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BEST OF THE MUPPET SHOW
Featuring Elton John, Julie Andrews and Gene Kelly

Review by Michael Jacobson

Muppet Performers:  Jim Henson, Frank Oz, Dave Goelz, Jerry Nelson, Richard Hunt
Creator:  Jim Henson
Audio:  Dolby Mono
Video:  Full Frame 1.33:1
Studio:  Columbia Tri Star
Features:  See Review
Length:  80 Minutes
Release Date:  September 3, 2002

“He should quit while he’s ahead.”

“Gonzo should quit while he’s ALIVE!”

Shows ****

I still remember the beginnings of The Muppet Show.

Like a lot of kids who spent their formative years in the 70s, I was weaned on Sesame Street.  That public television show was home to, among other things, Jim Henson’s marvelous Muppets.  Ernie, Bert, Big Bird, Kermit the Frog and others were in my living room day after day, and I never missed the chance to sit down and spend an hour with them!

But Kermit and Henson had bigger plans, which would soon come to fruition in prime time.  When The Muppet Show aired, it took Kermit and company into a whole new world of entertainment:  a television comedy variety show that would feature music, laughs, and a special guest star week after week.  It would also introduce a cache of new compatriots for Kermit, including the loveable Fozzie, the irrepressible Gonzo, the diva-esque Miss Piggy, the plucky Scooter, and of course, one of the greatest puppet bands ever assembled!

The show was instantly a classic to us kids, and now, 25 years later, time has proven that we were right.  The three episodes included on this disc are proof enough, starting with possibly one of the best ever.  Elton John’s appearance on The Muppet Show was one of the true television highlights of the 70s.  He soared through four of his classic tunes:  “Crocodile Rock”, “Bennie and the Jets”, “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”, and the unforgettable finale, “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart”, with Miss Piggy filling in nicely for Kiki Dee.  All songs benefit from the Muppets’ staging of them, including the use of crocodile puppets for Elton’s first number (“How many times,” Kermit intones, “do I have to tell you NOT to eat the guest stars at the beginning of the show?”).

Next up is Julie Andrews’ guest appearance…what a class act!  Having worked with the Muppets before on her own television specials, she and the characters have an instant rapport with one another as she sings and dances her way gracefully through several nicely done production numbers.  Her highlight is singing a song she penned, “When You Were a Tadpole”, to Kermit himself!

The disc rounds off with yet another celebrity phenom, the great Gene Kelly.  This time, he’s a guest star with a twist…believing Kermit invited him to watch the show rather than be in it provides a great running gag.  Will the Muppets have to make do without the inimitable Kelly even singing his landmark classic “Singin’ in the Rain”?  One guess.

But these shows offered more than great stars.  The Muppets were winsome, wondrous creations that seemed as real to us as any flesh and blood characters.  25 years later, they still do.  It’s amazing to ponder how simple they were in construction, but Henson’s gift was that he knew all the special effects in the world couldn’t create the illusion of life as much as personality…the one trait his Muppets had in abundance.

The Muppet Show enjoyed a good run until, like most popular television stars, they got too big for TV.  Henson and his crew would eventually abandon the strain of putting on a weekly show for the movies, where his stars could get bigger and better.  But one need only look back at The Best of the Muppet Show to remember how it all began…and the beginnings weren’t humble at all.

Video ***

Two strikes would seemingly be against The Muppet Show in terms of video quality right out of the box:  the episodes are a good couple of decades old, and the show was shot on video instead of film.  That being said, Columbia Tri Star did a respectable job in bringing this television classic to DVD.  Some problems with the look of videotape can’t be fixed, but still, these shows are presented with excellent color rendering and clean, crisp images throughout.  I don’t think even Statler or Waldorf could find real fault here!

Audio **

Soundwise, the shows don’t fare quite as well.  The original mono tracks aren’t recorded very loudly, and dynamic range is sorely missed during busier segments.  In other words, turn your volume up without fear, because it won’t get loud enough to cause mayhem in your living room.  Dialogue is clean and clear, so file this one as a “just good enough” offering.

Features **1/2

The features are light, but kind of fun.  For starters, Brian Henson introduces each episode personally, with a tidbit or two about the show at hand…a nice touch.  The disc also includes one of Jim Henson’s earliest sketches of the Swedish Chef and two Muppets Tonight promo spots that are a trip.  One features Kermit doing Michael Flatley, the other, Kermit and Floyd getting down.  Rounding out are a collection of bonus trailers for other Muppet related videos.

Summary:

I’m quite happy to finally see The Muppet Show coming to DVD.  With this disc and the other Best of the Muppet Show offerings from Columbia Tri Star, a new generation of fans can see the programs the way they were meant to be, in full-length glory and missing none of Jim Henson’s imaginative touches.