This episode’s guest star is Academy Award-winning actor, Sir Peter Ustinov. Twice winning the Best Supporting Actor Award for Spartacus and Topkapi,Ustinov had a varied and successful career up until his death in 2004.
Ustinov’s appearance most resembles that of Korman’s a few episodes back, in that he doesn’t perform any musical numbers, but instead adopts a number of different characters through various comedic set pieces that are an effective showcase for his talents.
The first of these sketches is Muppet Labs where he joins Dr. Bunsen Honeydew to demonstrate the robot politician invention which sees Ustinov adopt the characters of Winston Churchill, Richard Nixon, a Russian premier, as well as adopting a slightly un-PC Chinese accent. Despite the slightly awkward moments, it’s a solid sketch that showcases Ustinov’s adaptability.
Other than the Muppet Labs, Ustinov appears in two further notable sketches where he plays a doctor of some description. The first of these is where he and Fozzie play Dr. Nood and Dr. Nik, discussing post-Dickensian economics in a sketch that ends in a deliberately cringe worthy punchline, and the second being his appearance in the Panel Discussion segment discussing psychiatry, where he clashes with Cynthia Birdley.
Although this was another episode where the guest didn’t perform any musical material, the show wasn’t lacking in such performances. The opening sketch saw a balloon-headed orchestra perform a rendition of Pizzicata in a parody of An Evening At The Pops. In a UK exclusive, a selection of the Muppet cast, headed up by Rowlf on piano and Miss Piggy on lead vocals, perform Chips Morman and Larry Butler’s (Hey Wont You Play) Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song, which is the second episode running where Rowlf wipes tears away from his eyes. Although whether or not these are fake tears is debateable.
The other notable musical number is in a sketch featuring Svengali and his assistant. During the sketch we see him transform her several times whilst she delivers a performance of Cole Porter’s You Do Something To Me. This is the second time this series the song has been performed, with the first appearance in a sketch in episode 8 with Wayne and Wanda. This is the more successful rendition of the song by some way, as its given extended airtime over the typically short Wayne and Wanda sketches.
The recycling of material is commonplace in The Muppet Show, but having the same song performed twice in four episodes did seem a little strange at first, but it’s easy to give it a pass when the sketch is so well executed.
This episode marked the first time Bein’ Green was used on The Muppet Show. The song was originally written by Joe Raposo and was in the first season of Sesame Street and has been performed a number of times in Henson productions as well as being covered by many popular recording artists, including such greats as Ray Charles, Frank Sinatra and Van Morrison, to name but a few.
It’s an incredible song that is overtly about self acceptance, but has also been seen as a comment on race as well as the environment. Its performance here would tie itself in with the theme of self acceptance more than the other suggested themes, given that it follows a sketch where Scooter highlights that he’d rather follow in the footsteps of Ustinov than Kermit, which is the last of many insults Kermit has to endure throughout the episode and the one that finally sends him over the edge.
The fact that the lyrics of the song can be applied successfully to a number of different themes and carry a number of different meanings shows the quality of the writing involved.
I wouldn’t say I enjoyed the episode as much as Korman’s, as I don’t feel it effectively showcased Ustinov’s talents to the same extent, but still this was an excellent episode, especially in the context of the hit and miss nature of the series at this stage.
Ustinov’s performance added a much needed dose of personality and energy that was lacking from the episode that directly preceded it, and even if it doesn’t reach the heights of some of the best of the series so far, it’s still a very strong episode that’s packed with laughs and some great musical numbers.
I’m very much looking forward to the next episode, which promises to be something of a Brucie bonus…
Read our remembrance of episode 11 here.