Originally created 08/11/05

Characters of 'Muppet Show' still have humor, relevance

The Muppet Show - Season One (Buena Vista Home Video; $39.99); HHH out of HHHHH

Nearly 30 years after the episodes originally aired, the first season of The Muppet Show remains sometimes subversive, often imaginative and always entertaining television.

An important aside in the history of television, The Muppet Show was one of the last programs to embrace the once-popular variety show format. Using skits, songs and celebrity guests as a platform, the show spent its first season, now available on DVD, experimenting with and expanding on the formula that would serve it well over the course of its five seasons.

Much of what was beloved about The Muppet Show is on this four-disc set. Gonzo's gong during the opening, Miss Piggy's karate chop and adoration of Kermit, and the perpetually critical comments of hecklers Statler and Waldorf are all present.

What's interesting about these early episodes is not the things that work, but the things that don't. Early in the run, the Muppets often seem to struggle to strike the desired balance between adult and adolescent entertainment. Clearly trying to be all things to all people, the show spends several skits experimenting with verbal versus slapstick humor, music versus musical comedy and the place and purpose for guests in the proceedings. Many of these sketches, such as the ballroom and Kermit's conversations with the stars, would become series staples.

Although much of what made The Muppet Show magical in 1976 has proved timeless - most notably the visual pop of the Muppet stars and the dimension of character each was infused with, there are aspects of the show that have not aged as well. The guest stars, for instance, significantly date the show. While Sandy Duncan might have been a big star during the Bicentennial, 30 years later there's an element of "Sandy Who?" to her appearance.

There are, however, moments when concept and execution seem to click. A creepy-themed episode featuring actor Vincent Price is particularly fine.

What worked then and now is the concept of the Muppets themselves. The self-aware humor, mastery of the puppetry arts and understanding that people want to love a foam pig and felt frog are just as relevant today as they were 30 years ago.

DVD EXTRAS: This four-disc set includes some interesting features, including the pilot, titled Sex and Violence, which starred the orchestra conductor and not Kermit as the Muppet kingpin, a pitch reel for the networks and an on-screen trivia option that illuminates the process of putting the shows together.

Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or steven.uhles@augustachronicle.com.


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