The Muppet Show 1.01: “Juliet Prowse”

Juliet Prowse's boa perplexes her.

Juliet Prowse’s boa perplexes her.

Now, a few things: as wonderful as The Muppet Show was, it wasn’t always perfect in the feminism dept., and one of the ways that manifested was how Kermit would often rather outrageously flirt with the female guest stars. Apparently, Jim could be a bit of a flirt himself, and so this seems to be a natural extension of those inborn traits of his, though he had a shyer personality, so Kermit allowed him to be a bit less restrained in his demeanor in this regard, though still within Kermit parameters, which were far more restrained than most of the other Muppets. Now, once Miss Piggy became more prominent a character, this behavior became balanced out by her similarly throwing herself at all of the attractive male guests and also by her outraged (albeit hypocritical) reactions to Kermit paying attention to other women, but at this point, it does stand out a bit uncomfortably. At least, however, Kermit doesn’t come across as too smarmy, especially since his reaction here seems to largely spring from surprise that this beautiful woman finds him attractive. And, oh yeah, as I’ve mentioned countless times before and will again, this is yet another example of a Muppet getting a bit naughty with a human. Yes, in this case, it’s mostly chaste, but the desire is there underneath.


But returning to Prowse, she herself doesn’t seem to contribute much to her scenes. Her affect is a bit flat throughout, and things seem to more happen to and around her, rather than her being an active participant in the comedy. While Kermit often plays the straight man against the other Muppets, he’s the one actively bringing the funny here. Then, the next time we see Prowse, as I mentioned before, she’s standing around with Zoot, and she’s wearing what she believes to be a feather boa, until it surprises her by revealing itself to be a one-eyed Muppet monster, dashing off, to her dismay. Similarly, at the end, when Kermit presents her with a “Muppet likeness” of herself–which Kermit calls a “tradition,” although it’s one that will only last for the first two episodes (at the same time, it’s one of a number of neat worldbuilding indications throughout the half-hour that, although this is the first episode we see, the show has actually been going on for a long time!)–her reaction is pleasant but not effusive. She’s not bad for a first guest, as she doesn’t draw any attention away from the real stars, the Muppets, but her presence is pretty forgettable.


She also doesn’t take part in the episode’s “plot,” such as it is, which follows little fluffy white dog Muppy’s unsuccessful attempts to become the star of The Muppet Show, along with, more importantly, gofer Scooter’s more successful attempt to just get on the show, period. Making his debut here, the bright, young, go-getter Scooter really is the quintessential Richard Hunt character, and that’s because he basically is Richard Hunt. Although the way he became part of the team didn’t rely on any nepotism versus Scooter, who spends much of this and many of the early episodes reminding Kermit that his uncle owns the theatre, the openly-gay Hunt was similarly much younger than all of the other people in the Jim Henson Co. and also basically just showed up one day, at age 18, ready to work on anything Jim would let him participate in, impressing Jim with his talent and irrepressible energy. As Henson biographer Brian Jay Jones quotes in his book, Jerry Nelson described him as being “like a puppy…bouncy and eager.” And that is basically Scooter, with the added twist of Scooter literally having something to hold over Kermit’s head, although he wields it with such bright-eyed innocence that you don’t even get the sense that he realizes it’s morally dubious.


Muppy pitches a bold new direction for the show.

Muppy pitches a bold new direction for the show.

Here, Scooter tries to pitch his act for the show that night, and Kermit is all set to reject it, when Scooter sighs that that’s a shame, since “my uncle who owns this theatre thought of this thing,” and Kermit immediately obliges. Scooter tells him that it’s called “Simon Smith and His Amazing Dancing Dog,” featuring an adorable dance for Muppy, and Kermit replies, “Well, it sounds, says the frog, displaying his artistic judgment, sappy.” But upon being reminded yet again by Scooter of his uncle’s status, Kermit immediately follows that up with, “It sounds, says the frog, displaying his will to survive, wonderful!” Later on, Muppy begins to get a little big for his britches, however, when, after biting Kermit, he has the gall to ask for his own dressing room, along with star billing. After all, Scooter tells Kermit, Muppy is his uncle’s favorite pet! In the end, however, Kermit finally draws the line when Muppy then has Scooter suggest that the show be renamed The Muppy Show, fully losing his temper for the first time on The Muppet Show. In response, Muppy locks himself in his dressing room, refusing to come out to perform.


