The Muppet Show 1.14: “Sandy Duncan”

Piggy can't believe that Kermit doesn't know the famous banana sketch!

Piggy can’t believe that Kermit doesn’t know the famous banana sketch!

Now, to be fair, the source of the “telephone pole” humor is ultimately from a slightly different source, which is that the reveal has been delayed so long because the joke is actually deliberately lame. However, not only does the episode take far too long to get to that payoff, but it’s really all there is to the joke and the entire episode’s “plot,” whereas by contrast, as I’ve shown, the banana sketch here is actually a springboard for further exploration of both Fozzie and Kermit’s characters. It’s essentially a gag McGuffin. The heart of the episode lies not in it itself but in how everyone else reacts to it. And Sandy Duncan proves an excellent companion to the material, bolstering it without ever overshadowing the Muppets.

 

Other episode highlights:

 

–The show gets off to an enthusiastic opening with “Nice Girl Like Me,” a high-energy musical number that repurposes a Barry Manilow song called “Nice Boy Like Me” as a spotlight for Duncan’s dancing and comedic talents. And it’s a particular delight, as it allows a performer known for being more straitlaced and sweet to show off a slightly edgier side–the conceit of the number is that an increasingly drunk Duncan downs shot after shot of alcohol while boozily dancing with the Mutations (purple Muppet monsters we first saw in the Connie Stevens episode)–while also being another example of The Muppet Show‘s audience not only being children. The dive bar provides a fantastically sleazy atmosphere, and there’s a great Broadway feel to the whole thing.

And, following in a Muppet Show tradition of female guest stars emerging triumphant in scenarios usually depicted the opposite way in pop culture (see Ruth Buzzi’s triumph over Sweetums and Rita Moreno’s over her full-sized Muppet dancing partner, who actually also appears at a table in this scene), despite the copious amount of alchohol she consumed, she actually ends up the only one still standing, as all of her dancing partners eventually pass out around her.

–Meanwhile, Rowlf has a great joke in “At the Dance” that similarly demonstrates the show’s naughtier side. “My cousin lives in the desert and boy, can he run!” he tells his dancing partner. “Because the sand is so hot?” she asks. “No,” he replies, “because the trees are so far apart!” A joke about canine bodily functions that never actually verges into being directly vulgar! A perfect example of both the Muppets and Jim Henson’s ability to be mischievous without ever crossing the line into rude. Also worthy of note: this “At the Dance” sequence features slightly different music than any previous edition, with a tango twist on the normal theme.

"A Nice Girl Like This"

“A Nice Girl Like This”

–Speaking of Rowlf and related to this same issue, one of my favorite aspects of the character is how he will either discuss typical dog behavior or suddenly act doggish himself unexpectedly, rather than the generally anthropomorphized version of such we usually get from him. Later on in this episode, as Gonzo sings a sad Alex Rogers/Bert Williams song called “Nobody,” very reminiscent of “Mr. Cellophane” from Chicago (and again underlining Gonzo’s more pathetic persona in season 1), Rowlf begins to howl in sympathy while playing the piano!

–There’s also a cute sketch that, while not risque, similarly allows Duncan to mock her own sunny persona. She enters a lovely park, and Sweetums is sitting on a bench, sobbing over the fact that nobody likes him due to his frightening visage. Flowers literally wilt in his presence! With her lovely disposition, however, Sandy is able to turn his entire perspective and day around. “I think there’s too much sadness in the world,” she says. “You know what, if people just took a little time to look past the physical, they might learn a lot of beautiful things about you…If we feel beautiful, we ARE beautiful!” And this changes Sweetums’ entire outlook. He feels so great now that flowers actually bloom for him! He leaves the stage beaming and calling himself beautiful. Satisfied by her good deed, Sandy sits next to another monster on another bench (an orange Muppet called Behemoth). “You look so sad,” she says. “I know that you may appear to be, on the outside, ugly, but inside, I bet that you are as beautiful as a morning sunrise!” And in righteous indignation, he tosses a pie in her face.

What’s so clever about is that it actually plays directly into the persona Duncan usually projects while also taking satirical aim at the darker side of “niceness,” particularly regarding how seemingly positive messages about true beauty being on the inside can also rely around society’s definition of physical beauty. Here, Duncan just assumes that this monster has to be feeling down about his looks, just as Sweetums was, and in so doing unintentionally insults him while trying to help. Behemoth seems to be perfectly happy about the way he looks, thank you very much, Sandy Duncan! But seriously, it’s nifty to see someone known for being a Polyanna willfully participating in digs both at Polyannas and herself (or what people expect of her).

Why you should "Never Smile at a Crocodile"!

Why you should “Never Smile at a Crocodile”!

Speaking of slightly evil humor, we also get a rendition of “Never Smile at a Crocodile,” a cut song from Disney’s Peter Pan, in which a Muppet crocodile actually eats two Muppet frogs from The Frog Prince! To be fair, however, they do survive, at first singing back-up from him from within his mouth and later bouncing away to freedom.

–And then there’s one of the Muppets’ darkest jokes so far, when Waldorf turns to Statler, sees he’s not in his seat, and asks, “Wait…did he jump?!”

–This episode also features a terrific Swedish Chef sketch in which he creates bagels by tossing buns up in the air, one by one, and shooting holes in each with a gun!

 

And that’s about all I have left to say for this one. Let’s see if this rise in quality continues in the next episode, guest starring Candice Bergen!

 

 

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