The Muppet Show: 40 Years Later – Carol Burnett

Published: September 18, 2020
Categories: Feature, Reviews

Original air date: September 20, 1980

Today’s review was written by Staci Rosen and Ryan Roe.

Ryan: The Muppet Show is back for its fifth and final season! Jim Henson and company are kicking things off with a bang, and a waltz, and a tango, and a foxtrot. The Carol Burnett episode is the only episode to win an Emmy for writing, which is interesting because it’s one of the more unusual episodes. 

See, Gonzo has convinced Kermit to turn the whole episode into a dance marathon and there’s not a single segment where the dancing isn’t happening in the background or the foreground. Staci, what did you think of this gimmick?

Staci: It definitely flows really differently from other episodes. It takes a lot of confidence to base the whole episode on one idea. 

Ryan: I’m fairly certain the dance marathon concept was inspired by the 1969 movie They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? — especially because Gonzo spouts Gig Young’s catchphrase from the movie, “Yowza, yowza, yowza!” But there’s a precedent for dancing-based comedy on The Muppet Show. This episode returns to the “At the Dance” sketch format several times for some corny jokes, which is fun to see, although 25 straight minutes of that would have gotten old.

Staci: It’s lucky for the producers of this show that they had such a versatile talent as Carol Burnett to carry the episode, even at its weaker moments (though a lot of it is strong!).

Ryan: You’re a big Carol Burnett fan.

Staci: Indeed! I was thrilled to see the “Charwoman,” and I would have loved to see even more iconic Carol characters.

Ryan: This is one of only a handful of Muppet Show episodes where the guest star is having a bad time. I think you need a talented comedian to make that work without the audience feeling sorry for the guest star, and Burnett really pulls it off.

Staci: Carol definitely plays flustered really well. It might be more fun to see her frazzled than it would have been to see her enjoying herself! With that said, I noted while watching that her performance is a lot more understated than I would have expected it to be. She’s in a preposterous situation, but there’s something believable about her performance. She’s not hamming it up.

Ryan: Yeah, I think she does a great job of modulating her level of frustration… She starts out annoyed but calm, so it’s that much funnier when she finally cracks up and yells at Kermit.

Staci: Speaking of modulating, the writers seem to take advantage of Carol’s singing voice. She’s better known as a comedian than a singer (to other people — to me she’ll always be Princess Fred from Once Upon a Mattress), but here she sings multiple times, and one of the songs is played completely straight. And these aren’t easy songs to sing.

Ryan: So we agree that Carol Burnett is great. There are also Muppets in this, and it’s a lot of fun watching the various Muppet couples — Whatnots, parrots, penguins, babies — boogying down, especially when you can tell that one puppeteer is controlling two characters.

Staci: Did you have to mention those creepy babies? And what about that Whatnot who looks and sounds like John Cleese?!

Ryan: Ha! I wouldn’t have noticed his resemblance, but you’re right. So, do you think this episode deserved an Emmy for Outstanding Writing in a Comedy, Music, or Variety Program?

Staci: The episode was great, although it’s funny that they won in that category, considering this episode wasn’t structured like a variety show. But I have to assume the Emmy was mostly for Carol Burnett’s classic “Lonely Asparagus Sketch” that we never actually get to see.

Best Joke:

The last words of the episode, spoken by Carol Burnett: “What a lonely asparagus am I. Most of my hollandaise are behind me!”

Female Whatnot: “You know the first thing we should do if we win this dance marathon?”
Male Whatnot: “No, what?”
Female Whatnot: “STOP DANCING, DUMMY!”

MVM (Most Valuable Muppet):

Ryan: It has to be Animal, who’s dancing and bouncing and having the time of his life as Carol Burnett’s marathon partner. She’s less enthusiastic about it.

Staci: Scooter, for taking a punch from Carol Burnett and flying backstage, while letting out a sound suspiciously similar to the Wilhelm Scream.

Coolest Puppetry Effect:

Staci: I like when the Muppet couples do this bob-and-weave move. It’s hard to describe, but I like it.

Ryan: When Carol Burnett’s Charwoman sings her melancholy solo song, we can see the shadows of the dancing Muppets on the wall behind her. It’s a striking visual.

Adultiest Content:

Ryan: Nothing here is more adulty than Link drinking a glass of champagne.

One More Thing…

Staci: One of my most vivid memories from seeing this episode several years ago was Carol Burnett’s purple track suit, but Ryan thought I was misremembering. Imagine my relief when she first appeared onscreen in that glorious track suit!

Ryan: I can’t believe I forgot the track suit! I hope you and Carol Burnett can forgive me.

Staci: We will take it into consideration.

Click here to tug your earlobe on the Tough Pigs forum!

by Ryan Roe and Staci Rosen

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