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Lisa: Dad, what’s a muppet?
Homer: Well, it’s not quite a mop, not quite a puppet, but oh-ho man, he, he, he he. (Pauses) So to answer your question, I don’t know.

Debuting in 1976, The Muppet Show introduced most of the world to the Muppets. Although many of the characters had been created and appeared on television long before The Muppet Show, it wasn’t until Henson created this show that Kermit, Miss Piggy, Gonzo, Fozzie, Rowlf and all their friends were embraced by the world and cemented in the public consciousness. Although Homer’s crayon impaired brain cannot recall what a muppet is, it’s hard to imagine anyone not recognising the word muppet and instantly thinking of a green frog, a joke telling bear or a species unknown maniac drummer. The Muppets are embedded in the psyche of the public for eternity and although their stardom of the ‘70s and ‘80s has dimmed slightly, it has certainly not disappeared.

Muppet Show: Season One, The
The development of The Muppet Show really began in 1974 with the The Muppet Valentine Special, which is considered the first pilot episode for the show. Although the second pilot, Sex and Violence more closely resembles what The Muppet Show would eventually become, the Valentine show firmly demonstrated many elements which were to become the staple of the series. One example was teaming the Muppets with a guest host, in this case Mia Farrow. The behind the scenes aspect of the show was also created, as well as establishing a narrative that would appeal to both children and adults. In 1975 the second Muppet Show pilot, dubbed Sex and Violence, aired and The Muppets also began appearing on Saturday Night Live. As stated, the second pilot captures the essence of what The Muppet Show would become, both in terms of pacing and characters. The Swedish Chef, Sam the Eagle, Crazy Harry, Rowlf and the Electric Mayhem all appear in the second pilot. However, this pilot lacks two important things that were essential to The Muppet Show; a human guest host and Kermit as host. But eventually in 1976 everything was in place for filming of the first season.

Of all the seasons of the show the first is probably the weakest, due in part to some bizarre and sometimes unsuitable guest hosts and the common debut season hiccups. But the core of the show is firmly established with the most well known Muppets characters like Kermit, Fozzie, Miss Piggy, Gonzo and Animal front and centre and their distinct personas gaining strength with each passing episode. For me, the interactions between Kermit and Fozzie will always be the heart and soul of the show, mainly due to my long standing devotion to the comically challenged bear. But it's often one particular Muppet who steals almost every show, Rowlf. His prominent presence in each episode is made all the more important by his continual absence from most new Muppet movies and television appearances.

What is so wonderful about the show is that while there is a certain common structure to the show, every episode maintains a chaotic and sometimes insane pace that would most likely cripple any other variety show. But these are Muppets running the show, not humans. Kermit will begin the show by introducing that night’s special guest host at which stage the infamous theme song will begin and the show if off and running at an inane pace. Kermit will usually have a one on one chat with the host with either Fozzie or another Muppet crashing the intimate conversation. Fozzie will do his stand up act and be mercilessly heckled by Statler and Waldorf and Miss Piggy will try and woo Kermit and crush anyone that gets in her way. Other recurring moments include the scientific experiments of Dr. Bunsen Honeydew and cooking segments with the Swedish Chef. And of course there are the classic piano performances by the show-stealing Rowlf. These segments may not be familiar to U.S. viewers as they were usually only included in the international broadcasts of the show.

Muppet Show: Season One, The
The first season of  The Muppet Show offers some interesting episodes, although the show is a season or two away from its stellar best. The major problem with this first season is that Henson and friends had to rely on established relationships with stars to get them on the show. So while there are a few hosts that everyone should know, many of the names will be unfamiliar now. But in the end the show isn’t about the guest host, it’s all about The Muppets. As a proclaimed Muppetaholic, with a more pronounced addiction to everything Fozzie, the release of The Muppet Show season sets could not come fast enough.

Episodes


1. Juliet Prowse
In this first episode of the show, famed British dancer Juliet Prowse joins the Muppets. Highlights include Fozzie and a loaded pickle in a western sketch, Rowlf stealing the show with his terrible rendition of ‘You and I and George’, while Miss Piggy debuts her over the top approach in the Muppet Glee Club number ‘Temptation’.

