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Review of the first episode of The Muppet Show’s first season

Review of the first episode of The Muppet Show's first season

With the announcement that Jason Segel will pen the Muppets’ next feature, and a Jim Henson biopic topping the Black List (a list of the most promising unproduced projects) last year, I’ve chosen to take an episodic look back at The Muppet Show. Jim Henson’s goal to produce a show for a wider audience led to the creation of The Muppet Show, which first aired in 1976.

Review of the first episode of The Muppet Show’s first season

He also didn’t want to be labelled as a children’s entertainer, which he had been for most of his life thanks to his work on Sesame Street, where his creative contributions and Muppet inventions were mainly responsible for the show’s popularity. A number of Muppeteer team members, including Frank Oz, Jerry Nelson, Richard Hunt, and Steve Whitmire, met on Sesame Street and went on to work on The Muppet Show. Along with Jim Henson, Jack Burns, a longtime performing partner of George Carlin, was the chief writer for the first season. Henson tried to sell the show to studio executives in America with an unusual sales pitch, but he was unsuccessful. As a result, the series was picked up by ATV studios in Elstree, UK, which aired the show on ITV and sold the broadcast rights to CBS. Henson was hesitant to pursue the syndication path at first, but it was the only option for his vision to reach the target viewers, so compromises had to be made. So, without further ado, let’s go to The Muppet Theatre to see what Kermit and his pals have planned for us… The first episode deviated significantly from the Sex And Violence pilot, which was a wise decision because it’s difficult to envision the programme achieving the same level of success if it had followed that structure.

The pilot has its moments of brilliance, but it lacked the coherence of the first episode, and instead felt like a series of vignettes with little linking the programme together, other from a few flimsy connections. Both have similarities in that they are both vaudeville-style shows, but The Muppet Show has more common threads. Kermit was likewise absent as the main character in Sex And Violence. Kermit, who plays the affable everyman (well, frog), is thought to be the most accurate portrayal of Henson’s personality among the show’s characters. Kermit, like Henson, is the show runner, in charge of keeping the cast in line and ensuring that the production runs well. Juliet Prowse, a dancer and actress, made her first appearance in the opening episode, dancing to Scott Joplin’s Solace with the Muppet Gazelles, and subsequently talking to Kermit and being presented with a Muppet likeness. With all due respect to Prowse, she was far from the biggest figure to appear as a guest on The Muppet Show throughout its 105-episode run, and is probably an illustration of the show’s producers’ struggles to recruit big-known personalities to appear on the show early on.

It’s not that Prowse’s involvement is cringe-worthy, but, as with other of the guests who would appear on the show in later episodes, she appears to be uncomfortable with what’s expected of her at times while dealing with Kermit, and occasionally comes across as patronising. It’s safe to assume that the guest star isn’t the episode’s high point. That honour would go to one of the show’s finest musical acts, which begins with Mahna Mahna, one of the Muppets’ most cherished tunes. The origins of Mahna Mahna aren’t as harmless as many people believe. The song was written for the X-rated film Sweden: Heaven And Hell in the 1960s. The Snowths and Mahna Mahna performed the song on The Ed Sullivan Show a year after the film was released, and Henson appropriated it for a joke. Although the two sketches are nearly identical, it was its appearance on this show that propelled it to its highest chart position in the UK, where it reached number eight.

You And I And George, performed by Rowlf the dog, was another song that was previously utilised. In 1966, the song first aired on The Mike Douglas Show. This is my favourite scene in the episode, as well as one of my favourite Muppet songs from the past. It depicts the story of a third wheel in a relationship who is presented with an opportunity to profit when his rival for the object of his passion drowns by accident. It’s a foreshadowing of The Muppet’s dark and subversive humour. Miss Piggy, a character who would go on to play a big role in the show, was also introduced in this inaugural episode, though you wouldn’t know it from the Muppet Glee Club’s rendition of Herb Brown and Arthur Freed’s Temptation. The Glee Club is led by Kermit, who is pursued by the porcine sex pest as the song approaches its conclusion. Many would argue that this is the best episode of The Muppet Show, but while not being the best, it sets the tone for what’s to come by establishing the format and introducing many of the characters who would come to define not only the series, but the Muppet universe as a whole.

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