Meanwhile, Fozzie had just been complaining about not getting an act that week (which is odd, since he had literally just appeared as the main character of a Western sketch, but (a) this might be a minor continuity error created by the episode having been heavily revised post-initial-filming, as I previously mentioned, and/or (b) Fozzie might not count anything less than his own stand-up comedy act as doing an act), and so Kermit practically pushes him on stage as Scooter’s new scene partner for what will now be “Simon Smith and His Dancing Bear” (technically, if (b) is correct, then Fozzie shouldn’t count this either, but we’ll have to let this slide), and although Fozzie initially resists, once the audience starts cheering on his dancing, he starts really getting into it, basking in the adoration of the crowd, which–we will learn in upcoming episodes–he rarely gets at this point.


Besides being a fun, lively scene, this musical number also establishes The-Muppet-Show-within-The-Muppet-Show‘s fly-by-the-seat-of-its-pants nature. This isn’t a polished production–again, I’m referring to the vaudeville show that the TV show is about–but rather one that’s constantly in danger of splitting apart at the seams. At any given moment, an act could dreadfully fail, e.g. Gonzo being booed off the stage during his act, which entailed him eating a rubber tire while “Flight of the Bumblebees” played in the background, or a new one might be swapped in. Even the fact that on the night of the show, during the show, Scooter was trying to lobby Kermit for an appearance that night indicates how haphazard the whole enterprise is. And a great deal of the fun (as with any live show, which this was replicating) is that you never know when something is going to fall apart completely or go totally mad–also see the Glee Club sketch, which I’ll get to in a little while–and when it’ll work out. Why, in the case of Scooter and Fozzie’s number, they go on with no rehearsal, and moreso, the song has to be “rewritten” on the fly so that the lyrics/rhymes match the fact that it’s now a bear, rather than dog (again, not really, as the original Randy Newman song was about a bear, but within the fictional reality of the episode, yes), and yet it all goes off without a hitch!


"Simon Smith and His Dancing Bear"

“Simon Smith and His Dancing Bear”

This is the first of many examples of the Muppets pulling this sort of trick off successfully, arguably the most famous example being Manhattan Melodies, the Broadway show in The Muppets Take Manhattan, for which Kermit adds a whole new slew of roles seconds before the curtain goes up on opening night (“You’re not gonna watch the show…You’re gonna be in the show!”)! It’s an old movie musical conceit. In the “putting-on-a-show” sub-genre, often starring Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney, a bunch of kids with dreams in their hearts and dance in their souls could go on stage with no rehearsal and perform flawlessly. Glee is another show that would later milk this sweet fantasy for all it was worth on a regular basis.


In addition to establishing the show’s basic format, Scooter’s essential character, and the general Muppet spirit, the episode also sets in motion one of the greatest romances the world has ever seen. I am speaking, of course, of Kermit and the one and only Miss Piggy. Now, Piggy may not be fully Piggy yet, and not only do Frank Oz and Richard Hunt trade off on performing her throughout the episode but they both perform her in her first major scene, Frank handling her speaking voice and Richard her singing, but her adoration for the frog is in full force from the very beginning, as is her penchant for erm hogging the spotlight, which happens gradually over the course of the sketch. At the start, she’s actually in the back of the chorus, eventually moving her way to the front, which is actually a pretty great metaphor for a character who began as just one of the background players before eventually forcing her way into co-lead status with the frog due to sheer will power.


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