Original air date: May 23, 1981
The Muppets have always been good at retelling fairy tales and folk tales with their own twist. An assortment of Muppets did it in the TV specials Hey Cinderella, The Frog Prince, and The Muppet Musicians of Bremen. The Sesame Street Anything Muppets did it in Kermit’s news flash segments on that show. Their cousins from the Henson Creature Shop did it on The Storyteller. And in the episode with guest star Marty Feldman, the Muppet Show cast does it themselves. It’s one of those episodes where everything is based on a single theme, and the theme is Arabian Nights. The result is one of the funniest episodes of the series.
If this were a movie, or an hour-long TV special, or an episode of The Storyteller, there would have to be a character that viewers could identify with, somebody whose story had a beginning, middle, and end. This character would probably be Scheherazade. She’s a woman who marries a cruel king and then keeps telling him stories in an effort to postpone her execution. Even if it were a comedy, there would be some genuine tension. But because this is a half-hour variety show, Scheherazade is played by Marty Feldman in a wig that keeps falling off, and the evil king is played by the Swedish Chef.
And if this were a Sesame Street news flash, it wouldn’t need a dramatic arc, but it would have to teach something. There would be some kind of curriculum embedded in it, whether it was Kermit counting all 1,001 of the Arabian nights, or Scheherazade demonstrating the difference between a short story and a long story. But because this show has no educational mandate, the Muppets are free to just be silly.
And boy, are they silly. Marty Feldman was an offbeat British comedian, and at times this episode feels like a perfect melding of Muppet humor and zany British sensibilities, with a dash of Looney Tunes and the Marx Brothers and everything else the writers ever found funny.
When the Swedish Chef and Marty Feldman interrupt the story of Sinbad the Sailor so Feldman can drink a bottle of ketchup, the camera cuts back to Kermit-as-Sinbad, who shouts “Can we get on with it?” When Gonzo’s Aladdin rubs the magic lamp and wishes for dancing girls, he’s presented with a musical number that includes whistles and gunshots in the style of novelty bandleader Spike Jones.
Guest stars often play straight man to the wacky Muppets, but Marty Feldman is so wacky that he has to recruit the most uptight Muppet to play straight man in one of the episode’s highlights. It’s a scene based on that classic Arabian Nights tale “The Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk.” Sam the Eagle, who’s never quite sure what’s going on, plays a patent officer who’s approached by Wilbur and Orville Wright, both played by Feldman.
The Wright Brothers are there to patent their flying carpet, which is a carpet inside a toy plane that they also use as a telephone. The sketch ends with Sam demanding the “police number,” and then Feldman and a bunch of Whatnot police officers sing a song with a chorus that goes “Ya-ha ha-ha ha-ha ha-ha, ha-ha ha-ha ha!/Ya-ha ha-ha ha-ha ha-ha ha-ha ha-ha ha!”
It’s very silly, and after this rewatch I might say it’s my favorite example of the Muppets adapting an existing story. Their movies based on books are perfectly enjoyable, but it’s exhilarating to see them take a classic tale and squash it and stretch it and throw it in a blender like this.
Best Joke: From the “Kitty Hawk” sketch…
Sam: Under whose name is this invention to be patented?
Feldman: Wilbur and Orville Wright.
Sam: Which one are you?
Feldman: That is me.
Sam: You are Wilbur and Orville Wright?
Marty: Exactly. You see, my mother wanted twins. Identical ones. That’s why I look so alike.
MVM (Most Valuable Muppet): Fozzie, who goes on quite a journey in this episode, from longing to be in the Aladdin sketch, to finagling his way into “Ali Baba,” to panicking at the notion of being boiled in oil.
Most Classic Moment: The “Ali Baba” scene features the traditional magic cave that can be opened by speaking the words “Open Sesame!” When Fozzie calls “Open Sesame!” for a third time at the end of the sketch, the magic cave opens… and several Muppets from Sesame Street come out and sign their theme song! It’s delightful. And it’s not on the Disney Plus version of the episode, which cuts from Fozzie shouting “One more time!” to everyone suddenly on a different set with the Sesame Muppets present without an explanation, presumably due to music rights. The Sesame cameo also leads to Feldman’s declaration that Cookie Monster is his favorite Muppet… for some reason.
Should-Be-Classic Moment: The “Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk” sketch should be talked about more often.
Musical Highlight: Kermit insists to a menacing genie (played by Sweetums) that he’s not Sinbad the Sailor. He’s Sinbad the Surfer. He proves it by singing “Surfin’ USA,” which turns into a rockin’ party with frogs playing seashells and guitars and running around with surfboards.
Most Dated Joke: Marty Feldman’s Scheherazade notes that they used up some of the show’s budget hiring his curly blonde wig from Bette Midler. Apparently that’s what Bette Midler’s hair looked like at the time?
First Appearance of…: A Muppet bear that Muppet Wiki calls “Baby Bear.” It’s his first appearance in broadcast order, although he also appears in the Wally Boag episode, which aired first. He looks very dapper in the gangster suit he wears in an attempt to look like a tough thief.
One More Thing…: It feels like Marty Feldman is present for more of this episode than the average guest star. We fans like to say stuff like “This person was a great guest because they basically are a Muppet!” And yeah, Feldman basically is a Muppet, and he fits in as if he’s a member of the ensemble.
Okay, One More Thing…: On Disney Plus, this episode carries a disclaimer. It may be there because of the entire episode’s irreverent take on Middle Eastern culture, but the UK spot song “Girl Friend of the Whirling Dervish” is especially outdated.
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by Ryan Roe – Ryan@ToughPigs.com