Tuesday, May 20, 2008
Season Three of The Muppet Show comes out on DVD May 20. (The Muppet Holding Company/BVHE)
I was a little too old to have grown up with Sesame Street as my educational TV show, but my younger brother and sister watched it, learning to count with The Count and understand the concept of near and far with Grover. But I have to admit, I often watched the show, and probably used my younger siblings as an excuse for having it on. My favorite character was Cookie Monster, and his obsession with cookies and things that looked like big, giant, delicious, chocolate cuppy-cakes. I was always impressed by the ingenuity of Jim Henson and his Muppet creations.
Fortunately for us "older" folks, Henson came up with The Muppet Show, a half hour variety program that d ebuted in 1976 and allowed teens and adults to watch the Muppets without guilt, excuses, or younger siblings. The show ran until 1981, and the third season of wackiness is now available on DVD. Season Three boasts guest such as Liberace and Gilda Radner, who could have been Muppets themselves; unlikely glamorous types such as Marisa Berenson and Raquel Welch; legends such as Danny Kaye; and rockers like Alice Cooper. My favorites from Season Three are Spike Milligan, the uncontrollable British comic from The Goon Show , and oddly enough Sylvester Stallone, fresh from Rocky and seeming quite at home with the Muppet gang. I also love Danny Kaye's bit with the Swedish Chef. But the real standout on this DVD is a bonus feature called Muppets on Puppets . This black and white TV documentary featuring Jim Henson provides a brief history of puppets and goes behind the scenes of the early Muppets themselves. It's an absolute delight, and Henson is such an unassuming and supremely talented host. You get to see part of a Muppet fairy tale from backstage, which ramps up the intensity of the performance as you see how much work goes into something that appears so effortlessly charming. The genius of Henson and people like Frank Oz (who did Miss Piggy and Sam the Bald Eagle among others) rests in their ability to create thoroughly believable characters. So when Rolf the Dog is told that he's a puppet, neither he nor the viewers seem willing to believe it. Then Henson tells Rolf to look down and Rolf is shocked to find a man down them manipulating his every move. It's a great moment because Henson is like a magician who's so confident that his trick will dazzle you no matter what that he's willing to give away all his secrets. And he was right. Even after seeing how the Muppets are constructed and manipulated by people behind a stage, we still buy into them as characters we love. The Muppet Show remains a delight for audiences of all ages.
The Muppet Show: Season Three retails for $39.99 (four discs).