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There comes a time in an actor’s career when they want to prove they can do more than remember lines and emote. They want to show the world that they can sing and dance. With the demise of the MGM musical, such opportunities became rare in Hollywood. How could they let the world know about song in their heart and the beat in their foot? In the late ‘70s, there was one surefire proving ground called The Muppet Show. Among the cast of felt and fur, a dramatic performer could show off their talents that had been hidden since that high school production of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. If they could absorb the blows of Statler and Waldorf, the stars punched a ticket to Broadway or at least a Las Vegas revue.
By the third season, The Muppet Show had become an international sensation. No longer did Jim Henson have to call in favors to find celebrity guest hosts. They could pick and choose Icons of the ’70s. Liberace, Sylvester Stallone and Raquel Welch dared to share the spotlight with Gonzo, Fozzie Bear, Miss Piggy and Kermit at the Muppet Theater. Working with puppets became a great career opportunity instead of a warning sign that they were about to enter the world of cruise entertainment. Jim Henson, Frank Oz and their crew were at their creative peak. “Veterinarians Hospital” and “Pigs in Space” get better with each viewing. Who can’t howl at the Muppetphone? They just don’t make puppet assisted entertainment like this anymore.
The diverse nature of the human hosts keeps each episode from being homogenized. They changed the tone to match the star. Alice Cooper is given a slate of new scary Muppets to be a part of his band. Liberace brings out the glitz and glam. He even sneaks in a cultural moment as he gives a mini-concert to class up the joint. Sylvester Stallone hot off Rocky gets to prove his comic skills and singing voice that wouldn’t be truly exploited until Rhinestone with Dolly Parton. Raquel Welch confirms that Muppets are made out of fireproof fabric. Her opening dance number sizzles as she barely wears a costume that proves why she’s a sex symbol. Her two legs destroy the eight being strutted by her dancing partner.
Loretta Lynn gets a strange treat when they can’t have the show inside the Muppet Theater because of fumigation. In the tradition of “the show must go on,” Kermit and the gang relocate the entertainment to a nearby train station. Leslie Ann Warren gets plenty of jokes made about her name. Most of the humor comes from the Muppets thinking she’s two people. One of the strange casting choices is Marisa Berenson. She was known for being quiet and aloof in Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon and Bob Fosse’s Cabaret. But now she gets a chance to shine and smile. Her musical number where she plays a girl who has a special way to treat visitors to her house is sweet and diabolical. Gilda Radner at the height of her Saturday Night Live fame gets to step out from the Not-Ready-For-Primetime Players. It’s amazing how much more entertaining the Muppets are on their own show than when they had a segment on the first season of SNL.
Compared to most Variety Shows of the ‘70s, The Muppet Show is a gleaming diamond. There’s nothing painful about the sketches and songs featured here. Try watching complete episodes of Sonny and Cher and The Donny and Marie without feeling like you’ve just been waterboarded. You can’t watch those shows without hitting the chapter forward button on the remote. Nothing on The Muppet Show can be considered torture or even enhanced interrogation. There was a reason why these stars still have fond memories of their time with the Muppets.
Helen Reddy, Roy Clark, Jean Stapleton, James Coco, Liberace, Loretta Lynn, Alice Cooper, Cheryl Ladd, Pearl Bailey, Kris Kristofferson & Rita Coolidge, Raquel Welch, Leo Sayer, Gilda Radner, Marisa Berenson, Spike Milligan, Elke Sommer, Danny Kaye, Lesley Ann Warren, Harry Belafonte, Sylvester Stallone, Roger Miller, Roy Rogers & Dale Evans, Lynn Redgrave and Leslie Uggams.
The video is 1.33:1 full screen. The original show was shot on video, but these transfers look so much better than the average vault tape from the 1977. You can see the details in the fur. The audio is Dolby Digital mono. The subtitles are in English.
The Muppets on Puppets (58:40) is a semi-documentary with Jim Henson and Frank Oz from 1968. The piece opens with Rowlf the dog working his own puppet. Jim Henson explains the history of puppets and what makes his Muppets so special.
A Company of Player (10:19) should not be seen by small children who think the Muppets are real. There’s plenty of production videos and photos showing the folks who had their hands inside the stars. There’s plenty of praise for how Jim Henson ran his company of puppeteers.
Purina Commercials (2:34) feature Rowlf the dog pushing the dog food back in 1962. Baskerville, a skinny dog, has Kermit’s voice. There’s lots of slapstick action as they push the product.
If you’ve already picked up the first two seasons, you’ll be blissed out with The Muppet Show: The Complete Third Season. All of the goodness is here unlike the missing moments on Season One. This is still great family entertainment even with the threat of Sylvester Stallone breaking into song.
Buena Vista Home Entertainment presents The Muppet Show: The Complete Third Season. Executive Producer: Jim Henson. Starring: Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Gonzo & Scooter. Running time: 24 episodes on 4 discs. Originally Broadcasted: Sept. 21, 1978 – July 5, 1979. Released on DVD: May 20, 2008. Available at Amazon.com