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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The Muppet Show 1.06: “Jim Nabors”

Piggy has a thing for Jim

Piggy has a thing for Jim

The Jim Nabors episode of The Muppet Show is a rather weak one, even by first season standards. Although a pleasant-enough guest, Nabors fails to really connect with the Muppets on screen, more often than not feeling like he’s acting alongside rather than really with them. You’d think someone who played as colorful a character as the classic country rube Gomer Pyle on The Andy Griffith Show and then on his own show would be a natural, cartoonish fit for the Muppets, but he never really seems fully comfortable with them, which is ironic given that, in the Talk Spot, he claims that he feels right at home with all the barn animals around, as he grew up on a farm. Maybe it’s just anthropomorphic ones he’s having trouble wrapping his head around.

 

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The Muppet Show 1.05: “Rita Moreno”

Rita Moreno has a lover's dance quarrel.

Rita Moreno has a lover’s dance quarrel.

Today we come to one of the best episodes of The Muppet Show‘s first season. It still isn’t perfect by the standards of the later years. The backstage plot still isn’t much more than a series of the same gag, recurring over and over in different permutations, and the guest star still takes no part in it. However, in Rita Moreno, the Muppets find their best human companion up to this point (at least on this series), and more often than not, the material she’s given fits her like a glove. In fact, she would even come to win an Emmy award for her appearance, so viewers clearly could tell something special was happening here.

 

In some ways, Moreno’s persona is the perfect combination of Ruth Buzzi‘s gusto in feeling free to really play with the Muppets physically–not

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