Jarrod Fairclough – Welcome to Muppets Tonight: Today, a new series where we take a look back at the 1990’s version of a new Muppet Show, which was cancelled by ABC after 10 episodes, only to have the full 22 episodes run a year later on The Disney Channel. The series can be found ready to download on various torrent sites.
Today’s review focuses on Episode 1, guest starring actor Michelle Pfeiffer.
Muppets Tonight. This series came at an odd time for The Muppets. It’d been 6 years since the sudden death of Jim Henson, and 4 since Richard Hunt passed. Brian Henson had shown he had the skills to carry on the legacy after directing both The Muppet Christmas Carol and Muppet Treasure Island. And so ABC asked him and his team of creatives to make them an updated version of The Muppet Show. The issue was that many of Jim and Richard’s characters had not yet been recast, and with Frank Oz only around part time due to his directing career, The Muppets had to rely on a bunch of brand new characters. This would prove chaotic.
The episode begins with the Muppets running a television station, KMUP, only for Kermit to realize there’s nothing going to air, meaning they need to put on a show. Unfortunately Clifford is distracted as Kermit asks for a volunteer to host the show, meaning the homie made of foamie is left to handle the MC duties last minute. While it was true that Clifford had been around since the late 80’s, he was an odd choice to make the focus of a brand new Muppet show, considering he hadn’t even been in the previous two films. Many people were left confused as to why Kermit wasn’t doing it, considering he was right there the whole time anyway. And while I like Clifford and what Kevin Clash did with him in the show, I do wonder if things would have gone a different way if the frog was leading the charge.
One thing this show has going for it straight away – the theme song. I remember singing this song when I was 7, and in 22 years I’ve never forgotten the words. It shows off a bunch of new characters mixed in with the old, like Lew Zealand singing alongside Champ Schwimmer, or Mildred Huxtetter slapping a nose on a what-not. It does a great job showing audiences that this isn’t The Muppet Show, but it’s still got a bunch of your favorite characters. Plus, I love me anything with Chip in it.
The show certainly has a Muppet Show-esque feel to it. The opening number, Francois Fromage and his Dancing Cheeses, could be right out of an episode of the original series. Miss Piggy’s entrance with her own applause machine is fantastically Muppety. As much as I may complain throughout these reviews that there was too much focus on new characters, it’s nice that the old characters get a lot to do, too. Gonzo gets to recommend the opening number, Rizzo is a stage manager, and Kermit, Bunsen, Beaker and Animal get a whole segment to themselves in ‘Muppet Matchmaker’. Then there’s Miss Piggy, who is initially thought to be the show’s guest star. While she certainly makes sporadic appearances throughout the 22 episodes, this is really the most we get to see of her in any plotline capacity. Miss Piggy is one of the keys to the shows success, so that Frank wasn’t around too much means that the porcine princess didn’t get as much screentime as usual, to the shows detriment.
The new characters get a lot to do, too. With the introduction of Andy and Randy, the franchise would get two of the most divisive characters in Muppet history. Sure, they had debuted a couple of years earlier in Muppet Classic Theater, but this was the first time we got to know them properly, and they certainly have a ‘love them or hate them’ quality, and would almost disappear after the show was cancelled, only making one appearance in the Muppets Kitchen shorts, and background appearances in Muppets Most Wanted and the 2015 series.
David Hoggselhoff and Spamela Hamderson debut in Episode 1 too, and she certainly makes an impression. I always enjoy when The Muppets push things a little far, and the looks and enthusiasm the male pigs in Bay of Pigswatch show her is genuinely hilarious.
Though it goes with the plotline of the episode, Michelle Pfieffer doesn’t make her first appearance until almost halfway through the episode. Kermit has managed to find her to be the nights guest, unaware that Piggy has taken the role. It’s a classic ‘pit Miss Piggy against another woman’ plotline, but it’s a safe choice that ultimately works. I’ll preface this by saying that I love Eric Jacobson, and I think he’s the only guy for the job these days, but Piggy has that certain something when she’s being played by Frank. It might be those little asides he gives her, or that he dials up the overacting just a notch higher, but she’s just brilliant throughout this entire thing. I do understand though that Eric has never been given the chance to play her in this sort of format, so I guess we’ll see if that ever happens.
Ultimately, this was a great look at the first episode of a show heading towards cancellation. It had its moments, but ultimately it wasn’t what people wanted in a Muppet series, something ABC learned then somehow forgot by 2015 when they made another Muppet series. But I’m excited to watch a show that I haven’t seen in years, which I’ve largely forgotten at this point, and I’m excited to share my thoughts with all of you.
Inspired in part by our pals at ToughPigs and their reviews of The Muppet Show, each review will end with the same opinion questions:
Episode Highlight: Piggy and Michelle meeting for the first time is one of Piggy’s finest moments, if only for her incorrectly assuming she knew Michelle as ‘Barney’s wife’.
Episode Lowlight: The revelation that Rizzo ate the dancing cheeses was fine, but then Clifford had to explain the joke and it bombed.
Most Valuable Muppet Performer: Frank Oz again proves why he’s one of the best, with both Miss Piggy and Animal drawing some of the show’s biggest laughs.
Most Classically Muppety Moment: Miss Piggy firing a cannon at Michelle during the final number.
Oddest Moment: Just how creepy Bunsen got during the Muppet Match-up segment. I don’t know what a ‘bippy’ is, and frankly, I don’t want to know.
Did You Notice: Speaking of Bunsen, he was performed in that sketch by Bill Barretta, which was surprising. He’s very good.
One More Thing: I’ll go into this more in a later review, but this show could almost have been named ‘Spot the Head’. On more than one occasion, a Muppet performer’s head sneaks in to frame.