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The Muppet Show: Season Two

Jim Henson/ITC (1977), Walt Disney Video (August 7, 2007), 4 discs, 612 mins plus supplements, 1.33:1 original full frame ratio, Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo, Rated G, Retail: $39.99

Storyboard:

The second season of Muppet mayhem is even classier than the first.

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The Sweatbox Review:

Seriously, this season is ridiculously good. The array of guest stars in the second season of The Muppet Show is unmatched by any of the other four seasons. The producers of the show initially had difficulty getting guests to perform on the show, as Jim Henson and his colleagues had to rely on personal friendships to procure many of the first season guests. The Muppets had been around for years, and had been on numerous TV specials, but asking guest stars to fly to London to perform on the strange new weekly variety program was a challenge. The terrific success of the first season, however, made finding co-stars for the Muppets much, much easier thereafter. Sure, the first season managed to feature wonderful stars like Vincent Price, Ethel Merman, and Lena Horne, but Season Two’s list of guests is unparalleled. I admit to being very fond of the fourth season, too, as it had the Star Wars episode as well as appearances by Christopher Reeve and Linda Carter in a pair of “super” episodes, but Season Two is simply spectacular.

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Who did it have? Well, it’s like a Who’s Who of Hollywood celebrity and television legends. Bob Hope, George Burns, Milton Berle, Julie Andrews, Peter Sellers, Edgar Bergen, John Cleese, and Don Knotts are just a handful of the guest stars for this season. Add in Elton John, Steve Martin, Madeline Khan, Rudolf Nureyev, Bernadette Peters, Rich Little, Dom Deluise… good grief!! That line-up just cannot be beat. And it all pays off, too. This season is filled with magical moments, hilarious gags, and wonderful music.

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The format of the show was being perfected by this time. The guests interacted with the Muppets more backstage, adding a dimension to the show that let us into the world of the Muppets even more, and making their interactions with the guest stars all the more involving. Other aspects of the show were being fine-tuned, with the dropping of George the janitor as a featured player, and the introduction of such gems as the “Pigs In Space” segment, as well as a steady stream of “Veterinarian’s Hospital.” There were numerous visits to the planet Koozebane, where even Dom Deluise made a visit. Richard Hunt’s Beaker hilariously became the hapless guinea pig for Dr. Bunsen Honeydew. Fozzie Bear became more well-rounded, turning him from a character to be simply pitied into an endearing blend of fortitude and optimism. Miss Piggy also saw her cache on the show increase, as she went from being a shared minor character performed by either Richard Hunt or Frank Oz, to being one of the leading stars under Oz’s sole guiding hand. Her rise to stardom this season was crystallized somewhat when she concocted a scheme for a bigger contract in the Dom Deluise episode.

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Henson collaborator Jerry Juhl was well-established as the show’s head writer by this season, as his long association with Henson meant that he knew the overall Muppet mentality better than almost anyone. He was joined by Don Hinkley, who had worked on The Carol Burnett Show. David Lazer became the sole executive producer, using his gifts to ensure that the show ran smoothly, and allowing the “creative people” to focus on their craft. Dave Goelz, who had started out as a puppet builder, came into his own as a performer of The Great Gonzo.

The show got plotlines to a greater extent in Season Two than what was seen previously, and the increased interaction with the guest stars meant the show could reach greater heights of storytelling without sacrificing its variety show premise. Hence, this season we get to see Fozzie totally intimidated with the very thought of meeting Milton Berle, until finding out that Berle wants to meet him. Incidentally, seeing Berle handle the heckling of Statler and Waldorf is also a treat, as Berle shows why he was still considered the consummate comedian. Another highlight is when John Cleese argues with Kermit in his episode over the “no pigs” clause in his contract—until seeing his agent eaten by a monster! Cleese’s trademark prickly persona seemed especially well captured in his episode, and there’s a good reason for that— he was a co-writer on the episode! In Steve Martin’s episode, the show is actually cancelled so that Kermit can run auditions. Martin avoids being ticked off, and decides to perform on stage anyways for the benefit of the Muppets, leading to funny skits involving balloon animals and surprisingly good banjo playing.

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Seeing Don Knotts and Fozzie become hilariously “hip” together makes it one of the funniest episodes of the season, while the elegant performing of long-time Muppet friend Julie Andrews makes for the season’s classiest offering. Bob Hope’s episode is unfortunately a bit weaker, but the idea of him trying to get away to perform a variety of benefits is funny. Peter Sellers is hilarious of course, such as in his skit where he gives Link Hogthrob a brutal massage. And who could ever forget the splendid Elton John, in his flamboyant, big-spectacled, feathery prime, singing his heart out with the Muppet cast? The Edgar Bergen episode was of particular significance to Jim Henson, as Bergen was an idol of his and a clear inspiration for the work Henson was doing. Kermit even says on the program that Bergen is very special to the Muppets, which I know made me feel as warm and fuzzy as a Muppet. Speaking of great Kermit moments, it was also fantastic seeing him perform It’s Not Easy Being Green on the show’s Peter Sellers episode.

