The Muppet Show episode 20 review

Our fond look back at The Muppet Show continues, with episode 20, guest starring Valerie Harper of The Mary Tyler Moore Show fame…

This episode’s guest star is Valerie Harper, whose career began in the 50s as a dancer and chorus girl on Broadway. She would later try her hand at improvisational comedy with the acclaimed Second City Theatre, whose alumni are amongst the most well respected and successful comedic performers of all time.

Although Harper appeared in a few films, she mainly worked on television with roles on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, where she won three of her four Emmys. Harper also starred in the show’s spin-off, Rhoda, and later another starring series, Valerie, which also featured previous Muppet Show guest host, Sandy Duncan. But can Harper deliver the goods in a way that Duncan failed to?

This episode is interesting, as it’s really the only one in the first series that captures the spontaneity and chaotic tone that would typify much of the future episodes.

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The sense that the guest turned up unannounced and had to audition for her role adds an air that many of the performances are off the cuff, and are quite enjoyable, despite the fact that they’re obviously very well planned out.

Harper’s audition involves her dropping the revelation on Kermit that she’s taken care of the scheduled opening act and will be performing a rendition of Broadway Baby from Stephen Sondheim’s Follies, backstage. Throughout the performance, Harper changes costumes and adopts a number of personalities for which she also changes her vocal delivery. A nice showcase for her versatility as a performer.

Another song from a musical that Harper performs is Nobody Does It Like Me from Seesaw, as the show’s closing number, which finds her playing up to the lyrical content of the song, which is about someone who can’t do anything right and constantly clashes accidentally with her chorus line of Cloudhoppers.

Other than the two musical numbers, Harper’s contributions are mainly in small sketches backstage where she talks to Hilda about makeup and Kermit about the aforementioned closing number. She also appears in a fairly entertaining Muppet News Flash sketch, but the absence of the usual Talk Spot segment is noticeable.

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Floyd Pepper is given the spotlight and performs away from The Electric Mayhem with a rendition of The Coasters Searchin’. The Jaggeresque vocal delivery is very fitting with his persona and the sketch that the performance is built around provides a suitable fit for the song’s lyrical content, as Floyd searches for the elusive Mary Louise.

The running theme of Statler attempting to seek out Harper backstage in order to ask her out ties the episode together nicely, as much of the comedy from the backstage antics is gleaned from the out of control plant he looks to present to her to win her affections. Whilst not as cohesive a theme as the previous episode, which saw the best execution of material in the series so far, this is still a step in the right direction.

My only real complaint with the episode is that Harper seems a little underused, but she injects infinitely more personality into the performance than Sandy Duncan did. Even with the sense that she’s underused, when she’s on the screen she takes the opportunity to shine, showcasing impeccable comic timing and an affability that makes her a very enjoyable guest star and this a solid episode as a whole.

You can read our remembrance of episode 19 here.

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