Original air date, February 22nd, 1979
Imagine, for just a moment that you’re Sylvester Stallone, and it’s 1979. You’re coming off of years of toiling in acting obscurity and achieving monumental success with both Rocky, which you wrote (in your car!) and starred in, and Rocky II, which you wrote, starred in AND directed (way to go, Sly!). Your trajectory is such that you’re on your way to starring in four Rambo movies and four more Rocky sequels. You are becoming one of the most bankable stars of your generation and a veritable cinematic icon.
How do you let loose? How do you, Sly Stallone, relax under what must be absolute monumental pressure? You fly to London for a few days and hang out with the Muppets, of course. At least that’s what you, Sylvester Stallone would do. But you, dear reader, are not actually Sylvester Stallone. Sylvester Stallone is Sylvester Stallone, and you are you. But, shooting an episode of The Muppet Show is exactly what Sylvester Stallone did in 1979, and the closest we can get to actually being Sylvester Stallone is to watch his episode of The Muppet Show, in which it looks like at least he’s having a blast.
The more important question, however, is not if Sly is having a blast (which he is) but if WE, the viewers, 40 years later are having a blast watching Sly sing, dance, and frolic with the Muppets. The answer is, unfortunately, a pretty resounding “no!”
Stallone falls into the trap of being a celebrity in the seventies and having to appear on variety shows to stay in the public eye, like so many other stars of the era. Make no mistake, Sylvester Stallone seems super-game, and he’s enjoying stretching himself as a performer, but this doesn’t make this episode any easier to watch, especially as we’re coming off of the transcendence that is the previous week’s Harry Belafonte episode, ya know, the one that was cited to be Jim Henson’s favorite?
But back to Stallone. I don’t know where to begin when describing the ways in which he’s not really suited to this show. For one thing, this episode is a great early indicator for The Italian Stallion that he’s not very fit for comedy, as was later evidenced in his comedic bombs Oscar and Stop or My Mom Will Shoot. Sly’s timing is painfully stilted. He’s continuously one beat too-late to make his jokes land. The poor guy was also in his phase as a performer where he’s barely understandable for some of his line readings. I know his delivery worked so well in the Rocky movies but doesn’t work with the fast, pun-filled patter of a typical Muppet Show episode.
Stallone also can’t sing his way out of a paper bag, resulting in a plodding rendition of George and Ira Gershwin’s usually light and airy “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off,” with a fantastic full-body lion Muppet and a bizarre version of the 1900’s ballad “Bird in a Gilded Cage” that closes this one out. These numbers serve as an unfortunate precursor to Stallone’s embarrassing turn as an aspiring country singer in 1984’s Rhinestone. As I’ve said before, Stallone is distinctly affable and having fun, it’s just that he’s not very good and this and it unfortunately shows.
I’m not even sure the Muppet writers knew what to do with Stallone. Although a boxing joke with a talking punching bag is built into this episode, which works ok, there’s also a forced plotline involving a bunch of Muppet groupies attempting to sneak into Sly’s dressing room. I know that Stallone was living it up in the late Seventies, and his bulging body is something to behold, but these aspects of the man do not a full plot of The Muppet Show make.
All my gripes aside, I don’t want you to come away from this article thinking that this episode was a complete stinker. Despite its stumbles, it’s still super-funny, more so during the non-Stallone segments, and as I’ve said multiple times, Sly is so, so game. He’s having a blast and clearly loves the Muppets as much as we do. He’s undoubtedly pushing himself here and definitely gets an “A” for effort. Also beyond Sly’s stuff is a hysterical running-subplot featuring Muppet robot Otto, the Automatic Entertainer. Spoiler alert: he falls apart and explodes a lot, in true classic chaotic-Muppet fashion.
This episode also features (in the UK version at least) a killer jazz version of another classic Gershwin tune, “Oh, Lady be Good!” by the Electric Mayhem. This cover is just as good as Ella Fitzgerald’s or Cliff Edwards.
What’s so great about Season 3, in general, is that brilliant performers and writers of The Muppet Show had really hit their stride and rhythms, and it shows, even with a challenging guest-star like the otherwise very charming and affable Sylvester Stallone weighing the whole thing just a little bit down.
MVM (Most Valuable Muppet): Definitely that Muppet punching-bag, who literally takes one for the team by having to deal with what I’m sure are Sly’s very aggressive jabs and punches!
Should-Be-Classic Moment: That cover of “Oh, Lady be Good!” is a really underrated moment in the history of the show. It’s an original and tastefully done cover. I love Electric Mayhem moments where they take it down a little and are just plain cool!
Missed Opportunity: I can’t believe that there’s no actual Rocky parody in this episode! Can you imagine Miss Piggy as Adrian and Gonzo (who’s barely in this episode) as Mickey? This seems like a no-brainer, right?
Adultiest Content: Here’s a warning for families: this episode features an all-female Muppet “groupie brigade.” Do you want to explain what groupies are to your kids? If not, you could maybe avoid this episode? I’m sorry, but these Lady Muppets definitely are thirsty for The Italian Stallion. It’s pretty obvious as the episode progresses!
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by Louie Pearlman