The Muppet Show 1.06: “Jim Nabors”

The fall of the Danceros.

The fall of the Danceros.

Meanwhile, from a production standpoint, it’s a great example of how, even though The Muppet Show was, in the context of its inner story, ostensibly a live theatre act rather than a TV show, often it would bend that reality. A previous example was Juliet Prowse disappearing at the end of her dance thanks to a video fade effect, which Statler and Waldorf directly commented on. Here, the joke works entirely due to the camera movements, which couldn’t have happened in a live performance on a stage. (One could argue that it could be accomplished through curtains or that sort of thing obscuring his torso before the reveal at the right moment, but given that what happens with the Danceros’ act is meant to be a mistake, there’d be no reason to do so if this were real.)

 

Other things of note:

 

–In his introduction this week, Kermit reveals that the name of the theatre is the Benny Vandergast Memorial Theatre. “We owe everything to Benny,” Kermit says, “including three months back rent!” This is the only time that the theatre isn’t referred to simply as The Muppet Theatre, so this is either a bit of continuity they ignored later or an indication that, at some point between this episode and the Vincent Price one later this season–in which Uncle Deadly first appears as “The Phantom of the Muppet Theatre”–the theatre’s name officially changes. Maybe it’s due to Scooter convincing his uncle, after being so pleased with his job!

Another thing, though: how long ago did Benny Vandergast die, and how long have the Muppets been occupying the theatre? The fact that it’s called the Benny Vandergast Memorial Theatre seems to indicate that he’s been dead a while, unless “Memorial” was only added to the name recently–although the name then changing to The Muppet Theatre so soon afterwards would seem strange, if so. But if his death has been a while ago, how long has Scooter’s uncle been in charge? And wouldn’t he have collected this three months’ back rent owed to Benny by now? Unless Kermit just didn’t mention the new landlord for the sake of simplicity.

Dr. Teeth sings of his love for "Money".

Dr. Teeth sings of his love for “Money”.

At the very least, putting all of this logic aside for the moment, this sets up an important point: that The Muppet Show within the TV series, The Muppet Show, is never as successful as the TV series itself came to be. The Muppets within the show were always broke or behind in rent, and the show within the show was usually a mess, teetering on the brink of total disaster (they received that “fame and fortune” contract in The Muppet Movie, which was its own separate reality; remember the Muppets are actors performing in different productions, usually playing themselves, but actors nonetheless–even on The Muppet Show, where they’re playing unsuccessful versions of themselves putting on a show-within-a-show…how’s that for mindbending meta?), and this underdog status, even when The Muppets were at their most famous, is part of what makes them so lovable and relatable.

–This episode also features Dr. Teeth’s first solo number, fittingly called “Money,” making him the second Electric Mayhem member to start getting fleshed out after Animal. It’s a great showcase for our flamboyant showman, showing off not only his glam style but his fantastically realistic-looking piano playing. This number really emphasizes how long his arms are. At one point he leans back and they seem cartoonishly long and skinny, yet continue to dexterously tickle the ivories, the puppeteers almost challenging the audience to figure out how they pulled that trick off, given his arms are clearly too small for human arms to fit inside to operate the hands. The number also ends on a great moment where his piano turns into a casino slot machine, the front above the keyboard opening up and spilling money everywhere!

–Rowlf also performs a sweet little song with Baserkville called “Dog Eat Dog”. As Muppet numbers go, it’s very restrained, with no crazy flourishes, just Rowlf and Baskerville duetting together, but given their history, it’s a lovely moment that honors their many years as friends.

–This week’s Wayne and Wanda bit is either refreshing or a bit problematic, depending on where you’re coming from. Wanda starts singing the classic “Indian Love Call,” which starts out, “When I’m calling you-oo-oo-oo-oo-oo-oo…” when suddenly a Native American Muppet appears and interrupts her song: “Hey, baby, you called?” In the former camp, it’s fun to have one of Wayne and Wanda’s songs being screwed up not due to a huge disaster or one of them deliberately tripping up the other, as usually happens, but instead just due to a misunderstanding. After all, she was literally “calling” an “Indian,” and he answered. In the latter camp, today, it feels a bit uncomfortable to hear the song (written by Oscar Hammerstein for an opera, it’s clearly not an authentic representation of Native American culture) and to see the Muppet representation of the Native American tribal costume and head dress.

Wayne and Wanda Interruptus

Wayne and Wanda Interruptus

On the other hand, not being a Native American myself, it’s difficult for me to judge what is and isn’t offensive, representation-wise. On the positive side, there’s nothing overly racially troubling about the Muppet, as far as I can tell. Unlike, say, Disney’s Peter Pan, he doesn’t have a stereotypical “savage” face, and nor is he even “red-skinned”. Instead, he’s a light purple and has a very friendly manner. And he doesn’t speak in any sort of racist caricature accent or use the word, “How!” Instead, he sounds more stereotypically New Yawk than anything else. And so I lean towards thinking they did a good job overall in avoiding potential issues, but again, I also feel ill-equipped to judge.

 

And so there we have it, a rather middling first season episode of The Muppet Show, particularly in its use of its human guest, but one which at least certainly has some significant aspects that make it an interesting part of Muppet history.

 

Next time: the recently dearly departed Florence Henderson.

 

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