This episode’s guest star is American comedienne Phyllis Diller. One of the first women to have a successful career in comedy, Diller is an influential figure who is seen to have inspired and opened many doors for those who followed in her footsteps. She’s no longer working in stand up, but her career spanned fifty years until she had to retire in 2002 due to ill health. She still appears in the odd documentary, as well as lending her vocal talents to the likes of Family Guy and Robot Chicken.
There are plenty of sketches and musical numbers in this Muppet Show episode that don’t contain Diller, but unfortunately, most of them aren’t of that high a standard. Statler and Waldorf’s appearance in the At The Dance segment was entertaining, as was the Hugga Wugga rendition of You Are My Sunshine, which would give Avery Schreiber’s musical number a run for its money for the title of weirdest musical number of the series to date.
Other than that, though, it’s all a bit subpar. The running theme of Hilda wanting to make herself look younger and thusly more attractive is pretty tiresome, as is the Gogolala Jubilee Jugband’s Mississippi Mud musical number. Regular sketches like Veterinarians Hospital and Muppet Labs are fine, but just that, while even Dr. Teeth and The Electric Mayhem, which are usually a favourite of mine, are a little weak.
On the plus side, though, the guest star this week is very strong.Diller’s first sketch on the show sees her exchanging a series of woes with Rowlf the dog in a bar. What begins as quite downbeat soon lightens in tone, as the two strike up a friendship and constantly try to outdo each other. Soon the pair has a crowd of other Muppets laughing at their tales.
It goes to highlight just what a natural comic Diller is, as she makes delivering such funny lines seem effortless. With an abundance of charm and the ability to make self-deprecation seem so funny, the evidence is there to see why Diller was held in such high regard.
Later in the episode, she joins a long list of names who attempt to assist Fozzie in honing his comic craft, but soon finds the task a little more difficult than she initially assumed.
Other than this sketch, there are a couple of brief appearances in The Muppet News Flash segment, and a backstage conversation with Gonzo, before Diller performs in the show’s closing song, with a rendition of The Entertainer, where she attempts to play the saxophone. As Diller misses notes and struggles with the instrument for comedic effect, Zoot comes and shows her how it’s done. This wouldn’t be the last time that The Entertainer would be used in The Muppet Show, as it would appear early on in the following series.
Diller’s appearances are so memorable, despite often being quite brief, that I couldn’t help but feel she was underused, especially as a lot of the other material didn’t match up to the quality of those she appeared in.
Whilst I would hesitate to say this is one of the better episodes seen in recent weeks, which has seen a major upturn in form overall, it’s still a solid effort. Diller is a charming and funny guest star whose material is of an incredibly high standard. It’s just a shame that the majority of the other sketches that fill out the show fail to match up.
Still, as a whole, this episode is far from a miss, and had it not been for the slightly disappointing filler sketches and musical numbers, it could have ranked up against some of the best seen in the series so far.
As it stands, though, this is a nice showcase for the guest star’s talents, and another solid episode in a run of good form that’s given the series some consistency that was severely lacking in the early stages.
You can read our remembrance of episode 17 here.
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