was an earlier design with more make-up and a more feminine look.  For being the first season, the show was remarkably together off the bat, especially when compared to later seasons.  There were the funny skits and the bad jokes, puns and device of drama backstage created a winning atmosphere that ranks as one of the all-time TV classics.

 

Then there are some moments that just have to be seen to be believed.  The great Kaye Ballard singing and dancing to Hurricane Smith’s pop classic Oh Babe, What Would You Say? with a giant Muppet Monster, ghosts in the remarkable Vincent Price episode singing The Beatles’ classic I’m Looking Through You, the underrated Paul Williams accompanied by a group of Muppets (including two that look just like him) singing the Three Dog Night classic An Old Fashioned Love Song that he originally wrote, Ethel Merman doing an ironic rearrangement of the theme from There’s No Business Like Show Business with the Muppet gang to close her episode, and an amazing cover by Lena Horne of the Jim Croce classic I Got A Name with the Muppets joining her for back up that, after her life odyssey, may be the most profound moment in this set.

 

Jim Nabors is a riot singing John Denver’s Thank God I’m A Country Boy, Harvey Korman shows up in a giant chicken outfit, Twiggy sends up her years as a model while still looking great, Florence Henderson is up for anything, Valerie Harper continues to show why she is an underrated comic talent, Rita Moreno (already associated with Sesame Street by being the star of its hit PBS sister show The Electric Company, finally announced for DVD!!!) shows why she was one of the most important performers of her time, and the Vincent Price show might be the funniest here.  It twists the conventions the show had just set up and even dares to do a spoof of George Romero’s original Night Of The Living Dead so funny and clever, it could still go a few rounds with Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things (reviewed elsewhere on this site) or the more recent Shawn Of The Dead.

 

It should be said that all the performers and their performances are extraordinary, with what is noted only the beginning of the Emmy-worthy performances all the guests put in.  To say any more would ruin the surprises and memories for older fans who deserve to be surprised all over again.  This is a true collector’s item and one of the best TV on DVD sets to date.  Can’t wait for the next one.

 

One of the great things Jim Henson did on a technical level was try and find a way to make the shows hold up visually better than many videotaped children’s television had.  Sesame Street, The Electric Company and many of the Sid & Marty Krofft series were all shot in the analog NTSC videotape format with professional equipment.  To retain the same videotape look, but with tape’s freedoms.  This is why he decided to shoot the show in the clearer PAL format, usually used for British TV.  The result is that the 1.33 X 1 image looks better for its age than it would have been had he stuck with NTSC video and thanks to the top rate transfer work here, this looks terrific.  The Dolby Digital 2.0 sound shows its age, but sounds as nice, clean and clear as it could sound in Dolby. No false stereo boosting has been added, but it is as good as some simple stereo boosting we have heard.  The combination far exceeds what it looked like when it debuted.  The show was shot in England where it was originally produced by Sir Lew Grade and his ITC production company.

 

Extras include closed captioning text with factoids and other information on every episode, while DVD 4 adds the terrific original pitch reel to sell the series, a promo gag reel for the first season, and the original 1974 Muppet Show pilot which is very different and has more of an emphasis on Henson’s more abstract creations.  A paper foldout is also contained inside the foldout case that lists all the guests on the four discs.  That’s not bad at all.

 

When Kermit would talk up the show on camera, he sounded like they were trying to be the best entertainment show in the world, offering entertainment like he had to be somewhat of a huckster, unsure as to whether he could deliver or believe he could deliver on the superlatives he constantly spoke of to keep the show going.  Between the vaudeville-style of the show down to the end-credit lettering, The Muppet Show revived that classic tradition and nearly a century later, fulfilled all of its aspirations.  That is why it is a classic.

 

 

-   Nicholas Sheffo


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