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Wow. So many fine moments can be found on this DVD set. 1977 was indeed a great year for the Muppets. In addition to the making of The Muppet Show’s second season, the Henson team also taped the classic Emmet Otter’s Jugband Christmas in Toronto, and Jim Henson and Brian Froud agreed on a collaboration which would eventually become The Dark Crystal. This was also the first year that the Kermit balloon appeared in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. If there was any doubt before, there wasn’t any now. The Muppets had hit the big time.

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Is This Thing Loaded?

Despite a stellar list of guest stars and brilliant writing and performing, the second season of The Muppet Show apparently did not rate too much in the extras department. Certainly, the appearance here of the second Muppet pilot, The Muppets Valentine Show (25:36) is an essential part of this set, given that the first pilot appeared on the first season’s set. But The Muppets Valentine Show obviously predated The Muppet Show, so there are no true Muppet Show-based extras on the set. Most disappointing is the discontinuation of the “Muppet Morsels” subtitle information track from the previous set, which I had enjoyed immensely. Still, it was great to finally see the Valentine show, which featured a writer named Wally living in a home full of Muppets and trying to write about love. A pregnant Mia Farrow guest-starred. Skits in the special included a dandy number with Kermit and Miss Mousey (Piggy’s predecessor) and a sweet duet between Miss Farrow and a large monster.

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Well, there are two more extras on the set, but they are contemporary pieces that do nothing to enlighten us about The Muppet Show. The Muppets On The Muppets (12:44) offers thirteen questions for various Muppets to answer. The results, shown in letterboxed video, are amusing, though I was a bit disturbed by Miss Piggy’s surreal fantasy life where she and Kermit are married, and how Kermit was aghast that she was still perpetuating that myth. It is quite obvious that these are newer interview segments, as there are also appearances by Muppets Tonight personalities such as Pepe. Lastly, there is a music video entitled Weezer & The Muppets: Keep Fishin’ (4:26), which is notable only because it recreates the Muppet Show backstage set.

Even the Sneak Peeks are not too interesting. My little girl was sharp enough to ask why they bothered including a promo for this set, since we obviously already had it. Good point, kid.

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At least the main menus are fun, featuring either Kermit and Fozzie or Rizzo and Animal in humorous bits, e.g. Fozzie dresses as a waiter so he can take your menu order. Get it?

Case Study:

The four discs are held in an open-book style digipack with overlapping discs. The big Miss Piggy face on the cover of the slipcase is available in a “fuzzy” version, just like the first season’s Kermit box. The felt-like textured packaging is likely available for only a limited time. It’s a nice package, but I do wish they would use more vintage photographs of the Muppets rather than the contemporary images used on the set. A Disney Movie Rewards insert is also in the package.

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Ink And Paint:

I am just blown away by how good these digitally remastered episodes look. I almost thought I was looking at a high definition version of a new TV show. The video is that good. Aside from the prints being very clean, the level of detail is amazing, with the textures of the puppets fully evident. I think a puppet builder could watch these discs and be to tell precisely what material was used for each Muppet. Considering how shabby the Disney Afternoon shows look on their DVD sets, it’s a wonderful surprise to see the Muppets treated so well.

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Scratch Tracks:

The stereo sound helps to bring the show alive. With the show so dependent on dialog and music, it is good that the soundtrack is up to snuff. Whether rockin’ to classic Elton or enjoying the lively country stylings of Teresa Brewer, the audio on these discs complements the superb video nicely. English subtitles for the hearing impaired are included.

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Final Cut:

This may very well be the high point in Muppet history. Jim Henson, Frank Oz, and the rest of the writers and puppeteers were at the top of their game in the second season of The Muppet Show, and the addition of absolutely superb guests makes it probably the best season of one of the finest variety shows in television history. That may sound like hyperbole, but the artistry and talent seen in this DVD set is truly inspirational to anyone with a creative soul. The sparkling video and audio are welcome, even if the extras are somewhat pitiful. It’s the shows that count the most, though, and the episodes seen on this set make it an essential part of any TV-on-DVD collection.

Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?

MAIN FEATURE
SUPPLEMENTS
VIDEO IMAGE
SOUND TRACK
OVERALL DVD

 

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