The Muppet Show 1.05: “Rita Moreno”

The debate rages on.

The debate rages on.

She also gets her own digs in at Piggy as well and hardly acts like a victim: “How’d you like to take a flying leap into a sausage factory?” she yells at one point. To be honest, she’s absolutely hilarious in the scene, just as feisty and winkingly fiery as in the rest of the episode. Again, the main issue is just a bit of discomfort at the stereotyping, but it’s also fairly benign, particularly compared to the more nasty turn of the fat jokes in the previous episode. And Kermit closes the bit with the also-funny promise that next week’s topic will be “Improving US/Latin American relations!”


The other related issue is something that’s in part a sign of the times but also just a character flaw of Piggy’s, which is her propensity for clashing with any other beautiful woman in her vicinity–probably not the most feminist trait for an otherwise strong, independent lady pig but also one that is emotionally honest for the patriarchal society we live in as well as an offshoot of Piggy being a diva. This episode isn’t the worst offender when it comes to Piggy having a rivalry with another woman. In their first scene, the aforementioned dance number, although Piggy is vying for Moreno’s man, Moreno focuses all of her anger on him and none on Piggy, which is refreshing, and in the second one, they’re arguing over Moreno’s character’s English-speaking skills, not beauty or talent. And also importantly, these are both on-stage scenes in which Piggy and Moreno are playing different characters on the show-within-the-show. The lines can sometimes be blurred on The Muppet Show between what on stage is supposedly scripted and what isn’t, but since in both of these cases, Moreno is very clearly playing a character and not herself, the same can be extrapolated to Piggy, even if she’s closer to “herself” than Moreno is.


But it is still notable as it does set a precedent for Piggy facing off against female guest stars and sometimes female Muppets. She also fights with Janice earlier in the episode over their performances in the Veterinarian’s Hospital Sketch. (Piggy: “I know your timing was awful!” Janice: “What do you know about time?” Piggy: “I know your face would stop a clock!”) And we already saw her smack Kermit in the second episode for dancing with Lydia the Tattooed Pig. At least there, again, her anger was fully directed towards her man with no thought of revenge against the woman he was dancing with, but these things will coalesce in later episodes and not always in the most woman-positive ways. But with all that said, Piggy is still a remarkable, strong, hilarious character, and this one blindspot is more of a character flaw tied into her own submerged self-esteem issues that, if anything, makes her more complex.


Other things of note:


Fozzie receives a phone call from the Fire Dept!

Fozzie receives a phone call from the Fire Dept!

–This episode’s aforementioned recurring joke “plot” revolves around the phone ringing backstage, Fozzie answering it, and various things emerging from the receiver related to who is calling. For example, water pours out, and Fozzie announces that it’s the Water Department, later, smokes billows out, and Fozzie says it’s the Fire Department, and when coins pour it, Fozzie says it’s Vegas calling! It culminates near the end of the episode when Kermit tries to stop Fozzie from answering the phone, crying to the heavens, “Is there no end to this running gag?!” when who should stop it but Animal, who tears the phone out of the wall and runs off?! Again, as mentioned in previous posts, Animal remains the only Electric Mayhem member to really get focused on at this point.

–The episode starts off with a funny exchange between Kermit and Fozzie. Kermit tells a joke about 225 dancing elephants who were supposed to be in the show but left their costumes at home “because they forgot to pack their trunks”. Despite the audience failing to laugh, Fozzie brags, “I gave him that joke,” and Kermit responds, “I wish I gave it right back!”

–Fozzie also makes an appearance in the Veterinarian’s Hospital sketch, playing a patient–the first time one of the regular Muppets appears as one. My favorite joke in this particular Vet’s Hospital is when “Dr. Bob” tosses a stick (one of the ones doctors have you stick under your tongue), and Janice runs to get it, calling her his “laboratory retriever”. I always love when Rowlf makes dog jokes.

–In “At the Dance,” the dancers are stalked by a shark fin, clearly a reference to Steven Spielberg’s blockbuster hit film, Jaws, which came out the previous year, in 1975.

–The Country Trio of Muppets that look like Jim Henson, Frank Oz, and Jerry Nelson, who first appeared on The Perry Como Winter Show in 1972, make their Muppet Show debut here, singing a fantastically fun and punny ditty from 1957 called “To Morrow,” in which a man tries to take a train to the town of Morrow, the wordplay revolving around how it phonetically sounds like the word “tomorrow”. Sample lyrics: “Said he to me, ‘Now let me see if I have heard you right./You’d like to go to Morrow and return tomorrow night./You should have gone to Morrow yesterday and back today/For the train that goes to Morrow is a mile upon its way./If you had gone to Morrow yesterday now don’t you see,/You could have gone to Morrow and returned today at three/For the train today to Morrow, if the schedule is right,/Today it goes to Morrow and returns tomorrow night.”

–This episode also marks the debut of Marvin Suggs and his Muppaphone. Marvin is an outrageous performer with an outrageous French accent (which was an homage to a French puppeteer called Phillipe Gentry) who creates music by whacking a number of small fuzzy round Muppets on the head with a mallet, each one positioned in such a way that its cry of pain is in the right key to produce a song–a perfect example of Jim Henson’s wicked sense of humor. Here, it culminates with Marvin getting his comeuppance when, at the end of their rendition of “Lady from Spain,” an enormous mallet comes down from the ceiling and whacks him on the head! This is a spin on a recurring Muppet sketch theme throughout the years reflected again later in the episode when Rita gets Animal with the cymbals but which appeared in many forms, often with a tiny, seemingly harmless Muppet getting payback against the larger Muppet that had been attacking it.

Marvin Suggs and his Muppaphone!

Marvin Suggs and his Muppaphone!

–In my post on the Joel Grey episode, I mentioned how the writers hadn’t yet gotten a handle on Gonzo as a character, and I wondered whether his advice to Gonzo about adding “razzle dazzle” to his act might have led to Gonzo transforming from the quiet, strange avant-garde performance artist he first was to the loud, strange daredevil he later becomes. Interestingly, since then, other than his appearances in the opening theme song, we basically haven’t seen Gonzo, other than perhaps in some group scenes. Since it’s been three whole episodes, I thought it was worth mentioning here, because although the writers didn’t seem to know what they wanted to do with Fozzie right off the bat either, they continued to work on him each week on screen, and here, it seems like they’d practically abandoned Gonzo at this point, which leads me to wonder what was happening developmentally off-camera that convinced them to bring him back in a more prominent and quite different role. I’ll continue to monitor this situation!


And there we have it, the best Muppet Show episode yet. At this point, nearly everything seems in place–wonderful acts; a terrific guest star with material that, for the most part, complements her perfectly; the first glimmers of character development for various Muppets. What’s still missing is that leap from the show being held together by jokes versus it being held together by characters and plot, but at the very least, they’re starting to nail the formula that they’ve set for themselves up to this point.


Next time: Jim Nabors!



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