Monday, April 14, 2008

Top 20 Muppet Show Moments

Instead of blogging about actual things like life, brawl, and animated villains, I cooked up a new idea in my head that I just needed to type down.

I (as well as what is probably my target demographic reading this blog) love the Muppets, and especially The Muppet Show.

This got me thinking...what are the greatest moments that the show ever had? What do you think of when someone starts talking about the Muppet Show? Which moments from the show had made an enormous impact?

I hope this list helps answer those questions (with some further help through the magic of youtube). My only criteria is that every sketch had to appear during the five seasons of the Muppet Show, and in the case of reoccurring sketches, only one will be used.



#20: The Galley-oh-hoop-hoop (aka The Koozebanian Mating Ritual) (Ep 107: Florence Henderson)






We start the list off on the Planet Koozebane. At first glance, it was seemed to be a random go-to planet to showcase the more out-there sketches such as this one, only to reveal in Season 2 that the planet does indeed exist in the Muppet's universe.

This classic sketch was actually first performed on the rarely-seen Muppet Valentine's Special, but it's included here because it had its more iconic appearance on this show, as well as the fact that the Muppet Valentine Show was one of the 2 pilots for the Muppet Show (the other one is The Muppet Show: Sex & Violence).

How do Muppets (or in this case Koozebanian Muppets) mate? Kermit shows us how its done in a tasteful & odd fashion. I'm one of those people that believe that Kermit was at his best whenever he was the straight man to the even further insanity happening around him, and this sketch proved to be no exception. I love his tone throughout the sketch, as if he's seen this all before. The ending to this great sketch has been something that has always been stuck in my mind, and hopefully yours (and a wee bit awkward when it comes to explaining it to any kids that might see it).


#19: Crocodile Rock (Ep 214: Elton John)






Another talent of the Muppets: Taking a really goofy, stupid sounding song and creating a literal version of it. Here's Elton John's Crocodile Rock. Don't ask me what the hell it's about, but the Muppet Show certainly helped out. Doesn't hurt that you can pretty much hear this song anywhere, especially at CVS (it's one of the better songs on the muzak in the store I work at).

Interesting note of this song: This episode was the first episode after the so-called "Turning Point" of the show's ability to book the Big Famous Guest Stars. Apparently the booking of famous-at-the-time male ballet dancer Rudolph Nureyev convinced the famous folk that they should get their asses on the show. For those who watched Season 2 up to this point, you might find some of the previous episodes slow and not for the ADD crowd.

This nice, surreal cheery song opened up the show and served as a nice departure from the early stuff, and was a taste for greater things to come, with even more famous guest stars.


#18: The Concert For The Birds (Ep 309: Liberace)

(Part 1)





(Part 2)





Like Liberace. At the time of the Muppet Show's heyday, Liberace was probably one of the more famous people you could get on a tv show.

Fantastic piano player, and no one cared that he was gay. The last act of the show is devoted to a personal concert that he dedicates "To All the Birds out there," a medley of his "hits" with bird-themed imagery. Just genuine class and he looks just like someone who feels right at home with the Muppets. I just love his relationship with Sam the Eagle and Statler & Waldorf in this. Just an all-around excellent moment, and it's one of those rare instances in the show where a majority of the episode is devoted to a single sketch/song.


#17: "Good grief, the Comedian's a bear!" (Ep 110: Harvey Korman)





http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xXbqGa86iwU

(Note: due to the only vid of it on youtube having its embedding disabled, I'll just have to link to the vid and watch it there)

Here we have a classic Fozzie Bear comedy act. Writing bad comedy that is actually funny is difficult, but the writers at the Muppet Show seemed to pull it off well quite often (well, there's more hits than misses).

Fozzie ropes in Kermit to perform "The Funniest Joke in the World," but as we all know on this show, it all goes horribly awry and becomes much funnier than it should have been had you actually seen it on an actual stage.


#16: "School's Out" (Ep 307: Alice Cooper)






The most common question raised by Muppet fans and Alice Cooper fans alike when they watched this was "What the hell is Alice Cooper doing on the Muppet Show?!"

