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Reviewed by Ross Ruediger
racking open a new season of “The Muppet Show” on DVD means two things: loads of Muppet madness and an eclectic cross-section of guest stars. The former can always be counted on to be just what it is, while the latter are the wild cards of each episode. I remember as a kid being generally unaware of whom most of these people were, but, then again, kids were probably not really taken into the equation when the show was booking star acts. The guest stars provided a framework for the Muppet chaos and, more importantly, gave the adults in the viewing audience something to hook into; otherwise, it’s doubtful the show would’ve lasted for five years in syndication. Since I’m now an adult, the guests are usually the most interesting part of revisiting the series, because it’s such a kick to see how each guest’s talents are used. Well, and also because “Pigs in Space” tends to get repetitive.
Season Three showcases a fair amount of country and western talent (or, at least, stars who walked the line between C & W and pop). The season opens with a double act of then-married singers Kris Kristofferson and Rita Coolidge, and Roy Clark follows soon after in Episode Three. Later in the season, Loretta Lynn shows up in an episode performed at a faux railway station (the Muppet theatre is being fumigated). Further on down the road, we get Roger Miller and Roy Rogers and Dale Evans. So, yeah, Season Three of “The Muppet Show” is somewhat country when country was cool.
But lest anyone think the show was going a little soft, this set also offers up the classic Alice Cooper episode, which surely ranks amongst the bravest Muppet installments ever, due to a running gag that shows Cooper trying to entice various Muppets into selling their soul to the devil. Could a family show like this get away with such material in today’s climate? Probably not. But, then, there’s nothing on the air today that even remotely resembles “The Muppet Show,” and that’s a huge shame. Two weeks after Alice (with Lynn in between), the Muppets invited none other than Liberace in what may be one of the set’s most surreal episodes. Is there any variety series in the history of TV that dared to program the likes of Alice Cooper, Loretta Lynn and Liberace over a three week period?! Talk about “variety.”
What’s perhaps most startling about the guests of “The Muppet Show” is how many had staying power. Jim Henson had a knack for inviting truly talented folk from past and [then] present onboard from week to week, and while occasionally an obscure name (through today’s lens) like James Coco headlines, a few weeks later Sylvester Stallone takes the stage. How do the Muppets put Rocky himself to good use? Surely they won’t let him sing?!? It’s material that cannot be adequately described. Other highlights include an episode dedicated entirely to retelling Robin Hood, with Lynn Redgrave playing Maid Marian, a dreamlike dance number with Lesley Anne Warren that seems inspired by the art of Maurice Sendak, and, uh, pretty much every moment of the Raquel Welch episode.
Sure, I know who Marisa Berenson and Danny Kaye are, but would anyone under the age of 30 know or even care? It doesn’t matter, because “The Muppet Show” DVDs are aimed at two groups: adults craving Muppet nostalgia, and their kids (though the college stoner crowd could also be targeted). If the bigger picture of the guests didn’t matter when we were seven, then it won’t matter to your kids today. But the material will imprint itself on their little minds and eventually they’ll want to procure an MP3 of “Welcome to My Nightmare.” And so the cycle starts all over again, and someday your kids will command their media devices to bring up this timeless fare so they can share it with their kids.
Thank you, Jim Henson. Thanks for the legacy.
Special Features: An hour-long, black and white archival piece of public TV called “The Muppets on Puppets” is the star here. It features Henson, Rowlf, Kermit, Jerry Juhl, a young Frank Oz and much more. It will be of little interest to most kids, but anyone hardcore into Muppet lore will find it a real treat. “A Company of Players” is a 10-minute look behind the scenes of the show and also real nice. Finally, there’s a selection of vintage TV commercials for Purina starring Rowlf.