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THE BEST OF THE MUPPET SHOW
Featuring Peter Sellers, John Cleese and Dudley Moore, and
Featuring Harry Belafonte, Linda Ronstadt and John Denver

         

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 Each
Release Date:  March 4, 2003

“Do you have any requests?”

“Yeah.  But you gonna play anyway!”

Shows ****

I’m happy to see Columbia Tri Star continuing to roll out The Best of the Muppet Show, returning these late 70s gems to their full running time and with guest star spots intact.  Watching these programs is a terrific stroll down memory lane, with great music, plenty of laughs, and of course, the enduring charm of Jim Henson’s wonderful puppet creations.

Though they aren’t specifically labeled as such, most DVD selling sites refer to these releases as Volumes 3 and 4, which we will also do in order to avoid conclusion.  The third volume is an English comedy funfest, featuring Peter Sellers, John Cleese and Dudley Moore, while the fourth edition celebrates some terrific musical artists including Harry Belafonte, Linda Ronstadt and John Denver.

Remembering the Peter Sellers episode was a bit surprising…not because he wasn’t great as a guest star; his chameleon personality offered plenty of good comic possibilities for the show.  I was surprised instead at Sellers’ finale about “cigareets and whiskey and wild, wild women”, which must have left a few parents having to answer some questions!  But this episode also boasts one of the show’s most memorable offerings, as Kermit pines “It’s Not Easy Being Green”.

John Cleese, who would later return for a cameo in The Great Muppet Caper, has a bit of fun playing a pirate in “Pigs in Space” (“one more word out of you and you’ll be an EX-parrot!”), plus being forced to sing a song from “Man of La Mancha” at the end.  And if Peter Sellers’ song inspired a few unanticipated questions from the kids, imagine their response to Miss Piggy’s song about being jilted at the alter while appearing on stage in a pregnant get-up!

Dudley Moore’s appearance is the real highlight of the third volume, as The Muppet Show provided a good showcase for both his comical and musical talents.  He brings along a robot to accompany his piano playing, which doesn’t quite sit well with the Muppet band!

The fourth volume, as mentioned, is musically oriented, and begins with one of the true all-time great installments of the show.  Harry Belafonte is a great entertainer and a class act, and seems to be having a great time as he belts out “The Banana Boat Song” with the help of some over-zealous Muppets, plays an impressive and funny drum duet with Animal, and delivers a perfect, inspiring finale with “Turn the World Around”, which was so good, it played through the end credits instead of the normal closing song!

The second show brings Linda Ronstadt into the mix, sporting a short and sassy hairstyle.  Her presence doesn’t set well with the jealous Miss Piggy, who concocts a rather dubious plan to keep Kermit away from her!  Ms. Ronstadt’s rousing musical numbers include her hit “Blue Bayou” (which I may never listen to again without hearing the “ribbits”, and a showstopping version of “It’s in His Kiss”.  Take that, Cher!

The finale is another truly classic episode, featuring the late great John Denver.  His beautiful “Inch by Inch” is memorable, as is his finale on the overstuffed bed.  Meanwhile, Kermit and John have some troubles convincing the other Muppets to go with them on a camping trip…to the swamp!  This show is only marred by the opening number which is in questionable taste; a rendering of “Why Can’t We Be Friends” on a surprisingly volatile battlefield.

So far, The Best of the Muppet Show discs have highlighted some of the best guest stars on the show, which is terrific.  In the future, though, I’m hoping to see more of the best bits of the Muppets themselves, including more Veterinarian’s Hospital, the “Manuh-Manuh” number, the “Coconut” song and others.  But with a wealth of treasures to choose from, one can still assume that these discs will continue to bring back fond memories and fun for as long as they continue to be released!

Video **

Twenty five years can murder on anything recorded on video…that being said, the Muppets still look pretty good for their age.  Their colors still come across quite well, but as with most videotapes, images are sometimes a bit soft, and sometimes show the limitation of the medium in terms of a little haziness.  No major strikes, however…fans should be satisfied.

Audio **

The mono soundtracks offer as much as you can expect:  clear dialogue, nice sounding music, but minimal dynamic range and nothing to really challenge your system.  Even Crazy Harry’s explosions seem a bit subdued, but again, no real complaints.

Features **

The extras are light but fun.  Each disc features a Muppet movie moment, with Kermit’s take on The Godfather and hilarious auditions for A Streetcar Named Desire…you haven’t lived til you’ve heard Animal screaming “STELLA!!”.  Each disc also includes a “Muppetism”, one featuring Statler and Waldorf, the other Dr. Bunsen Honeydew and Beaker.  Finally, Brian Henson personally introduces each episode with a juicy tidbit or two.

Summary:

The Muppet Show should always be remembered as one of television’s funniest, most inspired and most imaginative variety shows.  The proof is in these wonderful DVD packages.