"The Muppet Show: Season One"
by Kevin Carr
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|| MOVIE: ***** (out of 5 stars)
DVD EXPERIENCE: *** (out of 5 stars)
STARRING THE VOICES OF
Created by: Jim Henson
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I grew up with the Muppets, and I grew up with “The Muppet Show.” It’s a real treat to get the entire show on DVD now – or at least the first season.
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There was just something magical about the Muppets. They went beyond just a children’s show, and it all rested in the hands of Jim Henson. I remember when Jim Henson died – the same day as Sammy Davis Jr. The day it happened, it was huge news at my school, and the funny thing was that you had high school seniors cheesed off that Sammy Davis Jr.’s death stole the thunder from Jim Henson’s. After all, Jim Henson was a god to us. What did we care about a half-blind old Vegas entertainer when we’re facing the death of the man behind Kermit the Frog?
That’s a real entertainment giant, my friends.
As a child, I remember watching an episode of “Sesame Street” in which Oscar the Grouch made a reference to Carl Sagan. That’s when I knew that the Muppets carried with them a different sense of humor than you’d find anywhere else. This was back in the day when “Sesame Street” was still just a cheap little kids show on PBS. It wasn’t an institution, like it is now.
If it were up to the focus groups and the executives who oversee kids shows nowadays to approve this, the Carl Sagan reference would have been brutally cut from this show. They wouldn’t want to confuse kids, or worse yet, make them feel bad for not knowing who Carl Sagan was. That’s the kind of mentality that is causing kids networks to vomit out shows like the Teletubbies and Barney.
The charm of the Muppets is that they put stuff in for adults as well as kids. They didn’t talk down to kids (or adults, for that matter). You don’t always see that in kids programming. When was the last time you heard Dora the Explorer or Joe from Blue’s Clues make an esoteric side reference?
When “The Muppet Show” debuted, it wasn’t an instant success in America. But soon, it took off and spawned not just five seasons of great television, but a series of wonderful films.
But it’s nice to pop in these old shows from the first season – while the major Muppets were in their infancy. You see the characters as unrefined, before they became icons. You get a chance to see Miss Piggy while they were still deciding who would voice her (and it wasn’t meant to be Frank Oz). You get to see Kermit before he gave into a pig’s love (he hated her at first). You get to see Gonzo the Great as a pathetic, struggling artist before he became the pimp-daddy for chickens.
Watching the first season of “The Muppet Show” also serves as a great snapshot into the 70s. It was a time when variety shows were common, and the Muppets doing a variety show didn’t seem as out of place as it does now. It also shows who was known back then and who wasn’t. Sure, you’ll recognize guest stars like Vincent Price and Florence Henderson. But there are other pseudo celebrities like Juliette Prowse, Charles Aznavour and Bruce Forsyth that I have never heard of in my life.
According to the DVD, it was hard to book guests the first season because the vain celebrities wouldn’t stoop to doing a puppet show. (When the show became a hit, they had no problem, of course.) And some of the guests like Candice Bergen and Peter Ustinov clearly didn’t have much respect for the show. Ustinov actually read cue cards during the show. But others had a lot of fun and got into the spirit of the show.
The DVD features the original pilot of the series, sans Kermit as the host, which wasn’t very funny at all. It also has Jim Henson’s original pitch reel to the network, which made me laugh more than the pilot ever did. There’s also a funny gag reel with the Muppets goofing off as they did promos for television spots. The most interesting piece is “Muppet Morsels,” which is a subtitle trivia track that plays throughout all four discs. The only problem with these morsels is that it has annoying graphics that pop up periodically, obscuring the show itself. Hopefully those graphics don’t make their way into subsequent seasons.
Specifications: Dolby Digital Sound. Full frame (1.33:1). English language subtitles for the hearing impaired.