The Muppet Show 1.02: “Connie Stevens”

Connie Stevens sings with the Mutations.

Connie Stevens sings with the Mutations.

That aside, however, this is actually overall a better episode than the previous one. For one, Connie Stevens is a much more effervescent guest who feels more engaged by her surroundings and delighted by the Muppets. She flirts a bit with Kermit and later with Fozzie as well, when she serenades them both with “Close To You,” getting playfully handsy with them both, albeit innocently. She dresses up in a poodle skirt for a bubbly rendition of the 1950s hit, “Teenager in Love,” singing with the Mutations, a band of full-bodied purple Muppets, as her back-up singers, and playfully trying to nudge them out of the way when they block her–an infinitely Muppetier number than Prowse’s Scott Joplin ballet. She later dances in a movie musical-esque rendition of “Some Enchanted Evening,” sung by Bert, visiting from Sesame Street!


She has more to do than Prowse and seems to be having a lot more fun doing it, even being a good sport when singing duo Wayne and Wanda–another set of season-1-only characters who are introduced here for the first time but don’t get to perform this week–try to dash on-stage to steal the Connie Stevens spot. “Who cares about the Connie Stevens spot?” Wayne cries, until noticing that she’s standing behind him and immediately following up that he does, very much! Speaking of which, not only are there more musical numbers this time around, but they’re overall more fun and inventive than last week’s.


And the episode also has:


–The first Swedish Chef appearance on the main show! Here, we see him preparing Swedish meatballs, which prove to be so extremely bouncy that he ends up tossing them into the audience with a tennis racquet, with Statler and Waldorf bouncing them back to him with their own racquets!

–The very first appearance of the Muppet rats! During At the Dance, Dr. Teeth mentions that they’re clearly classing the place up, as they’re now making the rats wear neckties.

–Also of note in that sequence is Animal is dancing with a girl, who we only see from behind and who he dips so low that she keeps hitting the ground; every time she falls backwards, her scream is the noise that Frank Oz will later exclusively use for Piggy’s screams!

The Swedish Chef plays tennis.

The Swedish Chef plays tennis.

–This episode’s Statler and Waldorf lines are also much funnier and more on-point than in the previous episode. Some of the best include: an exchange where Waldorf says that he’d like to get closer to Connie Stevens, but he’s too close to something else. “What’s that?” asks Statler, and Waldorf replies, “90!”; another where Statler claims that he, too, remembers being a teenager in love, and Waldorf ripostes, “Yeah, but Queen Victoria wouldn’t have you!”; and then the closing bit at the end of the episode, which has arguably the duo’s best dig at The Muppet Show so far: Statler says, “I think this show is very educational,” and Waldorf follow up with, “Yes, it’ll drive people to read books!”

–There’s also a fun little bit where conductor (and short-lived host of the show) Nigel assigns a piece for Zoot to play on the sax, which he resists playing because it’s too square (which foreshadows a scene later on in the season, where Floyd and the rest of the band threaten to quite over the theme song being too square). But after Nigel threatens to fire him, he agrees, not unlike Kermit agreeing to Scooter’s “suggestions” re: Muppy and him the previous week. Zoot then sends up a little apology to Charlie Parker before proceeding. There’s also a funny, self-deprecating level to this joke, because this composition, called “Sax and Violence,” was actually written by Jim Henson himself! So he’s getting a dig in at himself and his own musical writing skills here.

Throughout the scene, Zoot only has one single note to play at the end of each line, and he resents every moment of it. Then Mahna Mahna arrives, following up on his previous appearance, and yet again, he just can’t help getting caught up in the music. Even though he’s only supposed to similarly play one note on his triangle, he starts losing control, eventually banging both the triangle and Zoot’s sax, until Zoot plays a note so forcefully, he blows Mahna away in a blast of smoke! Explosions ending sketches is, of course, a classic Muppet conceit stretching all the way back to the old days.

–We also get the first appearance of the Muppet Newsman here, this first time around burning his hand on the nearby phone due to a hotline from Washington! Interestingly, this first sketch is very in keeping with the Newsman sketch formula, in which he would suffer indignities at the hands of headlines being punnishly enacted upon him. After this first sketch, though, there are a number of ones in season 1 where the humor comes instead from someone else who he is interviewing, and they’re generally less funny, until they returned to this simpler, more effective design.

Bert meets a stranger across a crowded room.

Bert meets a stranger across a crowded room.

–Bert and Ernie also mark the first of a few times that Sesame Street characters appear on The Muppet Show, though it doesn’t happen very frequently and this time was clearly to help the show start out, since the two were already big stars. In the world of the show, however, they aren’t, so they have a fun little scene in which Ernie encourages Bert to perform, but he’s too nervous, since he’s used to being on an educational kids’ show and now they’re on a big, nighttime TV variety show! Incidentally, this breaks the reality of the series a bit, since they’re aren’t on TV but rather doing a live theatre performance (at the end of the previous episode, Statler even said that “it beats sitting home, watching television”), but the Muppets have never been ones for strict internal continuity. The best part here is when Ernie momentarily steals Bert’s nose, as he’s famous for doing on their own show, but Bert brushes it off this time: “That old loose nose joke is funny on Sesame Street, but this is the big-time!”

This bit is also very reminiscent of the one the two did years before on The Dick Cavett Show, when Ernie encouraged Bert that he was cool enough for primetime, getting him to dress up in faux Hollywood attire along with him, and then quickly ditching his own costume and disavowing all knowledge of it when Dick showed up, leaving Bert looking silly. This one’s a bit different, however, as, instead of distancing himself from Bert after getting him to embarrass himself, here, after Bert puts on a tux and top hat and romances Connie Stevens to “Some Enchanted Evening” before catching hold of himself, Ernie simply just tells Bert afterwards, when he asks him if he made a fool of himself in front of Connie Stevens, “Absolutely, Bert!”


So, all in all, a more entertaining episode than the first, but at the same time one that displays some of the worst tendencies of the first season in favoring humor over character. When it comes to the performance aspects–the musical numbers, the on-stage sketches–and the series’ overall on-stage/backstage structure, everything is spot on. What it still needs, though, is for the characters to develop further and for them to take precedence over the gags. Once they begin to drive the story, rather than the other way around, the magic will finally start to happen in full force. For now, though, it’s definitely beginning to find its way. Next time, the first male guest: Joel Grey!


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