The Muppet Show series 1 episode 17 review

Actor of stage and screen Ben Vereen adds a touch of verve and sparkle to episode 17 of The Muppet Show. Here’s Glen’s review of an energetic series entry...

This episode’s guest star is the multi-talented Ben Vereen. Popularly recognised for his role as Will Smith’s biological father in The Fresh Prince Of Bel Air, Vereen is best known for his work on the stage, appearing in many musicals such as Jesus Christ Superstar (for which he received a Tony nomination) and Pippin (for which he won a Tony award).

Like episode 14’s guest star Sandy Duncan, Vereen also appeared in Roots, while  his most notable work of late has been his role as the Wizard of Oz in the Broadway production of Wicked.

The recent trend of playing to the guest’s strength thankfully continues here, as Vereen is given ample opportunity to show off his silky smooth dance moves and singing voice. Vereen is used in a similar way to how previous musical guest star Joel Grey was used, with the material prominently taking on a musical feel, with performances of some of Broadway’s biggest musical numbers in the form of Mr. Cellophane from Chicago and Pure Imagination from Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory.

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Both provide a perfect showcase for Vereen’s talents, and go to show why he was such a successful Broadway performer. He effortlessly dances and sings his way through the numbers with an immense level of skill, and while he adds his own personality to the pieces, he never over cooks it. The performances were incredibly well judged, and as a result are two of the finer musical numbers seen in the series so far.

The opening musical number that Vereen was involved in, however, wasn’t from a musical, but was instead a Muppet rendition of the Barry Manilow song Jump Shout Boogie, which was a relatively recent hit when compared to some of the other material performed in the series. An assortment of Muppets, including Rowlf, start singing the piece, and Vereen makes a grand entrance and demonstrates some smooth moves to give the song a lift in the middle. It’s a high energy opener, and while the other musical numbers aren’t as up-tempo as this, the show never lacks momentum.

Despite the musical elements other running themes for the episode include Crazy Harry jumping on any potential cue to cause an explosion, causing chaos in the process, and even blowing the guest star in to the rafters on a couple of occasions.

The other running theme is that of Fozzie’s entrapment inside next week’s act, Marvo the Magician’s magic box. after failing to listen to Kermit’s warnings. The consequences are that the comic has to perform from inside the box, making it impossible for him to judge the crowd’s reactions. Things all come together nicely at the show’s finale, though, as Crazy Harry frees Fozzie from the box in the only way he knows how – by blowing it up.

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Not the best episode of the series by any means, but it’s strong enough to consider this another hit in a run of good episodes. As mentioned earlier, the show moves at a fast pace, and much like last week’s episode, there’s a sense of urgency to this entry and the two that preceded, it so I’m hoping this indicates that the creative team have found their level after a number of hit-and-miss shows in the first half of the series.

As mentioned in a previous review, there’s an intriguing selection of guests scheduled for the remainder of the series, so here’s hoping that the run of good form can continue.

You can read our remembrance of episode 16 here.

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