Original air date: December 6, 1980
Sometimes musicians have a powerful place in your heart; they’ve held your hand and walked you through the brunt of your life with their lyrics and tunes. But sometimes musicians weren’t quite that prominent, though still check some nostalgic box in your brain that makes you love them, even if you only know one or two of their songs.
Joan Baez is one of those celebrities who, while never quite influential in my life, I have a strong nostalgic connection to. She was one of my mother’s favorite song artists and the CD “Diamonds & Rust” was often playing in her red minivan. For whatever reason, my brother and I were obsessed with the title track of this album and would always make her replay that one song over and over again for us tykes. It’s a small moment from my youth, but I have such a positive connection with that memory. So it was impossible for me to not snag the Joan Baez Muppet Show episode to review.
Overall, this is a pretty great episode of The Muppet Show through and through. Everything about it feels like, well, the Muppets. The backstage plot is solid, the musical numbers are delightful, the gags are grade-A, the guest star holds her own, and several characters get moments to shine. Even though this episode probably doesn’t rank in many people’s “Top 5 Favorite TMS Episodes” lists, it still feels like a quintessential episode of the show.
The backstage plot is stellar since it highlights not only Beauregard, everyone’s favorite absent-minded janitor, but also an infestation of rats! Kermit asks Beau to “take care of the rats” that are swarmed backstage (I assume by “take care” Kermit means get them out of the theater and not, ahem, the other alternative). Beau misunderstands Kermit’s ask and begins taking care of the rats’ needs – this mostly means bringing them all the food their little hearts could desire. The rats dub Beau President of the Rats so they can further manipulate him. Then they pop up in a couple segments to take them over, even asking Joan Baez if she wants to be an honorary rat. As one says to her, “Today The Muppet Show, tomorrow the world!”
Kermit gets angry at Beau, who then tells his boss that if his rat friends leave so does he. As he’s packing up to leave the Muppet Theater forever, Miss Piggy convinces Beauregard that the rats are just tricking him so he’ll feed them. He and Piggy confront the rats, who realize the only way they can now stay (and eat more food) is if they spread happiness. The rats ask Kermit for a second chance, which Kermit gives them as the show goes into the final number.
I do really like this plot for multiple reasons. It’s fun to see the rats as antagonists, doing whatever it takes to get that sweet sweet cheese. Not to mention this is the first major part Rizzo’s had on The Muppet Show up to this point (he’s never named in the episode, but I’d recognize Whitmire’s New York accented rat anywhere). I also love a good Beauregard episode. He’s so naïve and sweet, believing in the best of others. Finally, I absolutely love Piggy in this episode. She doesn’t do much, but in both her interactions with Joan Baez and Beauregard, she presents a level of kindness we don’t normally get from her. I’m all for Piggy having layers, and episodes like this really emphasize what I mean by that!
As I already said, Joan is a great guest star. She does a couple of impressions throughout (Marlon Brando and Gandhi), and she holds her own when it comes to delivering jokes. Plus I love all three of the numbers she sings. While it may not be a stand out in the show’s canon, her rendition of “Honest Lullaby” is one of my all time favorites. It’s quiet yet powerful, not a big song-and-dance number but still it sticks with you over the years.
All the other bits and bops of this episode are wonderful as well. We get to see Floyd and Janice’s memorable “Blackbird”, “Man Smart, Critter Smarter” is a good start to the episode, Fozzie gets a moment to do some bad comedy in the woods, and there’s a Pigs In Space bit that would be terrific if it weren’t for a couple fat jokes aimed at Piggy.
All in all, if you’re looking for a charming, fun episode of The Muppet Show to brighten your days this winter, then look no further than this one.
Best Joke: The whole opening bit between Pops and Joan was pretty great, but I especially love their exchange of: “At least you’re unbiased.” “Till you came around we were un-Baezed!”
Lamest Joke: “That’s what happens when you take Gandhi from a baby.”
MVM (Most Valuable Muppet): I think it has to go to the rats. As much as I’d like to give it to Beau, the rats are just so enjoyable to watch as they pop up in sketches throughout and scheme to get all the Muppet Show’s food.
Most Dated Joke: There are two in this episode. Hogthrob’s line about Piggy “You said it was a rat trap, it looks more like a fat trap!” doesn’t hold up now – nor did it hold up then – for some pretty obvious reasons. But also the one rat wearing a sombrero and saying in a heavy accent “Not until you let me do my famous Mexican rat dance!” just felt very unnecessary? Especially since that rat stops being Mexican after that scene is over.
First Appearance Of… Gabriel, the li’l Whatnot that acts as Joan Baez’s son in “Honest Lullaby” and then comes back for the other two musical numbers.
Musical Highlight: “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.”
Most Classic Moment: Floyd and Janice’s performance of “Blackbird.”
Should-Be-Classic Moment: I do wish “Honest Lullaby” was more of a fan favorite.
Obscure Character Watch: We see a lot of Woodland Creatures in this episode that we don’t get to see very often on The Muppet Show – including cameos from George Rabbit and James Badger from Emmet Otter’s Jugband Christmas.
Adultiest Content: As much as I love the song, there are two lines in “Honest Lullaby” that make me raise my eyebrows: the bit “lusted after football heroes” and then “spending all my energy in keeping my virginity.” This is particularly weird because the set up for the segment is that she’s singing to her “son” and yeah those are some awkward things for a mom to admit as her kid is falling asleep.
One More Thing… At the end of the opening song “Man Smart, Critter Smarter” the Woodland Creatures proceed to blow up a distant factory that’s been causing a lot of pollution. However, when I was rewatching the episode I thought it was a distant city at first glance and was incredibly shocked that the animals were joyfully murdering hundreds of humans.
Okay, One More Thing… I want to say again that it was nice to see Piggy be so kind in this episode. When she first came into Joan’s dressing room it was because she respected Joan as both a musician and a woman, which is awesome since we usually see Piggy feeling jealous or smug when it comes to female guest stars. Then we got to see her be kind to Beauregard in his moment of need and explain to him how the rats weren’t really his friends, even letting him hug her while crying. More selfless, genuine Piggy please!!!
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by Julia Gaskill