At a time before associating Alice Cooper with selling out, golf tourneys, and back-to-school ads, he was as metal & dark as the rest of them back in the day. He was the guy who had someone throw a chicken at him onstage during a concert, to which he responded with throwing said chicken back into the crowd to have them rip it apart. It seemed like a bizarre experience as to why he of all people would be on a family puppet show.

Indeed, Alice Cooper was a natural fit on the show, with Henson & Co. providing the great backdrops to his performance. Contrary to those naysayers, Alice Cooper is not the most "WTF?!" guest star by a mile.


#15: The Climax on Koozebane (Ep 417: Star Wars (aka Mark Hamill & The Stars of Star Wars))






This is. Yes, on the success of Star Wars, Luke, R2, and 3-PO show up out of the blue looking for Chewbacca, who had been later revealed to have been kidnapped by Derth Nadir, the show's go-to Darth Vader parody. Luke's "cousin" Mark Hamill shows up to do some show numbers that Luke refuses to perform.

What starts off as a hijacked Pigs in Space sketch ends with a crash landing on Koozebane where the Star Wars stars and the Swine Trek crew battle Derth Nadir for the freedom of Chewy, which ultimately concludes the show in true Muppet fashion, not to mention Derth Nadir's secret weapon being one hell of a callback from earlier in the episode.


#14: There's No Business Like Show Business (Ep 122: Ethel Merman)






One of the things I love about the Muppet Show is when just about every single muppet in the show is involved in a giant singalong with the guest star.

Ethel Merman was one hell of a singer, and having her sing that song was basically the equivalent of...well...name a super-famous singer singing one of their signature hits just for you in order to cheer you up and inspire you. To sing this song herself, and on the Muppet Show, no less, was an enormous honor to do so.


#13: Jabberwocky (Ep 506: Brooke Shields)






The Muppet Show was also known for having episodes that revolved around specific themes, taking the most prevalence in the fifth season. Earlier shows would revolve around the genre of the guest star, such as the Vincent Price episode would be horror-themed, the Lynda Carter episode would be Superhero-themed, the Cloris Leachman episode had the show hijacked by an all-pig cast, and so on.

In the fifth season, we saw episodes that would be the Muppet retelling of classic stories, and in the Brooke Shields episode, it was Lewis Carrol's Alice in Wonderland. With the story, they also perform a near-faithful rendition of the nonsense poem "Jabberwocky" starring Scooter and Rowlf. I love the design of the Jabberwock in this sketch, as well as Scooter's admission that it was the weirdest thing they ever did on the show (which is really saying something).


#12
: Muppet Labs: The Banana Sharpener (Ep 402: Crystal Gale)






What Muppet list would be complete without a trip to Muppet Labs? The sketches detailing the inventions of Dr. Bunsen Honeydew (and his later-added assistant/guinea pig Beaker) lasted all five seasons and is among one of the more iconic reoccurring sketches on the show.

Literally ANY Muppet Labs sketch can be included in this spot, I just chose this particular one because it's a favorite of mine and it also showcases both Bunsen and Beaker at their best (another favorite, The Gorilla Detector, only has Bunsen)


#11: Cigarettes & Whiskey (Ep 219: Peter Sellers)






The Peter Sellers episode is truly one of the more classic episodes of the series, and this closing number just shows his awesomesness. Besides playing a civil war-era reverend in this song, he was also a Russian gypsy, a Dr. Strangelove-esque masseuse, his classic character Inspector Clueseau, as well as reciting the soliloquy from Richard III while playing tuned chickens.

"Cigarettes, and Whiskey and Wild, Wild Women, they'll drive you crazy, they'll drive you insane" are some truer words that have never been spoken. If my personal philosophy could be summarized in song, this would probably be how it would be done.


#10: You've Got a Friend (Ep 119: Vincent Price)






The episode starring Vincent Price is an early classic, as well as the first episode to revolve around a specific theme (in this case, as I said earlier, horror). Even though it sounds ridiculous, a show like his and Alice Cooper's have have created a few Muppet-centric fears in some children. That's how awesome the Muppets can be.

This song in particular shows off Vincent singing this cheery song with Uncle Deadly while the macabre backdrop of the organ and the dark room itself provides a nice contrast. Also of note, it's unfortunately one of several sketches that was omitted from the Season 1 DVD, so youtube is the only place you can see it for now.


