The Muppet Show 1.03: “Joel Grey”



–Speaking of which, Statler and Waldorf still aren’t quite calibrated right yet. They have a disagreement, but then later agree on something, and Statler proclaims that that’s the first time they’ve agreed on anything in their lives…which makes absolutely no sense. On the plus side, they do have this great exchange…Statler: “The show’s moving fast tonight.” Waldorf: “Someone must’ve told them it’s harder to hit a moving target!”

–In the last episode post, I spoke about how the Muppet Newsman formula hadn’t yet settled into him simply delivering a sober headline and then suffering some sort of comedic backlash from it. At this stage, often he just either delivered a sort-of funny headline, and that was it, or held an interview with a supposedly-but-usually-just-mildly-funny character. We get our first taste of the former here with two small segments. In the first, he tells us about a daredevil known as the Human Cannonball firing himself into a crowd of holiday shoppers, his widow then saying, “I guess I’ll have to pick up the pieces and live my life.” The other is even less funny. (Note: This sketch was missing on the DVD but you can watch it here.)

–The episode also contains a short comedic number called “Pachalafaka,” written by Irving Taylor in 1958 and later popularized in 1965 by Soupy Sales (who has some shared history with Jim Henson). The song itself is about a man who heard that phrase spoken over and over when he visited Turkey, comparing a new love in his life to the thrill he felt upon being in that place and hearing that word, and in the Muppet version, an American Muppet Whatnot in Turkish garb is serenading a Turkish woman with a veiled face, until the last moment when the lovely lady discards the covering to reveal a man with a mustache, causing the singer to run away in fright! Now, there are two major reasons this number probably wouldn’t be done by the Muppets today: firstly, the cultural stereotyping, and secondly, the punchline being a straight guy scared away by a man in drag (at the very least, it hints at homophobia; at worst, transphobia).

And yet the description on the page doesn’t really translate how it plays out on screen very well, as the scene feels far more innocent. For one, from his wide-mouthed laugh, the guy in the veil was clearly playing a prank and intended to chase the singer away, the implication possibly being the Turkish guy has had it with these American tourists gaping at his culture like it’s so foreign and exotic (thus making a comment on the song itself), versus a truly willing LGBT character being spurned by the straight object of their affection. Again, it’s not perfect since the gag revolves around a guy in drag “tricking” another guy, which is a very loaded motif today, but as it plays out, it feels more part and parcel with typically topsy-turvy Muppet anarchy than in making any particular value judgment or deliberate statement about gender and thus is an interesting relic.

The first time it storms on Wayne and Wanda's parade.

The first time it storms on Wayne and Wanda’s parade.

–After not getting to perform in the Connie Stevens episode, the one-season wonders, singing duo Wayne and Wanda finally take the stage in this episode, with their rendition of “Stormy Weather”…or begin to as, they’ve barely sung two lines when it begins to actually storm on stage, leading to them getting soaked and having to cancel the number. This was a recurring gag throughout Season 1. Every time Wayne and Wanda start to sing, the lyrics of whatever song they’re singing comes to backfire on them, not unlike the Newsman’s headlines. They were cut after Season 1, partially due to Eren Ozker, Wanda’s performer, leaving, and partially due to the show shifting from gag- to character-based humor when Jerry Juhl took over as head writer, and the odds are there also wasn’t much further they could take this joke, but I do have a soft spot for these two.

Another interesting oddity surrounding them is that, in Season 1, basically Sam the Eagle’s only job on the show was to introduce them each week, because, in his mind, they were the show’s only truly decent, wholesome, upstanding act, although it’s never clear where exactly he got that idea! (Note: This sketch was missing on the DVD but you can watch it here.)

–There’s also a terrific extended sketch called “Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Disappearing Clues,” with Rowlf as Holmes, and his old sidekick, Baskerville, as the famous Dr. Watson. The basic gist is that someone has killed the wealthy Mr. Bottomley; his maid, played by Piggy (with Frank Oz’s voice!), has summoned Holmes and Watson to the mansion to solve the crime. The actual criminal unsurprisingly turns out to be the butler, played by a huge, blue monster Muppet called Gorgon Heap, but the fun comes from the fact that Gorgon proceeds to eat all of the evidence, which includes a photograph of him committing the murder, the murder weapon, and even the maid (who was an eyewitness). Being ever-too-logical but in a Lewis Carroll sort of way, as soon as the evidence is gone, Holmes immediately jumps to the conclusion that the butler couldn’t have done it, because there’s no evidence pointing to it, despite Watson having seen the butler devour each of these things! Holmes then decides that logically, since he knows he himself didn’t commit the murder, then Watson (being the only other person left) must have! At that point, the butler eats Watson too, which leads Holmes to conclude that there was no murder at all! And a moment later, the seeming-corpse sneezes, revealing him to be right!

"Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Disappearing Clues"

“Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Disappearing Clues”

What’s unusual about this Muppet sketch is that nothing actually “goes wrong”. The sketch actually seems to proceed as it was intended to, and as such, it’s a really clever satire on the entire Sherlock Holmes conceit of “Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth,” taken to the most ridiculous level of logic it possibly could whereby no evidence = the thing literally didn’t happen, leading to the last moment, which is practically meta as the very “elimination” of every possible killer from the suspect list leads to the victim having never been killed in the first place!

–And one more thing: this is the first Muppet episode to conclude with not only Kermit but practically the entire Muppet cast thanking the guest for joining them, surrounding him and giving him an enthusastic send-off.


In some ways, this is already a more typical Muppet episode than the first two in that the guest star is given, if not necessarily more to do, at least material that features him better, and also–with Kermit not having the option of flirting with said guest this time around–helped set a precedent for the guests to find themselves, if not abused per se, at least put more through the wringer versus being more fawned upon as in the previous episodes, Kermit’s original intro of Joel Grey notwithstanding. At the same time, obviously there’s a still a lot here that isn’t quite right, and again, it’s mainly Gonzo and Fozzie, with the lack of Piggy as a central figure being another strange element of dissonance.


Next time: Ruth Buzzi!


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