2. Connie Stevens


The Muppet Show was always more successful when the guest host could sing and in this episode starring the legendary Connie Stevens, everyone gets in on the act. Kermit begins the episode by singing about ‘Lydia the Tattooed Lady’, with the Electric Mayhem performing ‘Ain’t Misbehaving’. Meanwhile, after overhearing Gonzo talking about getting rid of the teddy bear, Fozzie thinks that everyone at the show hates him and decides to leave. The undisputed highlight on this episode would have to be Stevens singing “Close to You” with Kermit and Fozzie.

3. Joel Grey


Although famed stage/screen actor is the host for this show, it's Fozzie who steals the episode with his attempts to turn every sentence spoken into a joke. Otherwise Grey’s performance of ‘Razzle Dazzle’ to cheer Gonzo up is another highlight.

4. Ruth Buzzi


Actress Ruth Buzzi may not be familiar to most viewers, but she the perfect host for The Muppet Show. While some guest hosts appear a little uncomfortable and bemused interacting with the Muppets, Ruth is simply hilarious in all her moments on the show. Her obvious overacting fits in perfectly with the tone of the show. Her conversation with Kermit is priceless and her performance as a prisoner of war who won't shut up is classic. Other highlights from this episode include Rowlf’s entertaining song about crying over onions and Scooter bringing a wind-up Kermit to the theatre at his Uncle’s request.

5. Rita Moreno


Oscar winning West Side Story star Rita Moreno plays a variety of characters in different sketches in this episode, but the absolute highlight is when she performs ‘Fever’ with an overexcited Animal. This performance was one of the first Muppet moments I ever saw and no matter how many times I see it, it still remains as funny as hell. Elsewhere in this episode the long running gag involves Fozzie answering the telephone with priceless results.

6. Jim Nabors


Gomer Pyle star Nabors hosts this episode, the real shame being that his ‘Gone with the Wind’ performance has been cut. Otherwise the highlight is Nabors playing a security guard in a sketch with Animal and Rowlf.

7. Florence Henderson


Brady mum Florence Henderson clashes with the jealous Miss Piggy for Kermit’s affection. The episode is full of excellent sketches with Fozzie impersonating famous actors, Kermit’s news report from an alien planet and a panel discussion with Henderson regarding whether Shakespeare was really Bacon.

8. Paul Williams


Crooner Paul Williams provides plentiful musical highlights in this episode including ‘Just an Old Fashioned Love Song.’ Scooter and Fozzie team up to perfect Fozzie's act as a telephone pole and Rowlf once again steals the show with his reading of the poem Silence.

9. Charles Aznavour


Apparently Aznavour is a French singer and actor, although I have personally never heard of him. His only real contribution is teaching Kermit how to win over the ladies with smooth talking. Scooter, in his new role as manager, encourages Gonzo to become a cross dressing performer.

10. Harvey Korman


Sometimes as talented as a guest host may be they just don’t work with the Muppets and Koman is the perfect example. His contribution to this episode is minimal and forgetful with the major highlights being two performances by Dr.Teeth and The Electric Mayhem. The only other moment of note is a disastrous stand up act by the dynamic duo of Kermit and Fozzie.

11.Lena Horne


Although Lena Horne infuses this episode with plenty of singing and dancing, it is her interactions with particular Muppets that make this episode special. Horne finds an instant fan in Fozzie when she professes to knowing everything about him and also inspires Gonzo with a song. Another highlight from this episode features Rowlf and Zoot playing the theme from Love Story.

12. Peter Ustinov


All the Muppets are giddy over the presence of legendary actor Peter Ustinov. It’s difficult to choose a highlight from this show as almost every sketch Ustinov appears in is wonderful. He plays a comically challenged economics professor and a defensive psychiatrist on the discussion panel. Ustinov also interacts beautifully with Kermit as they discuss various elements of the show.

Muppet Show: Season One, The

13. Bruce Forsyth


British TV legend Bruce Forsyth’s appearance on The Muppet Show is full of laughs. He performs two musical numbers where he is overshadowed by co-stars, but manages to provide Fozzie with important advice about stand-up and how to respond to the hecklings of balcony fixtures Statler and Waldorf.

