1 The Muppet Mindset: Muppet Retro Reviews: Muppets Tonight, Part 1

Jul 1, 2014

Muppet Retro Reviews: Muppets Tonight, Part 1

If you’re a human being, take a break from the race.
Take a load off your feet; wipe that look off your face.
We’ve got a lot to do, and we do it for you.
Everybody take your place. Muppets Tonight!

Abigail Maughan - Muppets Tonight ran for two seasons, with a grand total of 22 episodes. I will be reviewing them all. Buckle up.

First, some background. The show originally aired on ABC in 1996, but was cancelled after a mere ten episodes. The show in its entirety was seen in 1997 through 1998 on Disney Channel, which aired the ten ABC episodes and three leftover ones, and ordered nine new ones to be produced. Brian Henson served as an executive producer, as one of the directors, as well as a frequent performer. Notable Muppet personnel on the writing team included Kirk Thatcher and Jim Lewis. Other directors on the show associated with the Muppets were Gary Halvorson (Elmo in Grouchland) and Tom Trbovich (Dinosaurs). Steve Whitmire, Kevin Clash, Dave Goelz, Bill Barretta, Brian Henson, Jerry Nelson, less frequently Frank Oz, and the brand new Leslie Carrara-Rudolph made up the major performing team.

INTRODUCTORY GENERAL OBSERVATIONS
Muppets Tonight is intended to be another incarnation of the classic The Muppet Show, taking place inside the (fictional) television studio KMUP. The similar variety show format includes musical numbers, oddball acts, human celebrity guest stars, and backstage predicaments. The host of the show is Clifford, first introduced on The Jim Henson Hour, with Rizzo the Rat as his production assistant. Kermit the Frog, while not consistently seen, acts as a producer and occasional performer, while Gonzo, Bunsen and Beaker, Miss Piggy, and others all retain their Muppet Show jobs as entertainers.

While many Muppet Show characters are absent or severely relegated, an influx of new ones are introduced in their places, many performed by Bill Barretta and Brian Henson. Some gained popularity and are seen today, such as Pepe the King Prawn, Bobo the Bear, and Big Mean Carl. Some stuck around with speaking parts for a few years before disappearing, like Andy and Randy Pig, Johnny Fiama, Sal Minella, Dr. Phil van Neuter, and even Clifford. Most characters, however, disappeared after the decade ended, living on only in the realms of Muppet Wiki, such as Nigel, Seymour the Elephant, Bill the Bubble Guy, Zippity Zap, and many more.

One way Muppets Tonight varies from The Muppet Show is that the running-a-show aspect, while prevalent, isn’t as rigid as its predecessor. While the various Muppet Show skits are as much of the show’s entertainment as the backstage antics, Muppets Tonight rarely even shows us the entirety of an act that doesn’t feature a guest star. Closing numbers are typically safe from cutaway shots, but other than that, the backstage story line is much more dominant than the variety show in most episodes, sometimes taking place outside of the studio itself. This isn’t entirely a bad thing, especially if the plot is a good one, it’s just very different.

Muppets Tonight also relies much more heavily on then-current pop culture references than its forerunner did. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. For example, the recurring segment “Bay of Pigswatch,” is a spoof of the TV show Baywatch, with pig puppet caricatures of the stars. Having never seen Baywatch, I find the segments mildly amusing at best, but maybe they’re funnier with prior knowledge. I wouldn’t know. On the other end of the spectrum, nearly every episode with a guest star features a sample of a fake project he or she has supposedly done with the Muppets, such as a game show or upcoming movie, all typically parodies. These are mostly entertaining because they are funny enough in their own right that the audience doesn’t need to be familiar with the spoofed material. Parodies done like that remain watchable and humorous years later.

Personally, I don’t mind these differences from The Muppet Show. If a Muppet program is still entertaining and respectful of the Muppets themselves, I accept deviations from the norm. More often than not, Muppets Tonight reaches both of those requirements for me.

But enough of that, let’s get on with the show! Usually I will cover three episodes at a time, but, due to that big ol’ introduction, I will only hit one today. I judge each episode by the value of story, humor, music, use of the guest star, and overall quality. My ranking of each episode is compared strictly to other episodes of Muppets Tonight, because the show is obviously not as classic and profound as The Muppet Show. I believe it is a very good show worth watching for any Muppet fan, though. Let’s get started, shall we?

101 - MICHELLE PFEIFFER
PLOT: The Muppets figure out how to run their new variety show while the guest star and Miss Piggy fight for the lead role in the closing number. I like that the premiere shows the characters struggling through their first, largely-improvised show.

GUEST STAR: Actress Michelle Pfeiffer doesn’t actually appear until about halfway through the episode. Overall, she does a good job with the material given, even in her terribly weak introduction skit.

COMEDY: The jokes in this episode, which largely consist of an absurd amount of lame puns and male Muppets embarrassingly ogling over women, fall rather flat. It’s evident that it takes a few episodes for these writers to get their groove in writing comedy, and this episode falters in that category.

MUSIC: The two musical spots are bright points of the episode. The first is the Muppet Show-esque opening number of Francois Fromage and his Dancing Cheeses, who sing a brief ditty about themselves. The second is the closing number, in which Miss Piggy and Miss Pfeiffer have an amusing musical battle of one-upmanship to the songs of “The Sound of Music,” which ends the otherwise average episode on a fairly high note.

LOWLIGHTS:

  • While Miss Piggy’s introduction on the show is rather funny, the infomercial of hers seems to go on for quite a while after the punchline (the fact that it exists) is established.
  • Andy and Randy’s introduction is no better than anything else they will do on the show. “We’re not cats, we’re dogs” barely even qualifies as a joke.
  • As mentioned previously, this episode’s overall quality of humor feels somewhat uninspired.

HIGHLIGHTS:

  • The first five or so minutes, up until Miss Piggy’s infomercial, are really quite solid, a glimpse of the hectic humor we will see regularly.
  • The recurring skit “Great Moments in Elvis History,” makes its debut in this episode, in what I think is the funniest of the three skits.
  • Also, this is the only joke in the episode that makes me laugh:
  • Miss Piggy: I’ve had it with that Pfeiffer! I’ll show that tiny-tushed t… t… Quick, give me a t-word.
  • Kermit: Uh… Teapot!
  • Clifford: Turtle?
  • Miss Piggy: Turtle! Good. I’ll show you, you tiny-tushed turtle!

MY RANKING: 2.5 out of 5 dancing cheeses. It’s a little below average, which isn’t exactly ideal for a series premiere. Not nearly as good as Muppet Tonight can be, but it gets much better, AND much worse.






The Muppet Mindset by Ryan Dosier, muppetmindset@gmail.com

1 comment:

  1. You got to admit, the first act was a good way to start the show (even though the act ended up melting on the stage).

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