Commenting on a western saloon sketch acted entirely by clucking chickens, The Muppet Show host Kermit the Frog tells them, "Good going, guys. I didn't understand it, but I loved it." That just about sums up the subversive wit of The Muppet Show, the worldwide smash TV series that was the brainchild of Jim Henson.
Henson played Kermit, the sometimes easy-going, sometimes-harried eye of a vaudeville storm. The charmingly decrepit Muppet Theatre played host to superstar human performers as well as Muppet artists-in-residence: comedian Fozzie the Bear and diva Miss Piggy (Frank Oz), freakish stunt performer Gonzo the Great (Dave Goelz), and two ancient hecklers who raised the form to an art, Statler (Richard Hunt) and Waldorf (Henson).
Season One established the characters, but they and their performers truly hit their stride in the second season of episodes from 1976 (the Emmy Awards agreed, honoring the show as Outstanding Comedy-Variety or Music Series). With the characters fully formed and head writer Jerry Juhl in place, The Muppet Show was never better, as attested to by the enthusiastic participation of its big-name guest stars: Bob Hope, Julie Andrews, Peter Sellers, John Cleese, Elton John, Milton Berle, Zero Mostel, Bernadette Peters—the list goes on...
The series may well have been the last great variety show, weaving running-gag comedy through standards, novelty songs, and sketches performed with impeccable puppetry and alongside entertainment legends. The standards include Rowlf on "What a Wonderful World," Kermit on "Happy Feet," and, as clucked by a chicken chorus, "Baby Face" (Kermit sings his personal standard "Bein' Green," as well). The Muppets also creatively interpreted relatively contemporary popular music: for example, Steven Stills' "For What It's Worth" becomes a plaintive cry against hunting from a wild animal chorus.
Novelty selections range from "Yes, We Have No Bananas" (performed by Marvin Suggs and His All-Food Glee Club) to the gleefully nonsensical "Upidee" to a host of music-hall songs aimed at the British audience (such as "Burlington Bertie" and "Don't Dilly-Dally (My Old Man)." Popular season-two sketches included the punnerific "Veterinarian's Hospital," groaner-gag-filled "At the Dance," the Swedish Chef (Henson), Muppet News Flash, Muppet Labs, and a sensational season-two innovation: "Pigs in Space," with Captain Link Hogthrob (Henson), First Mate Piggy (Oz), and Dr. Julius Strangepork (Jerry Nelson) aboard the spaceship Swinetrek.
As for the guest stars, comedians like Mostel, Hope, Berle, and Cleese take to the show like fish to water, and Steve Martin anchors a classic installment that broke the mold (and eliminated the laugh track) to show an after-hours audition session (Hope and Martin would both return in 1979's The Muppet Movie, and Cleese in 1981's The Great Muppet Caper). Like Hope's installment, Peter Sellers' episode cleverly goes right to the heart of his persona, with the comedy star half-joking, "I could never be myself...There is no me. I do not exist...There used to be a me, but I had it surgically removed." The hits keep coming with George Burns and Edgar Bergen, Henson's personal hero.
On the more musical side, Peters is sensational in her musical numbers, and Andrews' sunny disposition infuses another of the series' best-remembered episodes. Madeleine Kahn makes funny and tuneful, and John knocks out several of his hits. Even Rudolf Nureyev does some ill-advised warbling to complement his dance numbers ("Swine Lake," natch). What isn't genuinely funny or heartwarming is never less than entertainingly corny. The Muppet Show is an enduring family classic.
The 4-disc set of The Muppet Show: Season Two has video quality on par with the previous set, which is to say it suffers from weaknesses in the 30-year-old videotape source elements (such as ghosting of the image). That said, this is as good as the series is likely ever to look, and fans will find the picture quality matches their memory of the series. The sound, mastered in digital stereo, is quite good, again doing a fine job of preserving the original source material. (Subtitles and captions are provided, though not for any of the song lyrics, which represent much of the content; I can only guess that arcane legal issues pertaining to "reprinting" of lyrics may have been a factor.)
Original material graces the motion menus, with Kermit & Fozzie exhorting viewers to make a selection on Discs One and Three, and Animal & Rizzo doing the same on Discs Two and Four. Disc Four includes the original series pilot from 1974: The Muppets Valentine Show (25:37) with Mia Farrow. Historically fascinating, the special inexplicably takes place in a house, where host Wally hammers out the script for the show as it happens. Kermit and Rowlf are on hand, as is explosive Crazy Donald (later known as Crazy Harry). The special and its setting unfortunately make guest Farrow look like the host of a conventional kiddie show (to be fair, she helps quite a bit in creating this impression). Though not un-entertaining, the first pilot goes to show the elements that made the eventual series so successful.
Two entertaining contemporary extras fill out the special edition: "The Muppets on the Muppets" (12:46 in total), with Kermit, Fozzie, Piggy, Rizzo, and others playing Twenty Questions, and Weezer & The Muppets in the glossy music video "Keep Fishin'" (4:27)—the latter recreating the Muppet Theatre. The first disc spins up with trailers for The Jungle Book: 40th Anniversary Platinum Edition, The Muppet Show: Season One Special Edition, and Disney Blu-ray, all instantly skippable using the "Menu" button. From "Sneak Peeks" on the menu, you'll find an additional trailer for "TV on DVD": Lost, Grey's Anatomy, Desperate Housewives, Ugly Betty, and Kyle XY.
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer