Muppet Retro Review: The Muppet Show: Sex And Violence

Richard John Cummins – Everyone knows sex sells, and in early 1975 even Jim Henson put that principle to the test, although in this case it was only as part of a title and clearly meant to be tongue-in-cheek. Following the previous year’s Muppets Valentine Show, the same TV network (ABC) aired the second attempt to launch a half-hour weekly Muppets program, this one called The Muppet Show: Sex and Violence (sometimes written as The Muppet Show Presents Sex and Violence). Lest any viewers (particularly concerned parents) for some reason interpret the subtitle literally, it’s addressed with typical Muppet subtlety (which is to say, none) in the opening segment, as the words “SEX AND VIOLENCE” appear in big letters only to have Crazy Harry step into frame and blow them up with his detonator, while the offstage announcer declares it’s “the end of sex and violence on television.”

After an opening montage, we’re introduced to the show’s central character, who is… not Kermit the Frog, but rather Nigel (who would later have a very small recurring role on the classic Muppet Show as the band’s conductor), as well as the principle setting, an office which they refer to as “the control room.” It’s unclear just what kind of business they’re supposed to be running, but in this episode their main concern is producing a pageant in which the contestants are none other than the Seven Deadly Sins, each one represented by a colorful character who personifies (or Muppetfies) that particular trait (i.e. Vanity is a walking mirror, Avarice is a living cash register, etc.). All of the “sins” have speaking roles except Anger, an orange proto-punk rocker who’s just briefly seen in the background (maybe that’s why he was angry).

Following a change of setting in which we now find ourselves in a dance hall (the debut of the long-running “At the Dance” sketches, complete with the music that would always be used), we hear Nigel explain: “This show kind of jumps from place to place.” He wasn’t kidding: about five sketches are broken up and presented as running segments throughout the show, including one where the four faces of Mount Rushmore tell each other riddles (one of which is a bit risque). Self-contained segments range from a direct movie parody, Return to Beneath the Planet of the Pigs (also the introduction of the Muppets’ repertory hog players) to one involving two original Muppet species (heaps and starks) speaking gibberish while bonking each hard other over the head with clubs (so much for “the end of violence”).

If nothing else, Sex and Violence probably holds the record in Muppet history for the one-shot program in which the most major characters debuted: the Swedish Chef, Statler and Waldorf, Sam the Eagle and Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem (including Animal) all make their first appearance here (although Teeth was technically first seen one day earlier alongside Henson on The Tonight Show). It’s fortunate that Muppet characters happen to be in abundance this time around, as there’s no human guest star.

In a sense, Sex and Violence is actually less conventional than the later classic Muppet Show or even other Muppet specials: there’s no laugh track, and the surrealist element a la Monty Python is definitely boosted. There’s also only one full musical number (the Electric Mayhem doing the Joe Raposo original “Love Ya to Death”). But could this format have worked week in and week out? The fact that they never had the chance probably answers that. The lack of songs, lighter moments and a human celebrity for the characters to play off all become conspicuous in their absence. In 2005 Sex and Violence was unceremoniously included on the Muppet Show: Season One DVD as a bonus feature identified only as “the Original Muppet Show Pilot.” While it’s thoroughly enjoyable – not to mention funny – and definitely stands out among Muppet offerings, this was probably never going to be the concept which was going to take them to the next level.