The Muppets Valentine Show

Wally and Mildred in the big Muppet house.

Wally and Mildred in the big Muppet house.

The Muppets Valentine Show, by contrast, is a more standard variety show with no narrative premise and, even worse, as I mentioned before, no strong host holding it together. Again, it’s not that there’s anything particularly bad about Wally. It’s mainly that he feels strangely disconnected from the action. Part of the conceit seems to be that he can actually control the events occuring around him simply typing them–for example, he writes that Mia Farrow enters, and then she does–but even that doesn’t remain a constant throughout. Instead, this meta conceit feels briefly touched on, then discarded.

 

Wally seems more like a director/screenwriter than someone actively engaged in the proceedings, and he rarely even interacts with Mia Farrow, who arrives at the house and finds herself swarmed by Muppets but doesn’t have a host or emcee to guide her along and to touch base with her, as Kermit would later do with the guest stars. She basically just hangs out, not even herself seeming to be entirely sure why she’s there, because, again, she’s not there as a guest star to a show-within-a-show as on The Muppet Show. She’s just there because. Which might be why, by the time the second Muppet Show pilot, subtitled Sex and Violence, came around, they experimented with the idea of excising a human guest all together. Which also didn’t work, but we’ll come to that later.

 

So, what’s good about The Muppets Valentine Show? Taken in pieces, almost everything. That is to say, while it doesn’t work as a whole, if it were broken down into its composite parts, just about every one of them would be strong other than the what-is-love? bits, which seem to strive towards philosophy but mainly feel like they’re filling time between sketches, and pretty awkwardly at that.

 

But again, the musical numbers: great. As with The Muppet Show, I love how it introduces us to fairly obscure songs, such as the opening number, “Love is a Simple Thing” by Arthur Siegel and June Carroll, which was apparently from the musical Broadway revue, New Faces of 1952, and is one of those beloved, full-cast Muppet production numbers that’s bursting to the seams with creativity and surprises, such as Kermit acting befuddled at the lyric, “More fun than a puppet show!,” and the top of the nearby piano opening to reveal a veritable Greek chorus made up of Kermit’s frog friends from The Frog Prince. And in classically subversive Muppet style, this sentimental, bouncy song about love ends on Crazy Har Donald setting off an explosion! He will recur throughout the special, setting off bombs whenever someone says a phrase that he believes has prompted him, such as “Dynamite!”

 

Kermit fights Big Mouse for Miss Mousey's affections.

Kermit fights Big Mouse for Miss Mousey’s affections.

The next number, Kermit’s aforementioned big moment in the episode, reaches even further back in time. “Froggy Went A-Courtin'” is actually an old English folk song that originated as a Scottish nursery rhyme first written down in 1548 and set to music in 1611, making it likely one of the oldest songs in the Muppets’ repertoire! Although it has had many variant versions over the years, the gist is basically that the protagonist, Frog, asks Miss Mouse–in later versions, as well as here called Miss Mousey–to marry him but he often first has to fight other suitors, here an enormous rat, played by a puppeteer in a full-body suit (similar to Sweetums, Thog, Big Bird, etc). This enormous creature–known as Big Mouse–both falling for the tiny Miss Mousey, as well as battling Kermit (“Little does he know that I never missed an episode of Kung Fu,” Kermit says to the audience), provides a fantastically, strikingly funny visual.

 

Now, as I said, there are many different versions of the poem/song. In some, Froggy emerges the champion, killing Miss Mousey’s other suitors and thereby winning her heart; in others, he loses, and yet others, both he and Miss Mousey are actually devoured by other predators. The Muppets cheekily nod to the latter “tragic” endings by having both Kermit and Big Mouse lose out when, once they’ve both collapsed on the ground in an exhausted heap after their fight, Miss Mousey instead falls for a green, droopy Muppet fittingly called Droop (we first saw him as a Frackle in The Great Santa Claus Switch and his basic design would later morph into that of Philo and Gunge in Fraggle Rock), who, wearing a leather jacket, rides by on a motorcycle and swoops her up and away to their new life together, which makes for a great twist because (a) Droop had been depicted earlier in the show as having been perpetually unlucky in love, with a practically Eeyore-ish personality so he’s the last “person” we’d expect in this role, and (b) the anachronistic motorcycle provides a classic moment of Muppety subversiveness.

 

At the end, the former enemies commisserate with one another, Big Mouse offering to buy Kermit a beer–yet another example of the Muppets drinking alcohol before the “controversial” new show!

 

It’s also quite a nifty revelation to learn that the origin of Miss Mousey’s name is actually from this classic song. Since Miss Mousey appears as a rival to Miss Piggy for Kermit’s heart in the second season of The Muppet Show, I had always assumed that she was named thusly as a self-referentially jokey reference to Piggy’s own name. Instead, not only does her name actually predate Miss Piggy’s, but it has its roots in a classic nursery rhyme, and furthermore, in a manner of speaking, she was actually dating Kermit before Piggy was. Or at least she was in this performance/fantasy! The season 2 reference to Miss Mousey trying to “steal” Kermit might even be a reference to this earlier event, come to think of it.

 

Miss Mousey and Kermit

Miss Mousey and Kermit

The lead-in to the song is also both meta and Muppety, commenting on the musical theatre construct much as shows like ABC’s Galavant would do years later, with characters acknowledging and even trying to resist the fact that they’re in a musical. “I don’t want to talk about love,” Kermit announces, to cheers of “Good!” from others. But then Kermit completes his thought: “I want to sing about it!” to cries of “Oh, no, he’s gonna sing!” A moment later, the frog chorus again pop their heads out from behind the piano, providing back-up for Kermit’s tale of woe. And when it’s over, they all hop back into the piano, water splashing out as they do. “No wonder the stupid thing’s out of tune,” Mildred sighs.

 

Shortly afterwards, Mia Farrow arrives, and, well, she’s not the greatest Muppet Show guest in the world, seeming just the slightest bit uncomfortable with them, but there have been worse in the past and will surely be worse in the future. But her appearance does lead to a deliciously dark gag and bizarre non sequitur all at once. She tells them that she has just come back from England–where, as it just so happens The Muppet Show proper would eventually be filmed!–and that she’s brought them crumpets. “We used to have a crumpet,” Droop sighs, “but it died”. And then a talking crumpet appears–possibly the first instance of anthropomorphic Muppet food, or at least the first I’ve encountered from the footage I’ve been able to collect–and says “No, I didn’t!” And then Mildred tosses the crumpet to Rufus the dog–making yet another appearance in this special.

 

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