When Muppets Now premieres later this week, it will be the fourth revival series for the gang from The Muppet Show. In a remarkable coincidence, the other three add up to exactly 50 episodes:
12 Jim Henson Hours
+ 22 Muppets Tonight!s
+ 16 The Muppetses
= 50 total episodes
Before the total jumps up to 56, I’m going to take this opportunity to rank all 50 episodes from #50 to #1. I want to stress that this is just one’s fan opinion. We’ve reviewed all of these episodes on Tough Pigs, so I’m including links to those reviews. But I’m writing this from my own point-of-view, so I’m not speaking for the whole Tough Pigs staff.
A note about methods: Naturally, I have a lot of nostalgia for the two older shows and less nostalgia for the newest one. I was 11 when Muppets Tonight! debuted, 15 when I first saw The Jim Henson Hour, and 30 when The Muppets premiered. But I wanted to evaluate all of them with fresh eyes, so I rewatched all fifty episodes during July 2020.
Without further ado, here’s the list. Feel free to tell me why you disagree with it!
50. Pig Out (The Muppets ep. 4)
The Muppets all get drunk at a karaoke bar and then show up for work hungover. That’s when I knew that the 2015 show didn’t understand anything about the Muppets.
49. Bear Left Then Bear Write (The Muppets ep. 3)
What if instead of jokes, Kermit and Fozzie just say “You’re the man!” at each other for a solid minute? Does that count as comedy?
48. The Best of Muppets Tonight! (Muppets Tonight! ep. 19)
Not many shows are reduced to doing a clip show by their 19th episode, but Muppets Tonight! was always a trailblazer.
47. Hostile Makeover (The Muppets ep. 2)
There’s a joke in this about the Newsman being a bitter divorced dad, and that kind of sums up the problem with The Muppets’ entire approach to the characters.
46. The Gary Cahuenga Episode (Muppets Tonight! ep. 20)
When they ran out of ideas for Muppet stories, they just cast Dave Goelz as a living ventriloquist dummy who’d been in the attic for decades and really needed to go to the bathroom. Dave’s a legend, but even he can’t make that work.
45. Too Hot to Handler (The Muppets ep. 8)
This show’s version of Scooter was severely pathetic and off-putting, never moreso than in this unfortunate episode.
44. Andie MacDowell (Muppets Tonight! ep. 22)
We all remember this as the episode where Beaker is annoyed by George Takei on a Star Trek cruise, but it’s also the one where a lonely Bunsen becomes a rapper and a punk rocker, and it is so embarrassing.
43. Oceans/Lighthouse Island (The Jim Henson Hour ep. 2)
For my money, this is The Jim Henson Hour’s one real misfire. The MuppeTelevision half has a good message but forgets to be entertaining, and “Lighthouse Island” is easily the worst thing Jerry Juhl ever wrote.
42. Johnny Fiama Leaves Home (Muppets Tonight! ep. 21)
Toward the end of Muppets Tonight!, they just kind of gave up and made it into a generic sitcom with some half-hearted sketches thrown in. This one put it right there in the title, and it’s not a show that anyone would want to watch. Who cares if Johnny Fiama keeps living with his mom? I sure don’t!
41. Martin Short (Muppets Tonight! ep. 10)
Martin Short would go on to great success with his fat suit Jiminy Glick character a few years after this, but here the makeup just stops him from being funny. Otherwise he mostly plays old SCTV characters who were better the first time.
40. Pig’s in a Blackout (The Muppets ep. 7)
The blackout sequence in the middle of this episode is the funniest thing in the entire series, but the rest is pretty bland.
39. Food/The Three Ravens (The Jim Henson Hour ep. 12)
Outside of a delightful closing number, this whole episode feels like an empty house where someone left the lights on. The longest sketch is about a superhero grocery stock boy played by a no-name human actor, and it’s depressing.
38. Walk the Swine (The Muppets ep. 5)
Riki Lindhome gets to sing “True Colors” in this, as though she were a funny and talented guest star on a Muppet program. An early sign that things were looking up for ol’ The Muppets.
37. The Cameo Show (Muppets Tonight! ep. 18)
There’s some funny stuff in this episode, but I never get over the disappointment about not getting an actual Arsenio Hall episode. Or Little Richard, for that matter. As long as they were already there!
36. The Ex-Factor (The Muppets ep. 6)
In the early scenes of this episode, Kristen Chenoweth and Piggy seem like real friends. That helps Piggy feel so much more warm and real than she had on this show so far.
35. Billy Crystal (Muppets Tonight! ep. 3)
Billy Crystal loves to pretend to be a jazzman, but do I not love to hear it.
34. Pig Girls Don’t Cry (The Muppets ep. 1)
The first episode of the 2015 TV show seemed so promising at the time, but actually it doesn’t even have Uncle Deadly in it. If they’d decided to lead with their best character, that show would still be on the air.
33. Little Green Lie (The Muppets ep. 14)
“Robin as awkward tween” shouldn’t work, but Matt Vogel really sells it. And it’s the episode where the show finally gets Gonzo and Camilla back together! But that “ironic” sexist pillow fight closing tag – Ugh! Terrible!