14. Sandy Duncan


Actress Sandy Duncan sings two songs in her appearance on The Muppet Show, “A Nice Girl like Me” and “Try to Remember the Kind of September”. But the highlights of this episode are Kermit’s struggle to find out what the “banana sketch” is that everyone in the theatre, especially Fozzie, finds so funny. The Swedish Chef also makes a memorable appearance by making donuts.

15. Candice Bergen


Although Bergen’s appearance of the show is many years before she became Murphy Brown, she is certainly one of the most memorable season one hosts. A highlight would have to be Bergen singing “Friends” with Gonzo and some other Muppets. But once again it's the running gag, this time involving Fozzie making deliveries to Kermit that is the best thing about the episode.

16. Avery Schreiber


In this episode, comedian Schreiber pretends to be a couple with Miss Piggy to make Kermit jealous. Otherwise the comedian’s most memorable part of the show is in a sketch in which he plays a security guard whose lunch is stolen by a Fozzie painting.

17. Ben Vereen


I’ve never heard of Ben Vereen, but his enthusiastic hosting job on this episode makes that irrelevant.  He beautifully sings “Pure Imagination” from Willy Wonka and The Chocolate factory and also puts in a nice performance of Mr.Cellophane from Chicago. Crazy Harry makes a huge impression in this episode by creating explosions every time anyone utters an explosive phrase.

18. Phyllis Diller


The Queen of funny Phyllis Diller hosts an episode full of laugh-out-loud moments. She pines in the bar with Rowlf, helps Fozzie with his stand-up act and his attempts to take over Kermit’s job, while also badly playing the saxophone.

19. Vincent Price


With horror actor Vincent Price as host, the Muppet theatre suddenly becomes a very spooky place. An immediately inspired sketch involves Fozzie and Gonzo inspecting their new summer home only to discover it’s haunted. Price also takes part in the usual panel discussion with the particular topic being cuisine. Much to the chagrin of Muppet fans, the memorable closing musical number featuring Price and some Muppet monsters singing “You’ve Got a Friend” has been cut.

20. Valerie Harper


Mary Tyler Show alum Harper is another guest host whose personality perfectly suits hosting duties on the show. An obvious highlight is balcony dweller Statler moving from the balcony and coming onstage to give Valerie a flower. Another highlight would have to be Rowlf and Sam the Eagle’s inspired rendition of “Tit Willow”

21. Twiggy


The original waif model Twiggy is a surprisingly entertaining host for this episode. She marvellously performs The Beatles “In My Life” and beautifully reads an A.A. Milne poem. Meanwhile backstage, everyone except Kermit is fearful of the Phantom of the Muppet Theatre.

22. Ethel Merman


Broadway legend Mermann is all about song in this episode performing various songs from the shows in which she has appeared. Backstage, Kermit and Fozzie are at odds as Kermit reluctantly conducts negotiations with Fozzie’s agent.

23. Kaye Ballard


Kermit is facing major problems in this episode when Floyd and the Muppet band threaten to leave because they don’t like the theme song. Although Ballard is an actress she doesn’t appear in many sketches and instead performs a few musical numbers. Because of the Muppet band walkout the end credits role over a lone Rowlf on the piano.

24. Mummenschanz


The finale of the first season boasts the season’s most odd guest with a threesome of Swiss mimes called Mummenschanz. The three performers don’t speak until the final moments of the show and appear throughout with masks on. Meanwhile, Miss Piggy is convinced that she has finally wooed Kermit, but instead has garnered the love of Gonzo. Otherwise, this season finale is probably the weakest episode of the season.

It’s very disheartening to report that this first season cannot be deemed ‘complete’, with five episodes having musical performances cut. The five episodes cut are those hosted by Joel Grey, Jim Nabors, Paul Williams, Charles Aznavour and Vincent Price. It’s assumed that music licensing rights are the reason behind the deletions. Although the actual footage cut doesn’t add up to a lot, in some cases, like the Vincent Price episode, it’s extremely disappointing because the musical number cut is so fondly remembered by many and is available on other Muppet Show releases.

