Combustible Celluloid

The Muppet Show: Season One (1976-77)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Deeply Felt

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Buy The Muppet Show: Season One on DVD.

Created by Jim Henson on the heels of "Sesame Street," "The Muppet Show" was an uncanny idea. It re-created the "variety show" format from days gone by, added a satirical twist, but kept everything at a kid-friendly level. The result was one of the few great television shows for all ages. Host Kermit the Frog was one of the least interesting supporting players on "Sesame Street," but he emerged, perfectly cast, as the show's leader: a little too straight, slightly worried, but always fair. "The Muppet Show" players each had their charming little foibles (mainly pride and vanity) that the show exploited to the fullest. It even had its own built-in Siskel & Ebert-like critics, Statler and Waldorf, who heckled the show from the balcony.

Taken as a whole, "Season One" finds the show still in its development stages. Miss Piggy had not yet become a beautiful star, and some of the repeating jokes grow wearisome; it took a while to find more adaptable, more enduring jokes. Guest stars in this first season are also not quite "A"-list material. There are a few winners, but the list mainly reads like a batch of "where are they now" candidates: Juliet Prowse, Connie Stevens, Joel Grey, Ruth Buzzi, Rita Moreno, Jim Nabors, Florence Henderson, Paul Williams, Charles Anzavour, Harvey Korman, Lena Horne, Peter Ustinov, Bruce Forsyth, Sandy Duncan, Candice Bergen, Avery Schreiber, Ben Vereen, Phyllis Diller, Vincent Price, Valerie Harper, Twiggy, Ethel Merman, Kaye Ballard and Mummenschanz. The new set contains four discs, and extras include the original pitch reel, a fascinating, abandoned pilot episode, a short gag reel and trivia.

Disney has also released on DVD the new 100-minute movie The Muppets' Wizard of Oz, co-starring Ashanti, Queen Latifah, Jeffrey Tambor and David Alan Grier. It's a real turkey, casting Ashanti as a small-town waitress who longs for the big time and pins all her hopes on an audition with the Muppets. Of course, she gets transported off to Oz and gets to sing for everyone. Miss Piggy plays several roles, including the witches and the leader of the flying "monkeys." Quentin Tarantino has a fun cameo as the film's "director," taking a pitch meeting with Kermit and trying to decide how best to kill the wicked witch. Usually when the Muppets take on classic material, they bend it to their will; this time they appear to be pandering to Ashanti's fan base: fickle pre-teens whose attention span may waver at any second. It's an aggravating dud, especially for fans of the original story. The DVD comes with bloopers, a making-of featurette and a very funny interview between Tarantino and Pepe the Prawn.

Starring: (voices) Frank Oz, Jerry Nelson, Richard Hunt, Dave Goelz, Eren Ozker, John Lovelady
Written by: Jack Burns, Jim Henson, Chris Langham, Marc London, David Odell, James Thurman
Directed by: Philip Casson, Peter Harris
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 604 minutes (30 minutes each/24 episodes)
Date: September 20, 2005

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