The guest stars for the series finale is the Swiss experimental performance art troupe, Mummenschanz. Formed in 1972, Mummenschanz have performed for over thirty years and have seen various numbers join the troupe during that time. The first act of its kind to perform on The Muppet Show, they also appeared on an episode of Sesame Street.
Mummenschanz weren’t the original choice for the guest stars for the closing episode. They were approached when planned guest Gina Lollobrigida pulled out. Henson had seen Mummenschanz’s show in Switzerland and suggested that they would be an ideal replacement. This turned out to be a very good suggestion.
The show opens with a fantastic musical number as Scooter and The Electric Mayhem perform Mr. Bassman. Upbeat and relentlessly entertaining, there’s more entertainment in this short musical number than the entire two episodes that preceded this finale.
Other notable musical numbers include the UK exclusive of an Eel singing When I’m Not Near The Girl I Love, from the musical Finian’s Rainbow and a library attendant conducting a chorus of noisy readers in a rendition of Strauss’ The Blue Danube. Both are solid, but don’t touch the quality of the episode’s opening number or that of the eccentric guest stars.
I found Mummenschanz’s contributions to be fantastic, full of charm, wit and a sense of playfulness that has been absent of late. The performers contort their bodies to adopt the roles of animals and use notepads and clay masks to alter their expressions, delivering interesting and highly entertaining sketches as a result. They remain masked throughout, even through their talk spot with Kermit, until they unmask at the end of the show.
Other than the aforementioned material, there’s backstage shenanigans as Gonzo declares his love for Miss Piggy, and Kermit encouraging it, despite Piggy being repulsed by the big-nosed blue menace and declaring her love for Kermit.
The episode would also be one of firsts and lasts, as it would mark the debut of Gonzo’s whoosh action, which would feature prominently in future episodes. It is also the last episode to be written by Jack Burns and the last to feature the talents of John Lovelady and Eren Ozker.
This episode is more of an interesting oddity than a classic episode, but still thoroughly entertaining nonetheless. It will be one that’s perhaps not to everyone’s tastes, but Mummenschanz’s brand of physical performance art that often borders on puppetry is an interesting contrast to the Muppet material contained in the episode. It’s certainly a step up from the two episodes that preceded it, and proves a strong closing episode.
Whilst there have been some poor episodes in the series, the hits outnumbered the misses, making the series as a whole very enjoyable.
The show would go on to attract bigger names throughout its five series run, as its profile raised considerably. Future episodes would also see guest stars utilised to their full potential. Sure, there would be slip-ups along the way, but very few long running series are without the odd bad episode.
After sitting through the series for review, I’m convinced that a new team of writers could take the show’s format and characters and deliver a highly entertaining primetime show that could attract big name guest stars. Sadly, I doubt this will happen, but we’ll wait and see how the forthcoming movie fares in relaunching the Muppet brand following some disappointing straight-to-video productions.