Original air date: June 8, 1981
In September of 2016, the ToughPigs team set off on a five-year mission. We devised a plan to review every episode of The Muppet Show almost exactly 40 years after they had originally aired. It was a big promise – one much longer than anything else we’d done before. And now, five years and 120 episodes later, we’re at the end.
We began this journey with the first episode to air in the US, featuring the incredible Rita Moreno. In that review, I speculated about how this episode worked as a series premiere. (Spoilers: It absolutely worked.) For many Muppet Show viewers, the Melissa Manchester episode would be the last new episode they’d get to see. If the Rita Moreno episode worked as the premiere, how does this one work as a series finale?
Although not intended at all to be a finale (that honor goes to the Gene Kelly episode, with its “end of the world” subplot), Melissa Manchester couriers this episode to the finish line with neither a bang nor a whimper, but with a typical half hour of The Muppet Show. And somehow, I found that better.
The backstage plot driving this episode is extremely loose, but it gives us a terrific sense of pure chaos that we think of every time we picture Kermit struggling to keep the show afloat. The opening scene features Animal dragging Floyd by his chain while a two-headed woman sings and Crazy Harry sets off an explosive. Later, we have wheelchair-bound skiers, bouncing chickens, and the Teeterini Family (acrobats who make good use of a teeter-totter) all filling up the screen like the running gags they are.
In addition to that beautiful Muppet-brand chaos, this episode gives us a Muppet News Flash, Pigs in Space, and the Swedish Chef. Even though there wasn’t time for a Veterinarian’s Hospital, Dr. Bob still makes a cameo. It’s a veritable greatest hits of The Muppet Show!
But it wouldn’t be a typical episode of The Muppet Show if it were perfect. Yes, there are plenty of perfect episodes, but the majority of them still feature a cringe or two. This episode’s cringe in question involves a pratfall of clowns. First appearing in the Judy Collins episode, they return here to remind us that you can’t kill them with fire.
Truth be told, I was very much looking forward to seeing Melissa Manchester belt out her signature song, “Don’t Cry Out Loud” with the Muppet crew. So imagine my disappointment when she sang it with these juggalos! Thankfully, she had two other numbers to get it right: “Whenever I Call You Friend” with Floyd and a Spanish-inspired “Your Cheatin’ Heart”. And both are great enough to help me forget about the clowns (until I fall asleep tonight, I’m sure).
After watching this episode of The Muppet Show, I just felt like I had watched every episode of The Muppet Show. It’s like adding condensed milk to a glass of milk so you get more milk per milk. Everything about this one screamed “Muppet Show“, and isn’t that better than going out with a bang? This series went out by being its truest self.
Kermit: Listen Scooter, if I come up with any more dumb ideas like that, stop me.
Scooter: Right. Shall I cancel the blindfolded yodeling hang glider?
Kermit: Of course not. I said “dumb ideas”.
Lamest Joke: After the Vienna Downhill Boys Choir find themselves in wheelchairs, covered in casts, they invite Scooter to their “cast party”. Get it? Of course you do.
MVM (Most Valuable Muppet): This marks the 120th time Kermit the Frog has hosted this show. If any Muppet is Most Valuable, it’s Kermit.
Most Classic Moment: The Newsman reports that beef stocks are falling dramatically, and then a cow falls on his head. It doesn’t get any more pure than that!
Not-So-Classic Moment: Immediately after the Newsman’s injury, Kermit explains the joke to Melissa Manchester. Come on Kermit, it’s not that complicated of a bit.
Should-Be-Classic Moment: And then Manchester mistakes “Pigs in Space” as “Pigs from Space” (prompting Link and Strangepork to fall on the Newsman, thus saving the joke), which seems to predict the film Muppets from Space‘s original title, “Muppets in Space“.
Coolest Puppetry Effect: There are some fun ones here. The skiers tumble with the help of some fast-paced Chroma Key backgrounds of snowy hills, Beauregard plays harmonica while rocking in a chair (which was probably much harder for Dave Goelz to perform than you’d think), and the Muppets fly into the air after being launched by a teeter-totter (including both Kermit and Fozzie!).
Musical Highlight: Anytime a guest gets to duet with Floyd, it’s gold. Manchester and Floyd bang out “Whenever I Call You Friend” with some serious sexual tension, only to be blocked by a chorus of Muppets joining in around the piano.
Musical Lowlight: Those clowns during “Don’t Cry Out Loud” made me cry out loud.
Missed Opportunity: We get an extremely rare pairing of Fozzie Bear and Pops during the UK Spot. The joke is that Fozzie is unprepared and under-rehearsed for their choreography, but the gag doesn’t really go anywhere. I’d expect Fozzie to trip over himself, ruin some props, or crumble into a ball of anxiety. But nope, they just sort of finish the song. After 120 episodes, maybe Fozzie is finally learning?
One More Thing: Something I really love about later episodes of The Muppet Show is when Kermit announces the guest star and the audience responds with gasps and murmurs. It adds a lot of gravitas to the importance of the guests, but it also raises questions. For example: Does the audience not know who the guest star will be before coming to see the show??
Okay, One More Thing: I’m so incredibly proud of the ToughPigs team for committing to this ridiculous five-year project. Many, many thanks to all of our writers as well as our various guest writers for the “40 Years Later” project! You can find all 120 reviews right here. And now that we’re done, why not watch the series all over again on Disney+ and read along with our reviews??
Okay Seriously, I Promise, Last Thing: So if this is effectively the series finale, how does it end? With Statler and Waldorf waving a white flag in surrender. And I think I’ll do the same right now.
Thanks for reading, folks.
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by Joe Hennes – Joe@ToughPigs.com