#9: Beaker Sings "Feelings" (Ep 424: Diana Ross)






(Note: It was with much debate with myself as to which video to embed: The real version, or the Rickroll version. You'll just have to watch the vid to see which one I ultimately went with)

We now go into a classic Beaker moment, and is the only "UK Spot" on the list. "What is a UK Spot," you ask? Well, since (at least back then) shows in the UK ran 2 minutes longer than shows in the US, the show had to create 2 more minutes worth of material in every episode, and it was never seen in the US in its original run and only sometimes existed in syndication until the Season dvds were released with the sketches restored.

This is probably Beaker's finest moment in all of Muppets, improving this terrible song in the only way that only he can. Look the vid up on youtube and see how many vids of this you find of it, real and parodies alike. The reason why the audience boos him is because that the theme of that episode is that the audience hates every act that doesn't have Diana Ross in it. That, and the original song itself is terrible.


#8: The Banana Boat song (Ep 314: Harry Belafonte)






This is a truly great song brought to us by the Muppets and Harry Belafonte. It's somewhat surprising that, according to Harry himself in the sketch, that it was the first time he performed it on tv. Why, watching this on tv as a kid was actually my first exposure to the song. I'm pretty certain that remains true for a few readers out there. That and Beetlejuice were great exposures to this great song.

Once again, hilarity ensues as Fozzie attempts to organize the sketch with little luck. The cast attempting to keep up with Harry at the 5:30 point is my favorite part of this.


#7: Halfway Down The Stairs (Ep 110: Harvey Korman)






A sentimental favorite of Jim Henson, this song also marks the first major appearance of Robin. Based on a poem by A.A. Milne, Robin sings in his childlike tone about the odditity of the halfway step on the stairs; seemingly an allegory to a child trying to figure out his place in the world. "Its not at the bottom, Its not at the top. It isn't really here, it isn't really anywhere

This song was actually released as a single in England, where it hit the Top 10. Amazing. Also...I dare you to watch this and either not shed a tear or calm down.


#6: Pigs in Space: Long John Silverstein (Ep 223: John Cleese)






We now come to *Announcer Voice* PIIIIIGS IIIIN SPAAAACEEEE!! Sorry, just had to do that. I know, we already saw a Pigs in Space sketch in the Mark Hamill episode, but that was mostly there for a plot point. This is a full, non-segue sketch.

The John Cleese episode is full of great moments, and this is one of the only sketches in the show (or the series in general) to really have that Monty Python feel to it. John Cleese is a pirate that attempts to hijack the Swine Trek with a wise-cracking parrot while Captain Link Hogthrob argues with him over the absurdedness of his presence. Jeez, what is with these strange characters wanting to hijack this thing? It's just a set!

Anyway, I love how he quickly stops caring about the placement of his hook (he even hangs it up on a telephone receiver), not to mention his threats of his parrot becoming an "Ex-Parrot." (Wait a sec...it's the same parrot from the Banana Boat sketch!)


#5: While My Guitar Gently Weeps (Ep 419: Lynda Carter)






You would think it would be difficult to find actual emotion in a song sung by a puppet, but if you watched the last 14 videos (I'm keeping track, btw), you would know that it's quite possible.

Here's an excellent number by Sgt. Floyd Pepper of the Electric Mayhem singing what might possibly be the best cover of the Beatles' "While My Guitar Gently Weeps." I could just feel the raw sadness in Jerry Nelson's great performance. Truly a classic moment that may not be as remembered as fondly as the other 19 entries, but it should be.


#4: Swedish Chef: Chicken in a Basket (Ep 311: Raquel Welch)






There's no doubt in my mind that the Swedish Chef might possibly be my favorite Muppet of all time. He is an embodiement of craziness and silliness that the Muppets are famous for. He's also an excellent example of a great tandem performance, as Jim Henson performed his voice and controlled his head, while Frank Oz played his very human hands. Those reactions that the chef gives whenever he throws something is a true reaction by Henson.

