The Muppet Show series 1 episode 3 review

Joel Gray guest stars, as The Muppet Show draws heavily on Broadway musicals for its third episode. Glen takes a look back...

“Welcome. And what a show we have for you tonight. How would you like to see four thousand woodpeckers performing an aerial ballet, while eighty-seven gorillas and two dozen elephants do ‘The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy’? Well forget it, because instead we’ve got Joel Grey as a guest star, which in a way is like having all the excitement of everything I mentioned without having to clean up afterwards. But right now let’s get things rolling on The Muppet Show where we have ‘Comedy Tonight’.– Kermit the Frog

This episode has a dominant theme of Broadway musicals and the opening number of the episode is Comedy Tonight, which is performed by some of the more unique looking members of the Muppet cast. It’s taken from the musical A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum and is one of many songs that feature in episode three that have their origins in musical productions.

The guest star for episode three is star of stage and screen, Joel Grey. Grey is perhaps best known for his role as Master of Ceremoniesin Cabaret, a role that saw him win the Academy Award, BAFTA and the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor for the film production and the Tony Award for the stage production. Grey also appeared in Chicagoand most recently the Broadway production of Wicked.

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With the guest being such an acclaimed musical star, its little surprise that the musical numbers contained within the show are of such a high quality. Grey performsWillkommen from Cabaret and Razzle Dazzle from Chicagoand excels in both performances, which is not unexpected, given his familiarity with the material.

One musical number that doesn’t deliver is Pachalafaka, a faux Turkish number performed by the Jim Henson-voiced Turkish Whatnot Hashim. It doesn’t match the quality of the other musical numbers in the show and the performance seems out of place with the other sketches.

There are also some great sketches in this musical dominated episode.  One highlight is  running routine of Fozzie testing out his new quick fire comedy style on an increasingly irritated Muppet cast culminating in a performance in front of a captive audience of Statler and Waldorf, who challenge the comedian to produce material around the word “amoeba”. 

The show’s most loyal fans, Statler and Waldorf,  have made appearances in both of the other episodes, but this is the first time that they interact with a member of the cast in such a way. Their previous involvements had been short vignettes, albeit fantastic ones.

There’s an excellent Sherlock Holmessketch towards the end of the episode with Rowlf taking the role of Holmes and Baskerville the Hound (a character resembling Sir Didymus from Labyrinth) as Watson.  The duo try to get to the bottom of a murder, but find that all the evidence is consumed by Gorgon Heap.

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Throughout his guest appearance, Grey interacts brilliantly with the Muppet cast, fully embracing his role. Given the vaudeville set up of the show, a musical star such as Grey seems to be the perfect guest. A lot of Grey’s best interactions are with Gonzo with Grey bestowing advice on the hapless performer, and when Gonzo considers quitting the business for good, Grey convinces him against it.

Threats to quit in the face of adversity was a theme that occurred in episode two also, perhaps a reflection on the struggles Henson and Co had in bringing their vision to the screen.

Whilst there’s a lack of cohesive narrative that ties the majority of the material together, the episode features plenty of highlights via the musical numbers, with their origins in Broadway. Fozzie’s sketch with Statler and Waldorf, and Rowlf’s Sherlock Holmes sketch deliver plenty of laughs.

Read our remembrance of episode 2 here.