Ryan Dosier – We’ve come to the end of The Muppet Show‘s run with Season 5, which is extremely close to being the finest season the show ever put out. Jim Henson knew that he wanted to go out on top, and he did, both in terms of the show’s cultural penetration and creatively speaking. The comedy is top notch, the musical numbers are flawless, and the guest stars only get better and better. The writing of Jerry Juhl and the team really stands out this season, as it is some of the greatest work to be put on television.
Anyway, we jump in with the final six of The Muppet Show‘s 30 greatest episodes. Half of the guest stars here are some of entertainment’s most beloved children, which shows just how popular The Muppet Show really was at its peak.
Episode 501: Gene Kelly – At the time of The Muppet Show‘s fifth season, there was arguably no more adored star than Gene Kelly. He was in the autumn of his career, but that didn’t stop him from starring in one of the best episodes of The Muppet Show. It was the first episode to air from the final season, but it was the last one filmed, which gives it a very unique feeling. Throughout the episode, Kermit frantically tries to get Gene to perform, but Gene is under the impression that he’s the “guest,” not the guest star. But Gene does perform, including a brilliant tap dance lesson number with Kermit and a medley of songs with the whole cast. It’s a charming, classic episode that feels like a new beginning more than a series finale, which makes it all the more brilliant.
Episode 502: Loretta Swit – AKA, the episode where Kermit fires Miss Piggy. This episode features one of, if not the single greatest Kermit and Piggy moment on the entire show. Miss Piggy planted a rumor in “Tongue” Magazine that she and Kermit were married. This is the final straw for Kermit, who flips out completely and fires Miss Piggy on the spot. Jim Henson’s performance as Kermit is insane here, and the manic energy fuels the rest of this excellent episode. But it’s Frank Oz who shines brightest as Miss Piggy through the entire episode, going through hard-fought emotions and it’s magical.
Episode 507: Glenda Jackson – The most all-out insane parody episode throughout the entire run of The Muppet Show sees guest star Glenda Jackson reveal her true identity as the notorious pirate Black Jackson. She leads a mutiny of the show, actually setting the theater out to sea somehow. Kermit is tied up, Fozzie’s act is shanghaied, Scooter gets seasick, and so much more. To save the day, Kermit dueled Black Jackson–long before he took on Long John Silver–with the help of Gonzo and his chicken crew. It’s a wacky, wonderful, brilliant episode of television.
Episode 511: Paul Simon – I can’t be for sure, but I think this was the first episode of The Muppet Show that I ever saw. For that reason, it’s very special to me, but it’s also a wonderful episode. This is the only episode of the show where all of the songs featured were written by one artist–guest star Paul Simon. This makes for a very consistent feel throughout the episode. Musical numbers such as the literal adaptation of “Scarborough Fair,” “Loves Me Like a Rock,” and Floyd and Janice’s perfect “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” elevate this episode sky high. Plus, Gonzo is absolutely hysterical as he attempts to become a songwriter, which culminates in him raising baby asparagus after they hatch from eggs. Of course.
Episode 514: Mac Davis – This episode features some of the best song and sketch performances of the season, including the dynamic and fun “Another Opening, Another Show” and Mac Davis singing “It’s Hard to Be Humble” with Link Hogthrob. But the true star of this episode is Beaker, who accidentally steps into the Muppets Labs copying machine, and duplicates himself ten fold. He takes over the show, invading quite a few numbers, including one of Mac’s musical performances and Bear on Patrol. But getting to see the many Beakers try to take revenge on Dr. Bunsen Honeydew is priceless.
Episode 515: Carol Burnett – The best episode of The Muppet Show? Perhaps. It’s certainly up there. Gonzo turns the entire show into a dance contest, much to the dismay of guest star Carol Burnett, who wants nothing more than to perform. She is forced into dancing with Animal as her partner, making for some delightful moments. Gonzo is ridiculous here, Kermit is overwhelmed, and Animal is spectacular, but I think Carol may be my favorite part of this episode. She goes insane as she tries to wriggle her way into performing, going so far as to choke Kermit Homer Simpson-style. Finally, Kermit promises Carol she can perform her classic asparagus sketch, prompting her to dress in a full body asparagus suit. The whole episode is half an hour of pure, unending comedy genius.