Muppets in Progress: A Guide to Revisiting Season 1 of The Muppet Show

Published: February 1, 2021
Categories: Commentary, Feature

I don’t know about you, but I’m very excited for The Muppet Show to finally be viewable on Disney+. Well, I mean, you’re reading a ToughPigs article, so I’m pretty sure I know that you’re also very excited.

Maybe you’re like most of us ToughPigs writers, with encyclopedic knowledge of every single episode. Maybe you have some fond memories of the show from years ago and are eager to revisit them. Maybe you’re a new fan who only knows the Muppets from the movies, or maybe you don’t even know them at all! We’re happy to have you here no matter which is true, and you’re gonna love this show anyway.

Some of you are going to jump straight to your favorite episodes (I’ll bet the Star Wars episode will have the most views for sure). But in the streaming era, many of us are completionists, so a lot of folks are going to start their watch-throughs right at Episode 1.

That’s what I’m here to talk about! Like many great comedy shows, The Muppet Show was still finding its footing in its first season. Now, I’d argue The Muppet Show’s premier season holds up a lot better than the first season of Parks and Recreation or The Office. It’s funny and sweet and extremely well-crafted. But it’s also very strange to come back to with modern eyes, because the Season 1 Muppet gang is a little different than you might remember. Here’s some things to keep in mind if you’re going to take the full show plunge.

The Theme Song

For all 120 episodes, The Muppet Show had the same classic “it’s time to get things started” theme song you all know and love. But in Season 1, it’s staged differently. There are none of the iconic archways: the characters appear in front of a plain red curtain, and then on a rising set of platforms. There’s also a lot fewer characters, including no appearances by the full-body monsters… or Miss Piggy. The few characters that do appear also move in a particularly stilted way at the end, likely because some are fully radio-controlled.

Also, Gonzo hits a gong at the end instead of playing a trumpet. It’s weird.

Missing from the theme song itself is Statler and Waldorf’s verse (“Why do we always come here?”). Instead, Kermit sings a verse that goes “To introduce the guest star / That’s what I’m here to do / So it really makes me happy / To introduce to you…” and then he yells the guest star’s name over footage of them from later in the episode. It’s good that they cut this because A) Kermit introduces the guest star at the beginning of the song anyway and B) Kermit also introduces the guest star before the first number anyway. It also ruins the illusion of this being an actual theatrical production when they show advanced footage of a later number.

Fozzie also gets an interlude where he tells a bad joke. These are usually pretty funny, but they definitely mess with the flow of the song and I can see why they removed this bit in later seasons.

Related to the theme song: there’s no cold open! Sorry to both of Scooter’s fans.

Changing Puppets

If you’re a hardcore puppet fan like I am, you’ll notice some slight differences in all of the Muppets’ appearances. Muppet Wiki has a great section on puppet changes over the years (you’ll see them scattered throughout this Character Variants tab) that’s worth looking at. Nothing’s too major, but it’s an interesting thing to keep an eye on as you watch through the show.

Some of Your Favorites Aren’t Here…

Plenty of Muppets got added to the show in later seasons. Most notably, Beaker doesn’t appear at all in Season 1; Bunsen handles all Muppet Labs segments independently. While he’s still funny, the segments are absolutely lacking something special. Other key characters who are missing from Season 1 are Rizzo, Beauregard, Link Hogthrob, Dr. Strangepork, and Lew Zealand. 

…But Some Other Folks Are

It’s tough to start a series with the perfect cast. Season 1 of The Muppet Show features some characters who failed to last past the first season: the Mark Brendanawiczes of the Muppets. These include Hilda, an elderly, Transylvanian seamstress; George, a cranky, impatient janitor; and Mildred Huxtetter, a finicky birdlike woman. While I absolutely miss all three of these folks, it’s not hard to see why they were replaced with funnier characters later on.

Segment Switches

The Muppet Show is pretty famous for its classic recurring segments, like Muppet Labs, the Swedish Chef’s cooking show, and Muppet News. All of these appear in Season 1, alongside other classics like Veterinarian’s Hospital and At the Dance. However, what’s probably the most iconic segment, Pigs in Space, won’t debut for another season. Instead, we have Panel Discussions, where the guest stars discuss “important issues” with a group of Muppets. These are never that funny. We also have the Talking Houses, who are houses who talk. I’d argue the Talking Houses are so completely unfunny that they loop around to being the funniest part of the entire show. But that’s a conversation for another time.

Changing Performers

For the most part, the Muppets sound like you’d expect them to, albeit with subtle differences. For instance, Fozzie’s voice is a little coarser (and he never says Wocka Wocka!) and Gonzo is much more sullen. However, there’s some particularly notable shifts, largely involving the female characters. In this season, Janice is performed by Eren Ozker (an actual female performer!). Janice doesn’t have the valley girl affectations you’re probably used to. More significantly is Miss Piggy, who did not have a consistent performer at this point: she was passed off between Frank Oz and Richard Hunt throughout the season. It takes her a bit to develop her personality as well, but not too long. Miss Piggy cannot be held back.

So What?

Look, you’re going to enjoy Season 1 of The Muppet Show a lot. It’s still very funny, with great songs and jokes and some of the most memorable segments the Muppets ever did. They won an Emmy this season, folks! It’s very good. One of the best things about watching a show from the beginning is getting to see creative growth, as the minds behind the show learn new things and develop new ideas. Enjoy this experience! But just remember: you’ll be seeing a lot more Talking Houses than you maybe expected.

Click here to get things started on the ToughPigs forum!

by Evan G.

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