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Reviewed by Jason Zingale
rowing up watching spin-off projects like the Muppet movies and the Saturday-morning cartoon, “Muppet Babies,” it was finally nice to sit down and spend some quality time with creator Jim Henson’s original vision, “The Muppet Show.” I had seen a random collection of episodes from the acclaimed series in 2002 when a “Best Of” set was released, and was a fan of “Muppets Tonight!” when it debuted and tanked in 1996, but nothing even comes close to the genius original series.
Debuting in 1976 on CBS, “The Muppet Show” was a 30-minute primetime variety series starring a cast of everyone’s favorite Muppets and a weekly guest star. The series was way ahead of the comedic curve for its time, and it’s amazing that the show did so well with a bunch of puppets running around doing bizarrely entertaining comedy and musical acts. Nevertheless, the source material was amusing for people of all ages – which you frankly just don’t see anymore – and that’s why Henson’s creation was such a success. The first season of the show is actually probably the worst of the lot, if only because the line-up of guest stars were a bit weak, but it still supplied a number of classic skits like “Dr. Honeydew’s Gorilla Detector” and hilarious musical acts including “Simon Smith and His Amazing Dancing Bear,” “Mahna Mahna,” and Kermit’s “It’s Not Easy Being Green.”
Longtime fans of the show can finally own the complete first season in a 4-disc special edition box set with all 24 original episodes digitally re-mastered and intact. Discs one and three house six episodes each, with seven episodes appearing on disc two, and a fourth disc that contains the final five episodes along with bonus material. The show is presented in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio and features a Dolby Digital sound track, and the video quality of the first season is amazing considering its age. I still can’t believe how great each episode looks, with the vibrant colors that each Muppet dons popping on screen brighter than ever before. The animated menus for the set also look great, and you’ll even get a few laughs out of Statler and Waldorf criticizing the audience if you take too long to make a selection.
The front cover of the box is actually one of the most alluring features of the set. Designed in the same manner as Kermit’s chest (green stomach with the yellow spikes that come down around his neck), the cover has been made to feel genuinely like Kermit, with a faux velvet fabric that’s just plain fun to pet over and over again. It will be interesting to see if they continue this method for the other four seasons (most likely to feature Miss Piggy, Fozzie, Gonzo, and Animal), because it really sets the series apart from all of the other DVDs on your shelf.
The special features on the set are slim - with the lack of audio commentaries probably due the fact that no one else but Henson should have the right to record any – but they will undoubtedly please the average fan. Disc four contains a majority of the extras, including a mediocre promo gag reel from season one commercials and the brilliant three-minute pitch reel that Henson used to sell the show to CBS. Also included on disc four is the original pilot episode, titled “Sex & Violence,” but it doesn’t fare nearly as well as the broadcasted version. In place of Kermit as the show’s host, an ordinary-looking Muppet named Nigel takes over the duties, and it’s just not the same. Finally, and probably the best feature on the set, is the Muppet Morsels option that can be found on every disc. When turned on, the Muppet Morsels option delivers a pop-up trivia track for each episode that randomly displays fun facts pertinent to the respective skit. This is a great replacement for the missing commentary tracks that we’ll probably never get to hear, but at least there is still something to learn along the way.
Perhaps some of the remaining cast from the Henson team (like Frank Oz) will jump on the opportunity to record a few tracks for the next season, or better yet, entice past guest stars to record commentary tracks that go in detail about their experience on the show. Standing the test of time as one of the greatest comedy series on television to date (Kermit the Frog is fifty years old and doesn’t look a day over twenty), “The Muppet Show: Season One” is a must-own DVD collection that combines a nice assortment of extras and the hilarious first season that you’ll be laughing to for another fifty years.