Over the past five years, the ToughPigs team meticulously reviewed all 120 episodes of The Muppet Show on or near the 40th anniversary of when it aired. It was an incredible achievement, but now that it’s over, we still want to talk about The Muppet Show!
As we’ve done after finishing each of the previous seasons, we gathered most of the ToughPigs crew to chat about season 5 some more. We hope you enjoy our final Muppet Show roundtable!
Wow, we’re done with our Muppet Show reviews! Did you ever think we’d make it to the end? How did you enjoy the journey?
Matthew Soberman: Wait, there aren’t any more episodes left of The Muppet Show? But I never got to see Cher or Robin Williams! The Muppet Show Fan Club newsletter lied to me! Still, that egregious act aside, it’s both enormously joyful and still somewhat surprising that the project is, in effect, over. I’ll admit, I had my doubts about a five-year review series when I first learned we were doing this, but in that time, it’s become such a constant and enjoyable presence that I can’t believe we won’t be scrambling to claim guest stars come the fall.
Evan G: Congratulations, gang. We have completed the single most ambitious and successful project to ever involve the Muppets in any form. Take that, Jim Henson.
Joe Hennes: I wish I could say I knew we’d get there the whole time, but I really thought some bomb would drop or everyone would quit or the project would somehow otherwise implode. At the very least, I thought a few of the reviews would be delayed, but nope! 120 reviews, all terrific. And I loved every minute of it.
Ryan Roe: I knew we’d get there! But I’m very happy and maybe a little surprised that we got there with every review posted on time. “Why don’t you get things started?” the Muppet Theater audience asks. We got things started, middled, and ended!
Jarrod Fairclough: I didn’t really turn up until the end, so for me it wasn’t so much ‘enjoying the journey’ as it was ‘riding the coat-tails’, you know? But it was a fun ride. I got to sit in a saddle at one point. I don’t think Soberman liked it.
Matt Wilkie: Listen, complete and total burnout can happen to anyone (and in 2020 happened to almost everyone), but having a project like this to work on was a true comfort. Whatever mess I had to deal with over the past 5 years, watching a classic show with my favorite characters and thinking critically about their impact was an absolute win in my book.
Louie Pearlman: This entire process has been a total disaster and I would never want to do it again. JKROTFL! I can’t believe we got through EVERY SINGLE EPISODE and basically created the internet’s only fan guide to The Muppet Show! What a fantastic resource for fans old and new alike. A big “hip hip hooray” to all of us!
Shane Keating: I didn’t actually contribute anything to this article series, so I’m not sure how I even got in here. But as long as I am here, I might as well raid the Tough Pigs commissary for some free ice!
How did season 5 of The Muppet Show compare with the first four?
Evan G: As I’ve mentioned in some articles, Season 5 of The Muppet Show is the one I remember best from my childhood, so it will always be special to me. Watching now, it’s amazing how polished and well put together this show has become. Sometimes, I miss the rougher episodes from the earlier seasons but it’s tough to not be impressed by how well-made the show is at this point. Also this season has Rizzo and that’s a good thing.
Joe Hennes: Jim Henson really hit a stride in the final season of The Muppet Show. The cleverness, innovation, and hilarity seemed almost too natural somehow. Like, he didn’t even have to try anymore to keep up the quality. I guess that explains why he decided to end the show on a high note, but man, I can’t help but wonder what else he could’ve achieved with a season 6…
Louie Pearlman: Henson and co. really ended the series on a high note with Season 5. By this time, the whole show was a well oiled machine and are very representative of what the casual viewers’ memories of The Muppet Show are, which is important to note.
Jarrod Fairclough: The Muppet Show really hit its stride in Season 3, so by Season 5 they knew what they were doing. They had all the success in the world, and rather than rest on their laurels they continued to push themselves and do weird and wonderful stuff throughout the season. They also had a barrage of amazing guest stars.
Matt Wilkie: Historically speaking, I think that season 5 might be the most important season of The Muppet Show. Consider that The Muppet Movie, a very ambitious project that was a huge success, was made during season 3, and they were already prepping for its sequel, but the quality of their flagship show never faltered. This may have been Henson’s busiest time in his career, and he still made sure that the season was filled with wild ideas, wilder guest stars (although no Gene Wilder), and wilder still puppetry. It is landmark T.V. and I feel lucky to have experienced it.
Ryan Roe: I don’t think I had quite realized how many theme episodes and unusual backstage stories there were in season five. The creators really let themselves experiment this season, and it paid off — and yet, the more standard variety show episodes are just as satisfying as ever, with very few sketches or musical numbers that leave the audience wanting.