Muppet Show: Season One, The

Video


The show is presented in its original 1.33:1 fullscreen aspect ratio and thankfully plenty of attention has been paid to making the visuals look pristine. It would be understandable that even after large amounts of time and money were spent on the transfer it would unavoidably still be plagued by defects. But miraculously this is a crystal clear transfer with no major problems. It should be noted that The Muppet Show was produced in England and therefore the show was shot using PAL format videotape. Because of this, details and colours are sometimes not fantastic, and due to the conversion of PAL to NTSC there is the occasional element of ghosting on some episodes. This imperfection should not be present on the R2 and R4 releases because there is no need for format conversion. Otherwise, the images for most episodes are solid with no grain or dirt evident. Colours are somewhat faded in some episodes and details are problematic, but as I stated, the transfer for this show is nothing short of a revelation.

Audio


Being a show structured around musical numbers, The Muppet Show certainly could have benefited from a 5.1 mix. But I think the upgrade to that kind of mix would have done a disservice to the original material. The show was originally broadcast in mono and sometimes it's best not to try and stretch the origins to fit in with current tech standards. Although sound can be slightly soft and muted at times, overall this is a strong package that serves all aspects of the show well.

Extras


Firstly, the packaging for this season one set is worth mentioning. The set comes packaged in a six sided digipack inside a slipcover. The slipcover has the added gimmick of resembling Kermit’s green torso and as was advertised, it is indeed a ‘furry’ cover. Aside from the unique packaging, the remaining extras are minimal but will certainly be appreciated by fans.

A trivia track entitled ‘Muppet Morsels’ is available for all 24 episodes spread across the four discs. Various trivia snippets pop up to provide information about the songs being performed, other screen credits for the guest hosts and also various pop culture references that are infused within sketches. The information that these tracks provide for each episode is varied, interesting and extensive. The origins of the Muppets are covered, as well as their past appearances on Saturday Night Live with interesting quotes from the Muppet performers included as well. This feature provides much more information that any audio commentary could and although the track seems to be have put together rather quickly, which explains the various grammatical errors, it is certainly a wonderful and valued extra.

Disc four houses the remaining extras. Firstly there is the ‘Original Muppet Pitch Reel’ which runs only a few short minutes. This was the footage Henson showed to the CBS suits to convince them that The Muppet Show would be huge success. A ‘Season One Promo Gag Reel’ is a montage of promos with Kermit trying to inform the audience about a particular episode. Of course in true Muppet fashion Kermit's hosting duties are disrupted by other Muppets, most notably by Fozzie tickling him.

Muppet Show: Season One, The
The final extra is sure to be the one Muppet fans had hoped and prayed would be included on a Muppet Show season set, one of the two original pilot episodes. Frequently referred to as Sex and Violence although it “officially” has no title. The pilot garnered the title because Sex & Violence are the first words that appear on screen. This pilot aired a full 18 months before the first season run of The Muppet Show  and is something almost all fans know about but many have never seen. This is EXACTLY the kind of extra you want from season releases of an old show, footage that is rare and treasured. Obviously there are many differences between this pilot and the rest of the first season episodes. With such a large gap in the production it makes sense that certain characters were abandoned and others created. The most apparent difference is that Kermit is only briefly seen and the show is instead hosted by a Muppet named Nigel. However, there are many characters that remain almost the same from the original pilot to the first season run, such as the Swedish Chef (how could he possibly be any different!), Sam the Eagle, Statler and Waldorf and Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem. It is quite disturbing viewing this footage because so much of what makes The Muppet Show so special and wonderful is missing, so thank God there was plenty of time in-between this first incarnation and the actual show that we all know and love.

Overall


The fact that the first season release of The Muppet Show was closely followed by the first season release of Fraggle Rock should have Henson fans nothing short of ecstatic. It’s difficult to complain about only a small collection of extras when all 24 episodes are so wonderfully presented, though complaints can certainly been made about the cuts to the episodes. After many years of wondering when the Henson universe would make it to DVD, the first season sets of two of Henson’s most beloved creations have finally been released with the promise of more soon. What can I possibly say, anything else that could have been included on this first season set would have simply been icing on an already delicious fuzzy green cake.


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