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THE MUPPET SHOW
Complete First Season

Review by Michael Jacobson

Performers:  Jim Henson, Frank Oz, Dave Goelz, Richard Hunt
Creator:  Jim Henson
Audio:  Dolby Stereo
Video:  Full Frame 1.33:1
Studio:  Disney
Features:  See Review
Length:  604 Minutes
Release Date:  August 9, 2005

"Do you like Kipling?"

"I don't know...I've never Kippled."

Shows ***1/2

I've been a fan of the Muppets for as long as I can remember, and as such, I'm extremely glad to see that The Muppet Show is finally coming to DVD in the right way...complete season box sets.  No more best-ofs, compilations, or any of that hooey.  Just those lovable Muppets doing what they do best, one show at a time.

Jim Henson's creations had already made appearances on TV specials, Sesame Street, The Ed Sullivan Show and more, but his idea was to make them the stars of their own weekly comedy/variety show.  The premise was kind of a show within a show, as on-stage entertainment mixed with backstage hijinks, all under the watchful eye of the stalwart Kermit the Frog.

The frog was already a star to us kids, but The Muppet Show would go on to make household names of Fozzie Bear, Miss Piggy, Gonzo the Great, Animal, Dr. Teeth, the Swedish Chef and more.  It was a raucous group of characters that made for great unbridled comedy and music week after week.

Of course, one of the staples of the show was the string of guest stars, and the first season boasted some choice ones.  Two of the most notable were Lena Horne, because her appearance made other big name stars take the show more seriously, and Rita Moreno, who won an Emmy for her appearance in one of the all time classic episodes.

But also on parade were Florence Henderson, Jim Nabors, Vincent Price, Ruth Buzzi, Peter Ustinov, Paul Williams, Harvey Korman and more.  These stars were always great sports, seemed to be having a blast, and didn't mind being upstaged by some rather enthusiastic puppets.  One of my personal favorites, and certainly one of the strangest, was the Mummenschanz, a trio of Swedish mimes who made funny and creative uses of various kinds of masks.

As with any first season show, you can go back and begin to see how the concepts and characterizations came together.  Early on, Miss Piggy was shared by Frank Oz and Richard Hunt, but as her character became more developed and more important to the show, Oz would take over permanently.  Fozzie grew from a one note premise of a bad-joke comedian into a more sympathetic and audience friendly bear.  Scooter, whose uncle owned the theatre, would arrive, as would Dr. Bunsen Honeydew (no Beaker til season two). 

And some characters disappeared after the first year, like George the Janitor and the singing duo of Wayne and Wanda (whom we would learn in later years Kermit fired).  Hey, show business is a tough business, even for puppets...

I'm pleased to say these shows are as funny and entertaining as ever.  I enjoyed my time with the four disc set, reliving some old memories and seeing some things for the first time.  The UK versions of the show always ran a little longer, and now, with this DVD compilation, we in the States get to see those extra numbers that never made it to our own television screens.

Big stars, big laughs, big songs and more...it definitely was the most sensational, inspirational, celebrational of shows.

BONUS TRIVIA:  They couldn't get enough, so Paul Williams and Peter Ustinov would return to do cameos in the feature films...and Paul Williams would co-write some great songs for The Muppet Movie!

Video ***1/2

Disney did it right...thinking that the Muppets might not ever look good on DVD, their new digital transfers for the first season proved me wrong.  Now the shows look as bright and colorful as they were meant to be, with little in the way of video artifacting.  There's no bleeding, and lines are generally clear and well defined throughout.  Bravo!

Audio ***

Likewise, the new digitally remastered sound is a plus, especially during the many big musical numbers.  Dialogue is clean and clear throughout, and dynamic range is better than you would expect.

Features ***

All four discs feature Muppet Morsels, a pop-up trivia track that's one of the best I've ever seen.  There's all kinds of good information at hand, from behind-the-scenes stories to tidbits about the guest stars, notes about the music and the puppeteers, and more...they even keep a running tally of Miss Piggy's karate chops for you!

Then on disc four, you can catch the original pilot for The Muppet Show, which was titled "Sex and Violence"...don't ask.  You can also see Jim Henson's original pitch to the network (funny stuff), and a collection of promos for the show that plays out like a short gag reel.

The menu screens are nicely done...Statler and Waldorf heckle you if you don't get to making your selections quick enough!

Summary:

Jim Henson may have left us far too soon, but the wonder of his vision will live on.  For longtime fans like me or for curious newcomers, The Muppet Show Season One is a great introduction to the magic and madness of those lovable Muppets...keep 'em coming!

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