Why Don’t You Get Things Started?

We finished watching what’s available on Disney Plus of The Muppet Show, which means all of them except for the Brooke Shields and Chris Langham episodes, the former because of music rights issues (mostly for “Off to See the Wizard,” I think) and the latter presumably because he’s a registered sex offender. I tried to look for the Shields (Brooke, not Shields and Yarnell) one on YouTube, and it looks like there are parts of it, but not the whole thing. I should probably watch what I can, since it’s Alice in Wonderland themed. I wrote about the first three seasons some years ago, but I can think of some stuff to add now. Beth, who isn’t a fan of the Muppets but watched it with me anyway, pointed out how it’s kind of weird that what we see isn’t the same as what the in-universe audience would, as a lot of it is backstage drama. Sometimes there will be a mention of what’s happening on the stage during these parts, usually an act where the whole joke is the absurdity of its concept, but not always. But really, why WOULD Debbie Harry and Kermit do a duet of “Rainbow Connection” in the guest dressing room instead of on stage?

While a lot of the same recurring segments happen throughout the show’s run, it does seem like it later became more common for these bits to intersect with each other, or to tie into a larger theme. When Glenda Jackson decides to play a pirate, the whole stage starts rocking like a ship for the rest of the show. Other episode-long themes include a dance marathon that directly references They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? and Liza Minelli in a murder mystery. The Mark Hamill episode has the guest star playing both himself and Luke Skywalker, claiming that the two are cousins. C-3PO, R2-D2, and Chewbacca are also in it, and it incorporates the planet Koozebane as well. It was funny in retrospect that it ended with “When You Wish Upon a Star,” considering that we were watching it in a time when Disney owns both Star Wars and the Muppets.

Some of the plots seemed strangely unresolved, like Bobby Benson, leader of the Baby Band, being arrested; and Scooter borrowing actual gold as set dressing for Shirley Bassey to perform “Goldfinger,” a guard accusing everyone of trying to steal it, and Link Hogthrob and some other pigs actually making off with it during the song. Several bits are based on putting incongruous things together: an oompa version of “Swanee” performed in a German beer hall, a cross between Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” and “Hernando’s Hideaway,” “Jambalaya” performed by penguins and seals on an Arctic set, a Japanese-themed bit turning into a square dance, “Tumbling Tumbleweeds” sung by skiers in the Alps, “Surfin’ USA” during a Sinbad the Sailor sketch, and Viking raiders singing “In the Navy.” Some of these incorporated offensive stereotypes, and hence received content warnings before the episodes, although they never say what specifically are the offensive bits. I’m sure most of that stuff wasn’t intended to be offensive and just reflected other media at the time (mostly made by white men, I’m sure). I did see an indication that Steve Whitmire originally wanted to give Lips, the trumpet player introduced in the final season who does a solo during the opening theme, a voice like Louis Armstrong, but was afraid it would come off as racist, so it’s not like white people voicing non-white characters wasn’t something recognized as controversial at the time, at least to some extent.

The Kenny Rogers episode had a subplot about Arabs drilling for oil in the theater, and one of them is Jerry Nelson using the same voice he does for the Count, presumably loosely based on Bela Lugosi’s Hungarian accent. I guess they figured it doesn’t really matter as long as it sounds foreign? That’s probably also where they got the idea for the conflict in the 2011 movie.
As usually happens on shows with a lot of characters, there was some shifting around in both personalities and significance. Fozzie and Gonzo were kind of sad early on, then were pretty much up for anything as the show went on. As I noted before, Miss Piggy started out as a joke character, someone who thinks she’s a sexy superstar and that she and Kermit are meant for each other, while no one else particularly seems to agree. Even in the later seasons, other Muppets, even other pigs, make fat jokes about her. Of course, she’s also able to stand up for herself.

The Muppet Movie introduced her when she was winning a beauty contest and Kermit was immediately attracted to her, and later Muppet projects suggest that she really is popular and attractive in-universe. Sam the Eagle was used less often, although he still had some noteworthy appearances. While George still appeared in the opening, his custodial role was largely taken over by Beauregard, whose species was never officially identified as far as I know.
And Rizzo the Rat first showed up in the fifth season, although there wasn’t a lot to distinguish him from all the other rats at that point.

Some of the Sesame Street Muppets showed up in the Marty Feldman episode, and he and Cookie Monster bonded over their similar eyes.

The kid in the front of the crowd in Statler and Waldorf’s box during the closing theme looks like Roosevelt Franklin, whom I pretty sure was no longer used on the Street at that point, but I guess it isn’t officially supposed to be.

This entry was posted in Animals, Celebrities, Humor, Monsters, Muppets, Music, Poetry, Prejudice, Sesame Street, Star Wars, Television and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Why Don’t You Get Things Started?

  1. markrhunter says:

    I loved the Muppet Show and still do. It’s humor is right up my alley: the kind some other people would turn up their noses at.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s