Matthew Soberman: Time to break out one last metaphor. This time, The Muppet Show has grown from an infant in its first season to become a teenager by season five, fully grown and looking to assert its identity. There are more theme shows, breaking out of the variety structure in several episodes. By this time, there are bound to be big guest stars, but it’s clear that some had a deep personal resonance with Jim Henson, like Wally Boag or Señor Wences. The Muppet Show is going out doing the stuff they want to do, and I couldn’t ask for any more than that.
What is your favorite episode from season 5?
Joe Hennes: It’s hard to beat the Gene Kelly episode for me. The dance number with Kermit, Gene serenading Gonzo, and the heartfelt “Singin’ in the Rain” medley – all utter perfection. Oh, and the ridiculousness of Beauregard thinking it’s the end of the world, because even perfect Muppet moments need something stupid.
Jarrod Fairclough: It’s a toss up between four episodes for me; Paul Simon, Brooke Shields, Carol Burnett and Marty Feldman. But if you’re going to make me choose, I’d go with Shields. I don’t know why she didn’t bring Yarnell with her this time, though?
Evan G: I didn’t get to review it, but my favorite Muppet Show episode of all time is the Marty Feldman episode. There’s so many memorable sketches, a ton of great Python-esque jokes, and an amazing finale with all our friends from Sesame Street. The episode’s thematic consistency is a real strength and one of the ways Season 5 feels different than the earlier seasons.
Now if only the version on Disney+ didn’t cut the Sesame Street theme…
Ryan Roe: Sorry, Evan, I nabbed the Marty Feldman episode. And I have to say, I knew it was a great one, but in rewatching it for my review I realized it’s one of my all-time favorites of the series. It’s just so weird and funny.
Matt Wilkie: I grew up devouring Paul Simon music, so a whole episode with different, Muppety interpretations was like manna from Heaven for me. Now if only Art Garfunkel had been there too – it would’ve been manna manna sent from Heaven.
Matthew Soberman: You know how I said the ToughPigs writers would scramble for episodes at the start of the season? I actually asked Joe to reserve the Wally Boag episode when we were wrapping up season four. It may not be the most popular episode (save for The Leprechaun Brothers), but Boag’s manic, broad style of humor is the perfect fit with the Muppets. Plus, I love when I can bring up Disneyland history in a review.
Louie Pearlman: I told Joe last year that if I didn’t get to write the Debbie Harry episode, I would never write for Tough Pigs again. It combines all the stuff I love. Muppets, 70s Punk-New Wave, the utterly fabulous Debby Harry and err… Frog Scouts.
What is your LEAST favorite episode from season 5?
Matthew Soberman: I don’t necessarily hate the episode, but as Anthony put so well in his review, it’s hard to watch the Chris Langham episode without thinking about his arrest and imprisonment. Suddenly, time travel apparatuses and Hawaiian cowboys don’t seem so funny anymore.
Evan G: There are no bad episodes, only bad guest stars, so I’ll second what Matthew said.
Joe Hennes: Man, nobody wants to talk about bad Muppet Show episodes?? Fine, I’ll do it. Screw you, umm… Roger Moore? Yeah, your episode is slightly less classic than the others! That’ll teach ya.
Jarrod Fairclough: Ignoring the obvious, I can recognise literally nothing from the Buddy Rich episode on Muppet Wiki. Maybe I just haven’t watched it…
Evan G: Joe, Jarrod, those are two of my favorites so we’re not friends anymore.
Ryan Roe: I guess I can’t identify an episode I dislike or feel underwhelmed by. But I can’t speak with complete authority, because I still haven’t seen the Jean-Pierre Rampal or Joan Baez episodes. I should be completely ashamed of myself!
Matt Wilkie: My least favorite episode is Gene Kelly, because it was the last episode they made. I get it, but I want more!
Pick a song, any song, and talk about it!
Matthew Soberman: I’ve always felt that “I Feel the Earth Move” was a perfect song for the Muppets to perform, with the rhythm evoking the shakes of an earthquake. To see Loretta Swit render it beautifully with a gigantic (well, more gigantic than usual) Thog was a delight. There’s good singing, simple but fun special effects, and cool sets. It’s a textbook Muppet Show number executed perfectly..
Shane Keating: “Barnyard Boogie” from the Shirley Bassey episode is the very first Muppet Show thing I ever saw; it was used as the opener for the Country Music with the Muppets tape that I watched many times as a kid. I recall liking it then and I love it now. It’s a song perfectly suited for the Muppets and the Electric Mayhem, dabbing in jazz rather than rock, nails it, giving each member a chance to shine (even Lips, who almost never talks!).
Evan G: I said enough about it in my review, but it’s the “Good Day Sunshine”/”Dancing in the Dark” medley from the Buddy Rich episode.
