The Muppet Show: 40 Years Later – Alan Arkin

Published: March 20, 2020
Categories: Feature, Reviews

Original air date: March 20, 1980

So, full disclosure: in the nearly four years I’ve been a part of this retrospective, this is the first review I’ve done where I hadn’t seen the full episode before picking it to review. I knew Alan Arkin drinks a Jekyll-and-Hyde potion and goes berserk, as I had seen the “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” number, but beyond that, this was a fresh experience for me.

And what I saw was a twenty-five minute and thirty-three second celebration of abuse.

If you think Wilkins and Wontkins are the height of Muppet-based comedy, then this is the episode for you. It feels like nearly every sketch, backstage scene, and musical number (with a couple of exceptions) contains some depiction of abuse. I mean, I get it, that’s what’s supposed to be funny about a guest star drinking a Jekyll-and-Hyde potion, but it goes way deeper than that. 

Rowlf changes the lyrics to “I Got Rhythm” to match Fozzie Bear’s lack of rhythm, forcing Fozzie to declare “I Don’t Got Rhythm” in front of a full audience. Sure, Fozzie’s struggling, but that’s no reason to humiliate him. Fozzie feels further degraded later on as he tries to tell a Titanic joke, to which Statler reveals, with great offense, that he survived the infamous disaster. How would Fozzie know? Can’t the bear catch a break this week? And then Waldorf reveals that Statler impersonated a woman to get on a lifeboat during the ship’s sinking. Just wow.

But sadly, Fozzie isn’t even the most abused Frank Oz character in this episode. That distinction goes to Miss Piggy, who is the subject of fat jokes galore and some slurs about pigs between Pigs in Space and Arkin’s final number, the “Pig Shuffle.” I really felt for Miss Piggy. She’s not nasty, she’s not particularly diva-like in this episode, and yet, the writers seemed to want to pile on her.

Of course, now we get to the main attraction, Arkin’s mood (and teeth)-changing story arc. I’ve always found Arkin to be a comic master, giving the perfect balance between subtle and manic, with incredible physical ability. Here, he’s allowed to go wild in both directions, playing a sensitive soul whose feelings are visibly hurt when Kermit tells him his first number was cut. But of course, it wasn’t; it was razed to the freakin’ ground by Arkin himself, who becomes a howling, violent monster when the Hyde portion of the potion shows effects. Arkin both gives and receives the abuse in this episode, and does both with great aplomb. He’s the perfect guest star for this storyline.

Of course, the frequent targets for abuse in this episode are that warren of entertainers, the Bun-Bun Brothers, who manage to get beaten by both Arkin, and later Kermit, when he unwittingly drinks the potion himself. This feels like the genesis of the Muppets rebelling against the label of being “cute,” which was likely to happen with their ever-growing stardom. So what do they do? Create the cutest ensemble you could think of, and then spend an episode constantly abusing them. Well, until they drink the potion and get their revenge. That’s just the perfect cap-off to an episode all about abusing others.

Wait a second… a group of bunny rabbits… designed to be as cute as can be… overly trusting… who are frequently the targets of abuse… and one of them is very clearly performed by Steve Whitmire? Could this have been the birth of…

I always knew it would come to this.

Best Joke: It’s not really a verbal joke, but the look on Arkin’s face in the cold open after he sees that his milkshake is being made by the Swedish Chef shaking a cow is priceless. This is the face of a man who doesn’t know what he got himself into.

Worst Joke: When Waldorf reveals that Statler safely got off the Titanic sneaking into the “women and children’s” lifeboat. That’s… something about Statler I never needed to know. People likely died because of your selfishness, Statler.

MVM (Most Valuable Muppet): Believe it or not, the two segments that don’t feature any kind of abuse, strangely enough, feature the Devil. He runs an honest fiddling competition and in the UK Spot, he spends time with the angel he loves. So this week, I’m giving the Devil his due.

Most Classic Moment: When you hear “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” the lyrics describe some amazing visuals. And with some great puppetry work and amazing fiddling, the Muppet rendition of the song delivers.

Should-Be-Classic Moment: As a lover of both Disney and guest stars just trashing the set, “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” is timeless in its sense of humor and appetite for destruction.

First Appearance Of…: Well, actually, it’s the only appearance of the Bun-Bun Brothers, who make the most of their lone outing.

Obscure Character Watch: As the Bun-Buns only appear in this episode, I’d say that makes them obscure characters indeed!

Musical Highlight: In a very musical episode, the aforementioned UK spot, Louise Gold and Jerry Nelson perform some incredible vocals on “You’re No Good.” Even without the puppets, it’s just a great rendition of the song.

One More Thing…: While Hyde-ing it up, Kermit chases off a member of Geri and the Atrics singing “Let Me Go, Lover,” while being ensnared by a snake. It is one of the least unsettling things about this episode. 

Okay, One More Thing…: Every ToughPigs article has an excerpt. It’s the thing you see under the links on the homepage and when we share articles on social media. Here are some of the ones I rejected from this review:

It’s The Muppet Show, with our very special guest star, Satan! (Also, Alan Arkin’s here.)

Is Statler guilty of negligent homicide? Read this and find out!

HER ANACONDA DON’T WANT NONE UNLESS YOU GOT BUN-BUNS, HON! (There’s a snake in this episode. And Alan Arkin.)

Though if anyone ever asks you to summarize the Alan Arkin of the episode of The Muppet Show, just show them this picture.

Click here to break the set on the ToughPigs forum!

by Matthew Soberman

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