Michael Wermuth Jnr – Well, today’s the 20th anniversary of Muppets Tonight. So I thought it’d be a great time to list some of the best episodes. Do to the small number of episodes (22), I decided to make the article be on just the top six (and in chronological order). Enjoy!
1. Episode 101: Michelle Pheiffer
This first episode was a great way to start the series. The Muppets have a meeting at their new studio, KMUP, and when Gonzo reads the schedule and Kermit notes that the current slot is TBA (to be announced), he hastily decides to put on a show, making Clifford the host because he was the only one to not leave the room when Kermit asked somebody to host (as a kid I wondered why Kermit couldn’t host it). During the show, Clifford and Rizzo decide that they need a guest star, and Miss Piggy (who previously left the Muppets) agrees to be the first guest on the condition that her nephews, Andy and Randy, get a job (and she ends up making more appearances), but then Kermit arranges to get Michelle Pfeiffer to be the first guest, leading the Muppets to need to keep the two guests apart.
This first one has a lot of wonderful moments, including “Muppet Match Up” (actually, most of these moments where it’s shown that the guest star previously worked with the Muppets are wonderful) and the first “Bay of Pigs Watch” (it’s also the most solid of them). I first saw this episode in its original broadcast, and was a bit worried at the beginning when most of the established characters left the room, thinking that meant they would not appear again (while Bunsen and Beaker did appear later in this episode, it’s only in what’s presented as a clip from the 1970s). I did see many of these characters on the show again, even if many didn’t have large roles on the show. But in retrospect, while the show did seem to focus a lot more on the new characters, this episode didn’t really have many characters who were truly new. I feel like it is a better first episode than the first episodes of The Muppet Show, The Jim Henson Hour, and The Muppets.
2. Episode 103: Billy Crystal
Billy Crystal does a lot of funny moments here, like the “When Harry Met Sally” screentest and “City Stickers”, as well as the big jazz number at the end. There’s a plot where Bobo gets hired to be the security guard, and none of the people who arrive are on his list (well, Bobo later sees that he overlooked Larry King).
This is the first episode to feature Fozzie Bear. When I saw that he wasn’t in the first episode, I was worried if he’d appear (I had not yet seen any promotional photos that he was in), so I was pleased to not only see Fozzie, but also Sam the Eagle (who I wasn’t even expecting to show up, I mean if Fozzie wasn’t on the show…). In fact, Frank oz does a lot of work here, as his main characters as well as a few one-shots like the Lion from “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”.
3. Episode 105: Cindy Crawford
This episode finds Bobo falling in love with guest star Cindy Crawford, with a subplot where Cupid accidentally makes Sal fall in love with Johnny Fiama. I should mention that, for some reason, nearly all of the episodes with female guest stars are really solid episodes, and Cindy Crawford is no exception, with the very funny “Kermit the Frog Club” segment, showing her super powers to Andy and Randy (those who hate the two should like this one), and she looks really great in her dress at the end. I really like the scene where Rizzo helps Bobo with what to say to Cindy (one of my friends who wasn’t a big Muppet fan really liked the line “that’s a nice set of balloons you’ve got there, maybe you’ll let me play with them later”). The cameo by Mickey Dolenze is the first time I knew about any of The Monkees (well, the majority of celebrities who have worked with the Muppets, even today, are ones whom I first knew about through their appearances with the Muppets).
4. Episode 107: Sandra Bullock
So much to like about this one. The plot is based on her movie “Speed” (which I haven’t seen), except that a mad bomber has put in a bomb to explode if the ratings go below 50 (it would have been great if this was Crazy Harry, though given how it ends, it makes sense to be a different character). There’s a few references to past productions, primarily with “The Psychiatrists Office” sketch and “Seinfeld Babies”. Andy and Randy have some really funny moments, such as how they trace the phone call. There’s also a very fast-paced sequence where Gonzo and Rizzo get various acts onto the show, which includes the singing potato Sid Knoshious and Seymour and Pepe’s hilarious “elephino” joke (this is also the first episode where Pepe had a featured part).
If there’s one thing to not like, it’s how it ends. I actually didn’t think about this until writing this, but the way it ends feels a little odd, with Sandra Bullock wanting to play a song for hours. Even though it includes a cameo by Beauregard.
And I just now realize that, so far, I’ve been favoring every other episode (in broadcast order), but the next two are more spread apart.
5. Episode 208: The Cameo Show
This is one of a handful of episodes to not have an official featured guest star (well, Arsenio Hall sort of counts), instead having small appearances by a number of guests, including Jay Leno, Little Richard, and Kathy Ireland. In this episode, scheduled guest star Arsenio Hall is accidentally killed when Bobo gives him medicine intended for a large bear, and the Muppets scramble to find a new guest star, while hiding the dead body (which Dr. Phil van Neuter and Mulch find out about and decide to bring back to life on the show). Highlights include the only “Real World Muppets” sketch that aired in the US, Bobo failing to recognize Jay Leno or that he wants to be a guest (and I think he’s the only celebrity to have appeared on both Muppets Tonight and The Muppets), and the commercial for “Johnny’s Pasta Playhouse”.
6. Episode 211: Andie McDowell
This episode gives Bunsen his own plot. With Beaker taking a Star Trek fan cruise, Bunsen goes through a mid-life crisis, taking on a number of looks and personalities before settling to look more like Johnny Fiama. Meanwhile, Beaker meets George Takei on his cruise, and has to endure a long story about how Takei got his job on the show. Andie McDowell also decides that she wants to play a Southern Belle, which the writers keep getting wrong (not so much wrong as literally) before becoming Bunsen’s lady as they go on an adventure.
While I like Bunsen and Beaker’s different plotlines, one of the highlights is the video of Kermit’s mid-life crisis, a parody of Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark”. It also marks one of the few times on the series that Miss Piggy was shown to like Kermit (and yet this moment was presented as having happened during the 1980s). Johnny Fiama’s “Pretty Bunsen” song is also hilarious. The only really forgettable moment is the movie “Four Weddings and a Frog”, which I had forgotten about for the longest time (and when I watched this episode again recently it did not ring any bells in my head). Back when I first saw this, I thought it was cool that Bunsen and Beaker got their own plots, feeling like they didn’t on The Muppet Show (overlooking the fact that the “plots” of the Peter Sellers and Gilda Radner episodes involved Muppet Labs, and unaware of a number of episode plots that involved either of the two).
Happy Anniversary, Muppets Tonight!