32. John Goodman (Muppets Tonight! ep. 4)
Goodman’s a trouper, but this one is way over the legal limit of Andy and Randy Pig.
31. Rick Moranis (Muppets Tonight! ep. 12)
Moranis is one of my favorite comedians of all-time, but he doesn’t get very much to do outside of his closing medley. Instead we spend five endless minutes on a Flash Gordon parody that isn’t even slightly funny.
30. Because… Love (The Muppets ep. 16)
After a strong second half of its existence, The Muppets ends on a minor bum note. Mostly this episode forgets to be funny so we can pretend to care about Kermit and Piggy’s relationship again.
29. Heather Locklear (Muppets Tonight! ep. 13)
“There’s an Awful Lot of Coffee in Brazil” is a full, interrupted song number, which is such a breath of fresh air. The rest of the episode is mostly about Bunsen’s mood-changing food, which isn’t nearly as entertaining.
28. Generally Inhospitable (The Muppets ep. 15)
The third act is a pretty blatant homage to the Loretta Lynn episode of The Muppet Show, but it’s a fun one!
27. Garbage/Sapsorrow (The Jim Henson Hour ep. 9)
Sapsorrow is one of the best Storytellers, and k.d. lang gets to sing “I Love Trash,” which rules. In fact, this is mostly a great episode overall. The only reason it’s comparatively low is that it has the Bootsie & Brad sketch where they talk about their anatomies, which is the worst thing ever to air on television.
26. The Artist Formerly Known as Prince (Muppets Tonight! ep. 11)
This is one where the guest star absolutely saves the show. Sal being a bone doctor is pretty bad, but is up for anything – a Hee Haw parody, silliness with Gary Cahuenga, and most importantly an incredible version of “Starfish & Coffee.”
25. Living with Dinosaurs (The Jim Henson Hour ep. 11)
Brian Henson gives a career-best performance as stuffed dinosaur Dog, and the family relationship between the main characters (Gregory Chisholm as imaginative boy Dom, and Juliet Stevenson and Michael Maloney as his parents) feels so warm and genuine. That said, it does sufffer from not having the budget for its fantasy sequences, which are very important to its story.
24. Swine Song (The Muppets ep. 11)
Uncle Deadly and Gloria Estefan (the Penguin) are a duo for the ages, and we get that gorgeous Kermit/Piggy version of “In Spite of Ourselves.”
23. Paula Abdul (Muppets Tonight! ep. 16)
It’s not even a little funny when Clifford tries to get Paula to kiss him, but her songs are terrific. And how could you not love Robot Lincoln? Everyone loves Robot Lincoln!
22. Michelle Pfeiffer (Muppets Tonight! ep. 1)
Pfeiffer’s magnetism is off-the-charts, but this pilot spends way too much time setting up why The Muppets have a variety show on TV. Of course they do! They’re the Muppets! Just get to the nonsense!
21. Going, Going, Gonzo (The Muppets ep. 9)
People talk a lot about how much better The Muppets got after the spring reboot, but the upswing really started two episodes earlier with this sweet, funny Gonzo-focused tale.
20. Pierce Brosnan (Muppets Tonight! ep. 14)
The jokes are terrific, Brosnan seems like he’s having a blast, and the structure feels like The Muppet Show. Plus it’s nice to hear the Muppets sing “Istanbul (Not Constantinople).”
19. Outer Space/The Heartless Giant (The Jim Henson Hour ep. 1)
Louie Anderson is a fun guest, but he’s hampered by the “all the sketches are on video monitors format” and by the weird visual when he gets turned into a bunny. Still, the “Chattanooga Choo Choo” closing number is aces, and this episode has a whole lot of Digit, the show’s best new character. You can’t beat that!
18. Cindy Crawford (Muppets Tonight! ep. 5)
It could have been cringeworthy, but instead Bobo’s crush on Cindy strikes exactly the right sweet tone. This episode also gave us “The Kermit the Frog Club,” easily the best example of the running “the guest star worked with the Muppets on a parody of an old show” sketch.
17. Monster Maker (The Jim Henson Hour ep. 6)
One of the most exciting things about The Jim Henson Hour is that it made room for lovely things like “Harry Dean Stanton is a special effects wizard who takes a teenager on as an apprentice.”
16. Dennis Quaid (Muppets Tonight! ep. 17)
This episode puts some much-needed focus on Clifford for once, and it has several excellent musical numbers. One of the most Muppet Show-esque episodes on any of these shows.
15. Got Silk? (The Muppets ep. 13)
The most genuinely emotional episode out of all fifty. It’s bittersweet now because the Piggy/Uncle Deadly relationship never got to develop any further, but man, it’s lovely here. It’s so much better than any of the Kermit/Piggy drama on that show.
14. Sandra Bullock (Muppets Tonight! ep. 7)
The Speed parody is very silly, but it does allow for some of the weirdest and funniest sketches in the entire series. Also, Jerry Nelson’s Dennis Hopper imitation is a true gift. I treasure it in my heart every day.
