The Muppet Show 1.01: “Juliet Prowse”

Kermit conducts the Muppet Glee Club.

Kermit conducts the Muppet Glee Club.

In brief, what happens is that Kermit is trying to conduct the Muppet Glee Club, made up of one line of frogs, one of chickens, and one of pigs, but at first, no one realizes they have to sing. One of the Muppet chickens–who actually talk at this point!–simply compliments him on how wonderfully he waves his stick around! Then, he tries to convey to them that they’re meant to be singing, at which point they each sing a completely different song. Finally, he clarifies that they all need to be singing the same song. “So wise! The frog is a genius!” one of them calls out. Then he asks them their favorite song, and on that, they’re all in agreement: “TEMPTATION!” they all call out in unison.


At this point, he calls out, “Piggy, honey, can you take the solo?” “Yes, my love,” she replies. Now, the interesting thing is that Kermit clearly doesn’t mean anything by calling her “honey” at this point. He’s just being a little flirty with her in the sort of male-boss/female-worker way that would be frowned upon today but was still perceived as being okay in the mid-’70s, but by Piggy’s response, you can tell she really means it. This becomes more and more apparent as the song proceeds, and as the intensity of the backing chorus builds, so does her intensity, as she slowly makes her way closer and closer to the frog, singing about her passion for him, until she can’t take it any more and is finally very literally on top of him, until he finally ducks away at the last moment.


This is the Kermit/Piggy relationship in microcosm, at least on The Muppet Show, where it was usually depicted as being very one-sided. Later on, Kermit would begin to warm towards Piggy and, in later productions, be more clearly romantically interested, such as in the Muppet movies, but particularly at this early point in the show, the joke was that she had the hots for him to the point that she decided that they were an item, despite his lack of interest. It was a delusion of hers, as was her beauty and talent, although that also shifts over the years, as she eventually becomes not only a great diva in her own head but in reality, as well. That’s what a force of nature Piggy proved to be: she rewrote her own destiny!


Other things of note:


–I mentioned before that the opening credits were different than those that the show is famous for. There are two major differences. Firstly, the song is interrupted numerous times by bits that change each time. Kermit has a verse that goes: “To introduce our guest star, that’s what I’m here to do, so it really makes me happy to introduce to you…” at which point he announces the guest star, followed by a few clips of her that we’ll see later in the episode. Fozzie also interrupts the song with a different bad joke each week. And the other difference is the staging. Instead of the huge, epic, famous archway opening, populated by tons of Muppets, only a relatively small amount come out in a relatively simple chorus line, culminating with them all occupying a tiered set shaped like a wedding cake, with Miss Piggy and Janice on either end, in maid attire. But what’s particularly weird about these two is that they remain completely frozen, their only movement being each one’s outside arm rising slowly, making them look unnervingly like zombies.

Statler stages a disappearing act!

Statler stages a disappearing act!

–The first musical act ever featured on The Muppet Show is “Mahna Mahna”! And while the bit overall hasn’t changed much from its earlier incarnations, this time around, there’s an added twist of Mahna leaving the stage at the end, passing Kermit backstage, and going out the back door of the theatre. Seconds later, the phone nearby Kermit rings, and he brings it out to the Snowths on stage. “It’s for you,” he tells them, and the song concludes with them listening to the last “Mahna Mahna!” response coming out of the phone!

–The episode also has some fun with the audience, both in terms of meta comments on puppetry and the show’s visual effects. In Kermit’s first scene backstage, he’s drinking a glass of milk through a straw, and as the level of the liquid lowers, he says directly to the camera, “Think about this, friends!” Which isn’t only meta but also establishes one of the strange quirks of the show, which is that while, theoretically, the Muppet Show audience should only be able to see/react to what is happening on stage, there’s also an “at-home” audience that sees/reacts to things happening off stage. In later episodes, there will even sometimes be musical numbers backstage, and it’s never totally clear if we’re supposed to think that, by some magic, the audience in the theatre can see them, or whether the bursting into song backstage is more like songs in a musical, not always definitely literally happening. We also don’t always know what is happening on stage while we’re watching backstage.

The second visual effect joke happens at the end of Juliet Prowse’s dance number, when she disappears into thin air via a video fade effect, which belies the conceit that this is supposed to be a live show happening in a theatre, where that effect would be impossible. But rather than leave it at that, the Muppets then directly, cheekily lampshade the moment. A second later, Waldorf asks Statler how she did that, and Statler replies, “Probably like this,” disappearing from the booth himself the exact same way! Which is another great example of Jim Henson commenting on and gently poking fun at TV and film within TV and film.

–Fozzie’s Western sketch has some classically Muppety chaos, in the form of weaponized vegetables. Fozzie enters (with an extremely deep voice, as Frank Oz hadn’t yet perfected it) as a Western baddie, telling everyone to “reach for the floor! This is a stickdown!” He then seems to be even further inept when he pulls out a pair of pickles instead of guns, but as it so happens, they manage to fire nonetheless! He also has a carrot knife and ends up blowing the place up with an exploding apple core!

Kid Fozzie, fastest gherkin in the West!

Kid Fozzie, fastest gherkin in the West!

–Statler and Waldorf aren’t yet exactly who they later became, but they’re a million times closer to it than they were in Sex and Violence. Rather than just being crotchety old men making generically crotchety old man jokes, they get some digs in at The Muppet Show this time around, from their legendary box, although they also direct more gags and pranks at one another than they later would, if I recall correctly. Also, at one point, Waldorf disapproves of the Muppet finding explosions funny, which seems a little out of character for him, although a moment later, he busts a gut when Statler’s cigar explodes, which is totally in character for him. It’s not that they never laughed at one another’s expense, and they were certainly hypocritical in their opinions, as Waldorf is here, but there seem to be more instances of them mocking each other in a single episode than would happen later. Later in the episode, Statler moves his mouth without speaking, to trick Waldorf into checking his hearing aid.

–Fozzie and Gonzo are both very different than they would later be, but I’ll have more to say about them when we get to the next episode…


And so there we have it, the very first episode of The Muppet Show! In some ways, it feels almost primitive compared to the heydey of the show, but it sets so much in motion and lays solid groundwork for a formula that would prove to be outrageously successful over the course of 5 classic years of television, making it an excellent entry point to the wild and wacky world of the Muppet Theatre. Next time: Connie Stevens!


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