One of television’s most beloved song-and-dance variety shows, “The Muppet Show” was a winning blend of old-time vaudeville charm, knowingly terrible humor and post-“Laugh-In” insanity…usually all contained within the same musical number. Each spinning, barnyard character represented a very specific id, and everyone had a favorite. (Me? I prefer the punker-than-shit Animal who will always be living the life fantastic as though Ritalin were never invented.) But perhaps more notable is the nostalgic appeal of the show’s typical guest star: invariably a member of Hollywood’s old guard, people who got their stars on the Walk of Fame in the first and second waves, comedians at least a decade past their peak and coasting through a decade of movie brats and the philosophical relocation of American cinema from Los Angeles to New York (or one of Mel Brooks’s regulars). This role call of fame, coupled with the show’s savvy old movie instincts and homages, make any given season of the show look like a veritable history of Hollywood comedy. Which makes it all the more disappointing that, in this age of full-season box sets for virtually every show one could hope for, Columbia-TriStar seem content to market Muppet DVDs to kids (who, ironically, probably couldn’t give a shit about Dom DeLuise and Bob Hope when they’ve got SpongeBob SquarePants). The three episodes on this stand-alone disc are plucked completely out-of-context (the fact that George Burns’s appearance on the show came on the coattails of his remarkable late-‘70s career resurrection) and, even more outrageously, they artificially fade out before the show’s copyright date pops up after the credits (one is grateful to see them there at all). That said, each of the three episodes included here is a classic example of Muppet-brand mayhem. A Latin pig number featuring Piggy warbling “Cuando le gusta, le gusta, le gusta” ad nauseum, Japanese pole-vaulting contests, Animal launching bowling balls at Kermit and Scooter backstage, Piggy and DeLuise in a diva face-off, a folk number breaking down at the end when the hippie chick spells out the song’s poorly-veiled irony out for the audience (“She’s never gonna get married and everyone knows it”). Top-notch episodes all, but Columbia-TriStar’s marketing strategy is nothing better than a rank insult. Give us the full seasons, goddammit!
Plucked from the video vaults, the full-frame transfers don't look completely spotless. In fact, they have that undesirable sheen of old video glaze, though it's not as dramatic as it could be. It does, unfortunately, make the colors a bit haywire, as flesh tones vacillate between sunburned Piggy to jaundiced Janice. The stereo sound isn't anything spectacular, and voices seem to be a bit lost in the musical mix, but that is also likely a problem with the source material.
Each of the three episodes has a brief introduction by Brian Henson, who appears to be gunning for Roy Disney's crown as the most over-effusive relative of a dead children's entertainment legend. Though none of the introductions contain much insider information or juicy tidbits, and none of them go on much longer than a minute, it's still the meatiest supplement in this aimed-squarely-at-the-tykes DVD. The three bonus features ("Movie Mania," "Muppetisms," and "From the Archives") are, respectively, faux screen tests by Kermit, Fozzie and Swedish Chef for the role of Ricky Ricardo, Kermit doing a PSA, and a single sketch of the horse Bob Hope rides on. Pretty chintzy. Say what you will about the relevance of some of the Disney DVD extras. At least they include them.
"It's time to put on make-up. It's time to dress up right." Sing it to me, Dom baby, sing it!