13. Single All the Way (The Muppets ep. 10)
Early on in this Christmas episode, Kermit says “Putting on our live Christmas special every year is a real challenge, but, uh, you know, it’s also a lot of fun because I get to do it with all my friends.” The whole thing reflects that change in attitude, and it’s so heartwarming.
12. Coolio & Don Rickles (Muppets Tonight! ep. 15)
That title sets expectations sky-high, and the episode lives up to them in every way. Rickles is funny, and Coolio is a delight. It also has the best backstage plot of any Muppets Tonight!, with evil fish Ernst Stavros Grouper taking over the studio.
11. Secrets of the Muppets (The Jim Henson Hour ep. 10)
A solid hour of Jim Henson looking directly at the camera and telling you behind-the-scenes info about Muppet stuff. This is every Muppet fan’s dream, and it aired on Nickelodeon on some random Saturday in 1992.
10. Garth Brooks (Muppets Tonight! ep. 2)
Brooks was one of the biggest music stars in the world back in 90s, so you gotta admire the show’s premise of “Have him sing Tom Jones and Fiddler on the Roof” instead of his hits. And when he finally does sing “We Shall Be Free” for the finale, it’s genuinely thrilling.
9. A Tale of Two Piggies (The Muppets ep. 12)
The platonic ideal of a The Muppets episode: The satire is sharp, the jokes are silly, and the Muppets get to act like a bunch of oddballs. This was the show I was hoping for when it premiered.
8. Power/The Soldier and Death (The Jim Henson Hour ep. 3)
Fozzie Bear’s trip to The Today Show is so funny (Willard Scott’s fruitcake archive!) that it makes me wish they’d done a whole series of shorts where Fozzie visits various NBC shows. But the real gem here is “Sweet Vacation,” one of the best original songs the Muppets ever did.
7. Whoopi Goldberg (Muppets Tonight! ep. 9)
Nobody in the world loves working with Muppets more than Whoopi, and her enthusiasm is evident every second she’s on screen. This is also the one where Kermit sings “Once in a Lifetime,” an amazing song in general, but also one that Steve Whitmire sells the heck out of.
6. Jason Alexander (Muppets Tonight! ep. 8)
Gonzo and Jason’s “Bats” is easily the best new stage musical of the 1990s, and the rest of the show is one hit after another: Animal doing classical music, Jason as Hercule Poirot, the Humpty Dumpty “Fairyland P.D.” sketch where Bobo and Clifford eat him, Thor: God of Thunder. It’s all (Rold) Gold!
5. Videotape/The True Bride (The Jim Henson Hour ep. 8)
Separately, this episode’s MuppeTelevision and Storyteller segments are both wonderful: Gonzo pre-records himself! Solid Foam sing “Music Keeps Rolling Along”! Jane Horrocks, Sean Bean, and The White Lion in a delightful romance! But this might be the episode where this disconnect is most startling, as we go straight from Buster Poindexter’s rousing “All Night Party” to some depressing troll violence. Both great TV, but watch them separately.
4. Tony Bennett (Muppets Tonight! ep. 6)
Tony Bennett would have been an ideal guest star for The Muppet Show. So when he went on Muppets Tonight! 20 years later instead, they treated him like a Muppet Show guest star. He gets to do three amazing songs, and also a couple of gag songs that are only there for comedy purposes. It’s perfect. This episode is the reason Muppets Tonight! exists.
3. First Show/Miss Piggy’s Hollywood (The Jim Henson Hour ep. 5)
If you’re going to make a special effects-heavy Muppet series in 1989, there’s no better guest star than Bobby McFerrin, whose voice is a special effect. This is also the only episode of The Jim Henson Hour to feature the Muppet Show characters in both segments. The second half is devoted to Miss Piggy’s ridiculous travelogue. It’s her only appearance on the show, and she makes the most of it.
2. Fitness/Song of the Cloud Forest (The Jim Henson Hour ep. 7)
The backstage (well, okay, control room) story on MuppeTelevision is about Link Hogthrob being a hypochondriac, and you get to hear Smokey Robinson sing the Pointer Sisters’ “Jump (For My Life).” All of that is obviously excellent, but it’s just a warm-up for Song of the Cloud Forest, an amazing special that plays like an alternate-universe Fraggle Rock.
- Dog City (The Jim Henson Hour ep. 4)
As a standalone special, Dog City would be one of the best things Jim Henson ever made: it’s extremely funny and fast-paced, it looks surprisingly cinematic, and it’s full of beautiful dog puppets both old and new. But as an episode of The Jim Henson Hour, it’s even better. The show itself only runs 39 minutes, so they pad it out with nine minutes of sketches and control room scenes with the MuppeTelevision gang. All of that stuff is just as entertaining, and without it, Henson would have just had to make the special itself longer (and potentially slower) to fill out the hour. This is one of Jim Henson’s absolute masterpieces, and it’s only possible because of The Jim Henson Hour.
So there you have it, all 50 post-Muppet Show Muppet shows. Check back with us on Friday, when we’ll review the 51st: Muppets Now episode 1!
Click here to watch all of these within a week on the Tough Pigs forum!
by Anthony Strand