Muppet Retro Reviews: Muppets Tonight, Part 8

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Abigail Maughan – Thanks to everyone who voted in the recent poll! “The Best of Muppets Tonight,” “Johnny Fiama Leaves Home,” and the Dennis Quaid episode win, with the Prince episode and “The Cameo Show” close behind. See for yourself here, if you so desire. Now, let’s finish this up, shall we?

muppets_tonight-_204_andie_mcdowell_(#themuppetarchive)211—ANDIE MCDOWELL

PLOT: With perhaps the most attention and character development he’s ever had, Bunsen Honeydew experiences a mid-life crisis when Beaker leaves on a Star Trek celebrity cruise.

GUEST STAR: Guest starring is actress Andie McDowell, who would join the Muppets again the following year in Muppets from Space, is, as per usual for guest stars, totally cool with making fun of herself and being silly. Silly, here, is dressing a cathedral bell, kissing Kermit, and gruffly forcing Bunsen into rebellious activity. George Takei gets to hang with Beaker, and shares enough faux Star Trek lore to please fans and non-fans alike. Cameos include Ben Stein in the pun of a lifetime, Bob Keeshan in a Captain Kangaroo reference, and In Living Color’s The Fly Girls singing backup to a bizarre rap sung by Bunsen.

andie3COMEDY: This is one of the most pop-culture-heavy episodes there is, and that’s saying something with this show! There are parodies of or references to “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” a Bruce Springsteen music video, “2001: A Space Odyssey,” Captain Kangaroo, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, “Battlestar Galactica,” “Pretty Woman,” and of course, Star Trek.

MUSIC: This music-heavy episode really delivers, with a penguin rendition of the “Hallelujah Chorus,” which is a glorious sentence to type. Kermit’s “mid-life crisis” is shown, which consists of him reliving Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark” music video. Bunsen briefly raps about his new identity (“Snoop Doggy Dew”), and then Johnny sings about it with “Pretty Bunsen” and a hilarious clothing montage.

LOWLIGHTS:

    • Good for the writers and their dedication to their Southern bell(e) puns, but the final “Gone With the Wind” punchline took the long and winding road to actually get to it.
    • Big Mean Carl, here pretending to be a psychic in order to eat a bird, is fine as a time filler, but just doesn’t deliver the big laughs.
    • Not a big fan of excessive Miss Piggy fat jokes. Enough said.

andie1HIGHLIGHTS:

    • Johnny: You know what they say, Bunsen: clothes make the man. And we’re gonna make you a new man. So let’s… go get some… new clothes.
    • Sal: Are you sure that’s what they say, Johnny?
    • Who would have thought that an episode starring Bunsen Honeydew would work so well? I’m glad the writers took the chance to make this secondary character shine in a partnership with a star like Andie MacDowell.
    • Kermit as Bruce Springsteen—completely awesome in every way.

OTHER OBSERVATIONS:
Making cameos as Star Trek fans are both performer Bill Barretta and writer Kirk Thatcher.

MY RANKING: 3/5 Mormon Tabernacle Penguins. A well-used guest star and a strong story arc make a very well put together episode with not a lot to complain about.

jf1212—JOHNNY FIAMA LEAVES HOME

PLOT: The alleged episode where, according to various production members, everything clicked, Johnny Fiama gets into an argument with his mother and moves out, prompting Sal’s attempts to reunite the two.

GUEST STAR: The guest stars this time around have very minor parts, but play them well. Page Hannah and Daryl Hannah visit with Johnny and Sal, and Johnny Mathis gets to serenade Mama Fiama with two of his hits. This is the only episode besides the clip show that doesn’t have a guest star performing on the Muppets’ show, which works for the only episode that doesn’t predominantly center on the events in the KMUP studio.

COMEDY: My favorite of the “Real World Muppets” segments, a “Tales from the Vet” that chronicles a battle with an echo machine, “Bay of Pigswatch,” and “The Eagle’s Nest” make up the skit selection, while the plot provides many slapstick and physical gags.

muppets_tonight-_208_daryl_hannah_&_johnny_mathis_(#themuppetarchive)MUSIC: The parody band of The Village Spiders sing “Macho Bug,” and Johnny, Sal and the Hannah sisters sing a brief rendition of “That’s Amore.” Most memorable is Johnny’s closing performance of “You and Me Against the World” to his mother, which, through the use of silent flashbacks, manages to be both hilarious and sweet.

LOWLIGHTS:

  • Among the skits is a “Bay of Pigswatch,” the periodic porcine-populated parody of the popular program “Baywatch.” I realize it’s a comedy spoof and shouldn’t be taken too seriously, but I’ve never liked these because I don’t find any of the four pig characters too endearing.

muppets_tonight-_208_daryl_hannah_&_johnny_mathis_(#themuppetarchive)HIGHLIGHTS:

  • Usually I will record the quote that made me laugh the most from the episode, but here, I must say that I laughed the hardest at Mama Fiama attacking a clown for no real reason in one of the “You and Me Against the World” flashbacks.
  • The writing of this episode is more reminiscent of a sitcom than a puppet variety show, and it totally works. What else could they have done with this formula, and for how long?
  • Here is one of the “Real World Muppets” segments, which feature five high-maintenance Muppets living together, spoofing the TV show of the same gist. This one stars an angsty character called Darci, who cracks me up with her perpetual misplaced negativity.
  • Bobo: (after Darci’s violent anti-bears song) It’s a little… one-sided.
  • Darci: Is it because I’m a woman?! I’m not supposed to express my opinions?

mt1OTHER OBSERVATIONS:

  • The “Eagle’s Nest” installation, the final scene to take place inside the studio, could be seen as a reflection of the entire show: four-fifths of the characters are new to the show, annoying ones and decent ones alike, some clever jokes, some awful ones, and many puns.
  • “You and Me Against the World” is, I noticed, the third song sung by Johnny Fiama that had also been previously performed on The Muppet Show. “Close to You” and “Mack the Knife” were the other two.

MY RANKING: 4/5 Village Spiders. Although it’s different in format, this episode remains funny and memorable. That, plus it stars the show’s two most prominent new characters, making it a fine episode to end the series on.

mt2So, that’s Muppets Tonight. It wasn’t all good, but far from all bad. For every superfluous Mr. Poodlepants, there’s an intriguing Gary Cahuenga. For every ho-hum “At the Bar” segment, there’s a wildly entertaining “Tales from the Vet” skit. For every unfunny scene crashed by Andy and Randy Pig, there’s a brilliant movie parody or creative music video.

Despite booking some of the biggest celebrities of the time, creating truckloads of pop-culture parodies and new characters, and the valiant efforts to combine characteristics of The Muppet Show with bigger and better plots, Muppets Tonight somehow failed to connect with an audience to sustain it for more than two seasons. It’s a shame, because I think the second season was very strong, and found its legs as a Muppets TV show. Little did fans know that it would be the final Muppets TV show, for now.

mt3If there is ever to be another one, the creators would benefit from looking back to see what worked and what didn’t the last time the Muppets had a spot on television. Take the characters outside the studio once in a while. Keep writing the guest stars into the plot conflicts. Make the ratio of old and new characters a little more even, but definitely introduce new and interesting characters. Of course, there’s always room for more than a couple of recurring female characters beyond airheads and mothers. Please don’t invite Andy and Randy back.

Thanks for reading, and beware of falling cows.

We got a show for you, guaranteed brand new! Here come the Muppets, Here come the Muppets, Here come the Muppets Tonight!

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The Muppet Mindset by Ryan Dosier, muppetmindset@gmail.com

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