The Muppet Show 1.14: “Sandy Duncan”

Sandy Duncan sits on a park bench with a friend.

Sandy Duncan sits on a park bench with a friend.

After at least a handful of uneven episodes–sometimes due to not utilizing a great guest star to their best advantage and other times due to a middling performance by a guest star dragging the proceedings down a bit–The Muppet Show finally finds its footing again with the Sandy Duncan episode, which benefits from a delightful celebrity who enthusiastically embraces every moment she gets with the Muppets, along with an actually terrific story thread which might not yet be developed enough to qualify as a plot but is one of the first season’s best examples of a running gag that actually holds it all together well. Even better, that gag springs from character and allows Fozzie to continue his development from the previous episode.

 

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The Muppet Show 1.13: “Bruce Forsyth”

A bird hits on Bruce.

A bird hits on Bruce.

With the Bruce Forsyth episode, we have yet another mostly lackluster celebrity appearance. This isn’t helped by the fact that, despite Kermit extolling his virtues and calling him a “one-man variety show,” his singing, dancing, and comedic stylings fail to impress–or at least fail to impress a modern eye. I don’t know much of Forsyth outside of this appearance (other than that, in his later years, he was accused of being racist numerous times, but I’m sure British viewers could enlighten me further) but at least here he seems to be of the breed of male song-and-dance entertainers of the mid-20th-century who never seem more than adequately talented when viewed today.

 

As with the Harvey Korman episode, a lot of the schtick here seems to

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The Muppet Show 1.12: “Peter Ustinov”

Peter Ustinov and Fozzie crack jokes.

Peter Ustinov and Fozzie crack jokes.

The Peter Ustinov episode of The Muppet Show is a perfect example of how, no matter how iconic and storied the guest star, whenever the Muppets failed to incorporate them into any musical numbers, the show usually suffered, particularly in the first season, when the writers made up for non-singing guests’ lack of singing by featuring them in additional comedy sketches, which, at this point, usually felt creaky and forced, since they were the epitome of the show trying to behave like any other variety show, which it was always so clearly begging not to be.

 

Later on, this could be mitigated by the generally-more-natural backstage scenes in which the guest would take part, often as the focal point of the story, but at this point, a non-singing guest feels more like something they

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The Muppet Show 1.11: “Lena Horne”

Lena Horne consoles Gonzo.

Lena Horne consoles Gonzo.

Growing up, my only real point of reference for Lena Horne was that she was a celebrity who appeared on Sesame Street, but in her relatively brief scenes, she exuded a warm, gentle glow that, even at a young age, made me sense that she was one of those people who really got the Muppets. She and they seemed to fit together so naturally that I remember her spots on the show more vividly than most other famous people who popped up there.

 

By comparison, her Muppet Show episode doesn’t feel nearly as iconic, and that’s almost entirely due to the writing and presentation. The show still hasn’t fully figured out how to best feature and utilize its guest stars consistently. There are some terrific moments that demonstrate just why

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The Muppet Show 1.09: “Charles Aznavour”

Piggy succumbs to Charles' charms.

Piggy succumbs to Charles’ charms.

In previous posts, I spoke of how, in the first season, before The Muppet Show became a massive hit and celebrity guest stars were banging down the doors to appear, the show paid host to a number of lower-tier stars who were friends of the producers, doing them favors. Well, given that the singer, Charles Aznavour, who Kermit calls an “international star,” seems to have only been truly famous in his home country, France, I’m going to assume that he was one of those people. He’s an adequate Muppet Show guest–nothing truly electrifying, even in his musical numbers, but he does a good-enough job of not drawing attention away from the real stars, The Muppets, and, more importantly, provides an excellent avenue for the show to truly begin to explore Piggy’s fascination with all things French.

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The Muppet Show 1.08: “Paul Williams”

Paul Williams isn't even the tallest person on The Muppet Show!

Paul Williams isn’t even the tallest person on The Muppet Show!

Remarkably, the Paul Williams episode of The Muppet Show received an Emmy nomination for Best Writing on a Variety Show. Unfortunately, the reason I find it remarkable is that it is easily the most poorly written episode up to this point with a higher-than-usual number of jokes that completely fail to land–for example, the Newsman sketch this week features an “important, breaking story” about a retired shoe salesman, played by Williams, whose telephone rang but, when he picked it up, discovered that the caller had hung up, likely an attempt to satirize the media’s propensity for overhyping minor stories, but that doesn’t make it actually, well, funny–hardly any narrative structure holding it together, and an obsession with the guest star’s diminuitive stature as the sole source of humor surrounding his appearance.

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The Muppet Show 1.07: “Florence Henderson”

Piggy swoons for her Kermie.

Piggy swoons for her Kermie.

The Florence Henderson episode of The Muppet Show features two key and related firsts for the series: (1) the first time that Frank Oz plays Miss Piggy for the entire half hour, never once trading off the part with Richard Hunt, and (2) the first time that an episode’s plot directly involves the guest star, not counting the Harvey Korman episode, whose “plot” was simply made up of two scenes in which he was dressed as a chicken, so I really don’t count it.

 

As plots go, this one isn’t much to write home about, either–Piggy catches Kermit “wooing” Florence Henderson and gets jealous–and would hardly have registered a blip on the radar later in the show, but this early, it is a significant development in the Kermit/Piggy romance saga, being the first

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