According to the Muppet Morsels feature on the Season 1 DVD, the Swedish Chef sketches were always watched by crew members whenever one was filmed, and it's not uncommon to actually hear non-canned laughter in a few of his sketches. (Hell, you might be able to hear it in this one too)

Like the Muppet Labs entry, ANY Swedish Chef sketch could go here, I just chose my personal favorite. Other great ones: Making Donuts, Baking a Cake, Swedish Chef's Uncle, and Frog Legs.


#3: Just One Person (Ep 212: Bernadette Peters)





So "Halfway Down The Stairs" didn't get to you? Try this one! It's another sentimental favorite of Jim Henson, originally performed in "Snoopy: The Musical." (raise your hands if you know what I'm talking about) Those two songs (along with Henson's other favorite, Groucho Marx's "Lydia The Tatooed Lady," which was performed in episode 102) were sung in tribute by the Muppets at his funeral.

Just an excellent, excellent song sung to Robin by Bernadette Peters (my generation might recognize her as the voice of Rita the cat from Animaiacs) and the other Muppets. While moments involving Robin were usually excellent on the Muppet Show (hell, he's in at least two of them here), I didn't care for him during Muppet Babies. Definitely a shark jump moment long before Rugrats tried it over 10+ years afterwards.

Anyway, I think that it's an incredibly touching song, and just an all-out excellent moment. I bet you'll be in a better mood after this song (and to see what the last 2 spots are).


#2: Buddy Rich vs Animal (Ep 522: Buddy Rich)





If you've ever searched for "Muppets" on youtube at least once, you'd see at least 10 videos devoted to just this, but that isn't the main reason why this moment ranks so high (well, its a reason, but not the main one)

First of all, it's Buddy Rich, one of the (if not THE) greatest drummers that ever lived, and he's drumming against Animal. This alone should equal awesome. Animal's not trerribly either, I must give kudos to the person who did his drumming throughout the series. To be honest, we all wanted Animal to win, but I thought Buddy Rich won...but Animal strikes back because he's Animal. Priceless.



So which moment is Number 1?



#1. Mahna Mahna (Ep 101: Juliet Prowse)





You probably thought I forgot this one, didn't you? In production order, it was the first sketch of the very first episode of the Muppet Show. I, for one, think that this sketch was an excellent choice to start the show, and it gave us a taste for what's to come.

But Mahna Mahna's excellence didn't begin on the Muppet Show. In its most primitive forms, it was preformed on the Ed Sullivan Show and Sesame Street, but this is the version that is the most legendary, and is the most perfected. Statler & Waldorf's comments are absolutely classic as well. Fact about the Muppets: Many tertiary Muppets were named after the sketches they appeared in, and thus, the guy singing the song is named Mahna Mahna, puppeteered by Jim Henson himself. His two backup singers are the Snowths, dually performed by Frank Oz.

A perfect example of a nonsense song, and a damn catchy one at that. I'm not the only one out there who must add "Doot dooot do doot doot" after hearing the words "Mahna Mahna." You probably just did it again like I did. This is one of the most famous and influential Muppet pieces ever, rivaling some of the other entries on this list as well as the countless classics on Sesame Street. It's even been heard in quite a few commercials, like this one.




Well, there you have it. I have a feeling this list will be a bit controversial as there are several upon several great moments that didn't make the cut. It was hard enough to narrow the list down to 20, and it was harder to order them, and I'm still thinking that the order should be changed...but I'll let it stick for now.

I'd like to thank Muppet Wikia for the specific info, and my friends at X-Entertainment.com for helping me out with helping me remember some of these great moments.


4 comments:

Annette said...

Hey, great post! I really liked that "Halfway Down the Stairs" song a whole lot, so I'm glad that's on your list.

Also, I loved the song "Just One Person" when I was little. I used to have Snoopy: The Musical recorded off TV. I ought to look that up; I haven't seen it in ages.

Dan said...

Truly a great list. I'm old enough that I remember seeing some of these originally on tv but seeing them again brought back great memories. And the "Just One Person" song truly was touching. Can't wait to read part two of your villains list.

thepilver said...

Nice call on the #1 spot. Those remind me of the egg shooting villains on Mario Bros 2, I believe.

Amy said...

awesome job! i kept myself from scrolling ahead because i wanted to be surprised each time. makes me want to go watch a muppet movie tonight...