Our reviews of Best Of The Muppet Show: Volumes 1 and 2 (published October 21st, 2002), Best Of The Muppet Show: Volume 5 (published March 2nd, 2004), Best Of The Muppet Show: Volume 6 (published March 2nd, 2004), Best Of The Muppet Show: Volume 7 (published April 27th, 2004), and Best Of The Muppet Show: Volume 4 (published March 19th, 2003) are also available.
"Now that was hilarious!"
I miss Jim Henson. Even as his untimely death approached, he was still in full creative flower. The Storyteller, although it never took off in the ratings, was an artistic masterpiece (if you ever saw "Hans My Hedgehog" or "The Soldier and Death," you know what I am talking about). The Disney/MGM Studios theme park featured "MuppetVision 3-D," joyful anarchy that requires repeat viewings to catch all its jokes.
While the company since Henson's death has had its highs (Farscape) and lows (Dinosaurs), our collective cultural memory, and the company's fortunes, have remained in thrall to the neo-vaudevillian Muppet Show of the late-1970s. In this spirit, Columbia TriStar has put together its Best of the Muppet Show DVD series, culled from the show's five season run from 1976-1981.
Volume Four (in a ten-volume series originally released through Time/Life Video) focuses on British comic actors. Peter Sellers leads off the trio of episodes, playing a psychotic gypsy, a sadistic physical therapist (reminiscent of Dr. Strangelove), and a temperance preacher with a bad prosthetic nose. As always, Sellers shows an uncanny ability to immerse himself in any character—so much so that he never appears as Peter Sellers. "There is no me," he tells Kermit, "I had it surgically removed." The result: an episode that feels curiously stiff, as if Sellers himself has merely transformed into another Muppet. His sketches run too long and have no clear gag structure: they are funny in concept but not execution. The high point of the episode turns out to be Kermit himself, singing a poignant rendition of his signature song, "It's Not Easy Being Green."
Far better is the second episode, also from the show's second season. John Cleese took an active hand co-writing his material for this one, and he has a clear investment in pulling off the jokes. He chews scenery as a space pirate with a nagging parrot and later is forced by the cast to perform a musical number. But he easily steals every scene he is in, which is remarkable, considering the hustle and bustle of the average Muppet Show episode. Overall, this is one of the funniest installments of the show. Check out the musical number where Miss Piggy plays a pregnant, jilted bride—by Kermit! No wonder this sketch never made it into American syndication.
The third episode on this disc is a relative letdown. Dudley Moore may be an accomplished musician—and he performs several cute jazz numbers here—but he was always funnier back when he was paired with Peter Cook. The music is good; the comedy is soft.
All three episodes are introduced by Brian Henson, and the disc includes a recently filmed Statler and Waldorf sketch, a Godfather parody, and a design sketch of Animal. Each episode also incorporates a sketch cut from American syndication: for example, the aforementioned Miss Piggy song in the John Cleese episode. Although the Sellers and Moore episodes are far from the show's best, the John Cleese episode is required viewing by any fan of The Muppet Show, and listening to Kermit sing his theme song once again will bring a tear to the eye of anyone else who misses the genius and heart of Jim Henson.
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