This year, “The Muppets Valentine Show” celebrates its fiftieth anniversary, and to honor this forerunner to “The Muppet Show,” we’re dusting off an old series and giving this special its long overdue review!
Original air date: January 30, 1974
While it could be argued that it really began in all of the talk and variety show appearances Jim Henson did over the years, the road to “The Muppet Show” truly began in earnest with this special. It proved that the Muppets could be the starring act, and not need a human host to present them. Instead, they’d welcome a celebrity guest of their own, incorporating them into their sketches and songs.
At the time, it was very much an experiment, and with the eventual success of “The Muppet Show,” it proved quite successful. But just how much of a success it was can be seen in what “The Muppet Show” took from “The Muppets Valentine Show.” Of the many things it was the progenitor of, perhaps the most important element of all was Wally.
For those who don’t remember him (and frankly, I don’t blame you), Wally’s appearance was rather plain. He was humanoid, but he didn’t have a distinct base color like Bert or Ernie. Repurposed from “The Great Santa Claus Switch’s” Fred, his most defining features were his paisley shirt and sunglasses. Personality-wise, he wasn’t much better, giving off a very showbiz smarminess that could be grating if he ever were onscreen for more than a minute or two at a time. He basically served as the show’s narrator, setting up segments as he tried to write the show’s script. He wasn’t terribly memorable on his own, but the purpose of the character did cross over to the series, and would be crucial to making the show we know and love.
As narrator, Wally provided the Muppets with an emcee, giving the show structure, as well as a “backstage” story. Here, he tries to come up with a script centered around the concept of love, so he enlists his fellow ensemble members to offer their experiences with love, from innocence and infatuation to jealousy and heartbreak. Unwittingly, he becomes the show’s host, reigning in the chaos to form it into a coherent half-hour of entertainment.
Wally also served as the Muppets’ straight man, a counterbalance to the other more offbeat Muppets. Audiences had someone to identify with, which would be necessary if the format was to survive. The only way to effectively highlight absurdity is to have someone be able to point it out. Wally’s motive is generally normal: he just wants to write a good script. It might be boring, but it’s also human. With Wally as the straight man, he can integrate the guest star, in this case Mia Farrow, into the show without stretching them too far past the lines of normality and into their own absurdity. Thus, the Muppets stay the headliners, and Farrow gets to be comfortable as the guest star. The boundary between the Muppets and the guest is set, and Wally is its caretaker.
Of course, there were other features of this special that would be the bedrock of “The Muppet Show.” We get silly songs, like “Froggy Went A-Courtin’,” where Kermit gets into a fight with a giant mouse over the love of Miss Mousey, and the soft, sweet moments courtesy of Thog and Farrow’s duet of “Real Live Girl.” (And how damn lovable is Thog in that adorable sweater? It’s no surprise that Farrow has a crush on him. Much as I love and appreciate him, the Muppets didn’t need Bean Bunny to be their designated cute representative when they had Thog.) Those who prefer the quiet, sentimental vibe of numbers like “Bein’ Green” would find their connection as Farrow sings “Believe Me If All Those Endearing Young Charms” to Rufus, saying that she’d only want a dog if they were like him.
And these Muppets have personality, too! Droop has a low self-esteem that seems very much like a prelude to Gonzo and Fozzie Bear in the first season of the series. Brewster is a horny old man, to the consternation of Mildred Huxtetter. And of course, George the Janitor loves his mop… and very little else. But Wally is the force that reins them all in, to varying degrees. It’s still chaos, but Wally gives it some organization.
Of course, as history shows, this would be Wally’s only appearance with the Muppets. While the format would continue, he wouldn’t, and Kermit the Frog would be plucked out of the frying pan of love to serve as the host of “The Muppet Show,” helping to solidify his status as arguably the most important and beloved Muppet ever. And even though Kermit has one of the longest tenures with the troupe, I like to think that he owes a little bit of his fame and glory to a struggling writer named Wally.
Best Joke: Droop’s self-deprecating humor is a highlight of the special, but his delivery of “I still got my self-pity” is an absolute hoot.
Lamest Joke: Even after Mildred tells Brewster she’s not his old girlfriend Grace, Brewster says “that’s close enough.” It might’ve gotten a laugh in 1974, but in 2024, it gets a side-eye from me.
MVM (Most Valuable Muppet): As much as I want to give it to Wally, Droop really is a hidden gem. He gets all the funniest moments! Alas, Wally, you were too pure for this world. (And too pure for this honor, too.)
Most Classic Moment: The only bit to be repeated verbatim on “The Muppet Show,” the timeless Koozebanian mating ritual, the Galley-oh-hoop-hoop, was introduced in this special.
Most Dated Joke: Kermit brags that he never missed an episode of “Kung Fu,” which was a big show back in the early ‘70s, but nowadays has drifted out of the zeitgeist. Sorry, young grasshopper.
First Appearance Of…: Keeping it to characters that would move onto the series, this was viewers’ first glimpse of Mildred, George, Brewster, Droop, Miss Mousey, and Crazy Harry (going at the time by Crazy Donald, a nickname that would be revived for someone very different sometime in the mid-2010s).
Coolest Puppetry Effect: This special was actually the birth of one of the most talked about puppetry effects the Muppets have ever done: Kermit riding a bicycle! And if you know how it’s done, pat yourself on the back.
Musical Moment: “We Got Love,” where George finally realizes he does have a true love in his mop, is the perfect energetic finale to send the special out on a high note.
Adultiest Content: After Miss Mousey passes both of her suitors over for Droop and his motorcycle, Big Mouse offers to buy Kermit a beer. Of course, for really naughty stuff, we do get to see Koozebanians smash and reproduce live on television.
One More Thing: In an inspired moment of going off the rails, as the Muppets line up to say goodbye to Farrow over the end credits, several characters not seen anywhere else in the special show up, including Rowlf (who would be part of “The Muppet Show”), as well as Bert and Ernie, who seem confused to be there, y’know, just to hammer home that this wasn’t meant to be another “Sesame Street.”
Okay, One More Thing: Alien reproduction? Muppets imbibing alcohol after getting into a brawl? Whatever Brewster’s deal is? If the Muppets give this primetime variety thing another try, they really should try to avoid all this sex and violence.
Click here to chase after a not-dead crumpet on the ToughPigs Discord!
by Matthew Soberman (Matthew@ToughPigs.com)