Ryan Roe: Floyd and Janice’s “Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover” in the Paul Simon episode is so groovy, assisted greatly by Animal’s rock solid drumming. (And it leads to a great joke callback with Rowlf’s “fifty ways to love your lever.”)
Joe Hennes: Wanna see a grown man cry? Just show me Linda Ronstadt singing “When I Grow Too Old to Dream”. Gets me every time.
Matt Wilkie: Wanna see this grown man cry? Show me Floyd and Janice singing “Blackbird.”
Jarrod Fairclough: Hal Linden’s holiday medley, mashing together patriotic songs with Christmas classics, should be one of those Muppet moments that is talked about more, especially when people talk about Christmas in July (make it the fourth, you cowards!). The way they all blended together was masterful.
What’s your single favorite sketch, storyline, or backstage scene from season 5?
Ryan Roe: I think I have to name one of my favorite UK spots: “I’m So Happy” from the Linda Ronstadt episode. The lyrics express pure joy, but the song is in a minor key and performed by two miserable-looking, cobweb-covered Whatnots. I’ve learned from experience that not everyone “gets it,” but I’ve always found it hilarious.
Shane Keating: “The Wright Brothers at Kittyhawk” in the Marty Feldman episode is a brilliant piece of nonsense.
Jarrod Fairclough: Glenda Jackson quickly becoming entirely unhinged and thinking she was a merciless pirate the entire episode was hilarious. She committed super hard.
Matthew Soberman: I think the one I reference the most has to be Foo-Foo’s act from the Boag episode. Why the pairing of the laid-back, witty Rowlf with the high-strung Miss Piggy doesn’t happen more often baffles me. There’s something so perfect about Miss Piggy’s response to Rowlf saying that Foo-Foo’s tricks are too hard being “If I want her to do something simple, I would have had her play the piano and make dumb remarks.” They make perfect sparring partners. (Verbally, not physically, of course.)
Joe Hennes: Carol Burnett getting roped into a dance competition, when she really only wants to perform in a giant asparagus costume. I’m so grateful to the Muppets for allowing a situation that led me to writing that sentence.
Matt Wilkie: So often, we see Miss Piggy chasing after the male guest stars. So it was nice to see Kermit and Linda Ronstadt share a mutual desire to give each other the huggies. And it kind-of makes sense that Linda dated a young Jim Carrey and an older George Lucas soon after this since both of them have some Kermity-ness in their own ways.
What is one of your least favorite moments from season 5?
Evan G: Is the Confederate Flag a “moment?” Because that’s my least favorite thing in Season 5.
Matthew Soberman: Any time someone makes a joke about Miss Piggy’s weight. I sure won’t miss those.
Shane Keating: I don’t understand that Parisian cafe UK Spot for the Jean-Pierre Rampall episode at all. It’s not really a sketch, it’s not really a musical number, and it just becomes a jumbled, directionless mess of puppets by the end.
Joe Hennes: I can’t say I cared for James Coburn’s insensitive impression of the Japanese. Maybe that’s what got him kicked out of the El Sleezo.
Jarrod Fairclough: Oh boy, let’s all agree to pretend James Coburn didn’t squint his eyes, shall we?
Matt Wilkie: Some things from The Muppet Show age like a fine wine, but my whine is that Coburn’s actions were not fine at all.
Which guest stars worked the best (or not-so-best) with the Muppets this time around?
Matthew Soberman: I don’t think anyone works poorly with the Muppets this time. By this point, the guest stars knew what to expect, and the Muppet performers knew how to tailor their performances around the guests’ personalities. That being said, Boag, Swit and Tony Randall look like they’re having the time of their lives and let it show. And despite her protests, Carol Burnett seems like she’s having fun having a breakdown.
Joe Hennes: I’d include Gladys Knight in the “best” column – she’s obviously loving every minute of her time on the show. But I have to disagree with Matthew about Tony Randall – he seemed to be taking his role way too seriously. Come on man, drop the bravado – you’re working with puppets.
Jarrod Fairclough: The Muppet Show worked best when guests really believed in the characters and the moment. Brooke Shields was excellent, especially for her age. Again, a crazed Glenda Jackson was brilliant. Then you had someone like Debbie Harry, who looked bored the entire time she was there.
Louie Pearlman: I’ve got to say Gene Kelly, who is so effortless with the Muppets. It feels like he really believes in them. I suppose he had an animated mouse as a co-star in the past, so working with The Muppets isn’t a huge stretch for him.
Matt Wilkie: At the top of my list is definitely Glenda Jackson and her manic energy, throwing herself full-force into the show and its plot and playing off of every character so well. At the bottom is probably Debbie Harry, whose musical performances are great, but doesn’t feel quite so comfortable throughout the episode. She may have a heart of glass, but her performance here was a bit fractured.
