The Muppet Show: Season One

The Muppet Show: Season One
Though I'm certain that youngsters today will grow up with nostalgic associations to corporate shills in the form of action figured TV protagonists as likely to sell you a sugared cereal as teach you about classic Broadway show tunes, for a generation that remembers the early incarnations of The Muppet Show, there remains a magic that can spiffily scrub off the accumulated grime of 20 years of cynicism. Here for the first time — after a series of single-disc "greatest hits" issues — comes the complete first season of The Muppet Show (1976 to '77). It inhabits a land of aging Broadway stars (Ethel Merman, Rita Moreno), then-known television stars (Jim Nabors, Harvey Korman), legends (Peter Ustinov), weirdoes (Vincent Price) and truly bizarre eccentrics (Swiss art mime troupe Mummenschanz). In its early days, The Muppet Show was more vaudeville performance than the "behind the scenes," fourth-wall breaking "reality" show we remember — early episodes were nothing more than a series of very brief set-ups for some truly ancient, groan-worthy jokes. In fact, as one discovers viewing the original pilot for the show, initially Kermit was not the host (now-forgotten band conductor Nigel took the reins), and it centred not on a variety program but more on the band. (Oh what could have been, Sgt. Floyd Pepper!) But what's fascinating to watch over the 24 episode first season is the evolution of the program, as the characters get more solid (Miss Piggy in particular) and the show gets less set-up/punch-line oriented, moving toward more inter-Muppet interaction. (There's not a lot of that here yet, but it culminates at the end of the season with a walkout by the band; their dissent stems from endless repetition of the show's theme song, which they declare "square.") In addition to fascinating looks at the show's original pilot and network pitch reel, producers have made an incredibly wise choice: instead of featuring droning commentary that few will listen to, there's a pop-up style trivia track that covers info from the original air date to the number of Miss Piggy's karate chops (22 in 24 episodes) to pointing out bloopers and mistakes. Given the "song and dance" nature of the show's earliest efforts, the trivia track makes some of the duller moments fly by without distracting from the action (annoying, cheap graphics aside). Plus: Gag reel. (Buena Vista)