Ryan Roe: I either agree fully with Matt or I’m stealing his answer. Glenda Jackson totally commits to the absurdity of her episode. Debbie Harry is a terrific singer but seems a little stiff interacting with puppets.
What do you think were the best changes the show made over the course of its five seasons? Are there any changes you wish they hadn’t made?
Louie Pearlman: I lament the phasing out of the “At the Dance” segments as the show went on. They were always some of my favorites. Head writer Jerry Jull said that performers and writers lost interest in the segment because it only contained “pointless one-liners,” but sometimes pointless one-liners are exactly what I want from The Muppets.
Ryan Roe: The fifth season is so polished and the budget is so high, and it’s highly entertaining television. But there is a certain scrappiness to the first season or two that gets lost along the way. The Muppets don’t seem as much like underdogs. I guess it’s a good trade-off, but having looked back at the whole series in order for this project, I sometimes missed some of the more stripped-down musical numbers and kids’ joke-book-level corny comedy of the early days.
Matthew Soberman: Perhaps the change that would have the biggest impact came when Beaker was introduced in season two. Without our favorite redheaded lab assistant, I believe Dr. Bunsen Honeydew would’ve faded quickly into the background. Instead, the Muppet Labs bits became funnier, and both characters became key members of the Muppet ensemble. As to the second question, I feel like most of the changes helped The Muppet Show become the cultural dynamo it became. Except getting rid of the Talking Houses. They were built to last.
Evan G: You know, my nephew is a big fan of the jokes of the Talking Houses. Is he a comedian? No, he’s a comedy club!
But seriously, folks. Like Matthew said, you can’t overstate the importance of a lot of the later additions to the cast, like Beaker, Beauregard, and Lew Zealand. At the same time, I do think the course of the Muppets would have been completely different and possibly better if Mildred had stuck around.
Also they never should have added Gladys.
Joe Hennes: As grateful as I am that several notable female puppeteers came through the ranks of The Muppet Show like Eren Ozker, Louise Gold, Kathy Mullen, and Karen Prell, they rarely got a chance to create memorable characters (and even fewer who truly lasted, even as background characters). Such a missed opportunity to grow the cast, both onstage and backstage, and we’re still feeling those repercussions 40 years later.
Matt Wilkie: Number one with a bullet is my desire to have seen more female puppeteers over the years, amongst other forms of inclusion. But number two is the Gonzo puppet. Holy guacamole, is that season 1 Gonzo some nightmare fuel.
Jarrod Fairclough: They did well to focus on a core set of characters, with the zanier ones in the background. With so many characters they could have had a ‘too many cooks’ situation, with too many characters to do the job right. That said, they definitely needed to do a better job with the female characters. Why didn’t they make Skeeter a character? What? She didn’t exist yet? Pfft, seems convenient.
Okay, one more thing. Final thoughts on the season?
Evan G: It’s sad that The Muppet Show ended after this season and Kermit and co. never really had a TV show of the same quality afterwards. Still, better to go out on top than to stick outstay one’s welcome.
Joe Hennes: In this writer’s humble opinion, the Muppets have never – and will never – be better or more pure than they were during their five-year run on The Muppet Show. Although that might be a sad sentiment, it’s so exciting that we can watch almost the whole dang thing any time we want. And as long as we’re doing that, we might as well re-read all 120 ToughPigs reviews! Again!
Matthew Soberman: Hey, did you know The Muppet Show turns 45 this year? We should look back at every episode and RESPONSE INCOMPLETE: WRITER BEATEN SENSELESS.
Jarrod Fairclough: The Muppet Show will remain the best thing the Muppets ever did, and while things have and will continue to come close, let’s all just take a second to appreciate what this show was. I think it’s easy to forget that this show was the biggest thing in the world – and not for like, a month – for almost five years! The London Sewage Department literally knew when the show had cut to commercial, because the entire pressure system changed. Insane!
Louie Pearlman: The world can be a pretty difficult place. The Muppet Show transports us to a ramshackle theater populated with characters that have a slew of different personalities. They definitely don’t always get along. Despite these differences and a myriad of conflicts, they are able to come together perform the most entertaining variety show of all time and make all of us so, so happy. This is a great lesson for all of us. I feel so lucky that we can return to The Muppet Theater any time we want.
Ryan Roe: I know Jim Henson was ready to move on and make The Dark Crystal and stuff, but I bet a sixth season of The Muppet Show would have been just as good as the fifth. There were still a whole heap of fun celebrities who could have been guest stars!
Matt Wilkie: Have you ever heard of the banana sketch? It goes like this. These two bananas are walking down the street, and one banana says… RESPONSE INCOMPLETE: WRITER IS SENSELESS.
Click here to hear Zoot blow his sax one last time on the ToughPigs forum!
by The ToughPigs Team