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Best Of The Muppet Show
Volume 4

review by Zach B.

 

 

Running Time: 80 minutes

Starring: Harry Belafonte, Linda Ronstadt, John Denver, Jim Henson, Frank Oz

 

Studio: Columbia/Tri-Star

Retail Price: $19.95

Features: Brian Henson Introductions, Muppetisms, Movie Mania, From The Archives, Trailers

Specs: 1.33:1 Full Screen, English Mono, English Closed Captions, Episode Selections, Scene Selections (11 Scenes For Show 1, 16 Scenes For Show 2, 14 Scenes For Show 3)

Released: March 14th, 2003

 

 

To my disappointment and probably to many, it seems the Muppets have lost their luster in the entertainment industry during the past couple of years. The past few films have been flops, a German business magnet bought them and seems to have buyer's remorse and while a television holiday movie aired this past November (2002), it really seems no one cares and there are no plans for any major Muppet comebacks anytime soon (though apparently they might be bought out again, and it seems Disney might take them over). Oh, and who can forget a semi-"Muppet Show" revival in 1996 with "Muppets Tonight!" (which ABC axed and most of the episodes were aired on The Disney Channel). I guess lovable, wacky, talking puppets don't have their place among computers, Harry Potter and Japanese animation with kids these days.

It's a shame, really. While I wasn't born when The Muppets debuted, they are an integral part of my childhood. I used to see "The Muppet Show" reruns all the time, and for a kid like me in the 1980s, one of the best cartoon shows - if not the best - was "Muppet Babies." And yeah, they had the first movie in 1979 and then two sequels in the early 1980s, but this show is what those kinda mop/puppets (according to Homer Simpson) are best known for other than "Sesame Street." With its special guest stars, smile-worthy humor and great characters, there's no question why "The Muppet Show" picked up a few Emmys and has tons of fans young and old (probably more told the old these days).

In case you've never seen an episode of the show or never even heard of it (damn this current generation! - though if you've seen the Weezer music video "Keep Fishin'," the idea of that video is like this TV series), the idea is that Kermit (he's the green frog) must put together a variety show every week at a theater. With him are the other Muppets such as drummer Animal (and then there was the rest of the band he was in, The Electric Mayhem), Miss Piggy (the pig who loves Kermit), up-and-coming comedian Fozzie Bear, that crazy Swedish Chef and the "whatever" Gonzo (though it turns out he was an alien - you'd know that if more than six people saw "Muppets From Space"!). So Kermit and his crew put together funny comedy sketches, get a big name guest star to spice things up and try to deliver a fun show, despite the backstage anxieties. Oh, and then there's hecklers Waldorf and Statler to give everyone a hard time.

Twenty-five years later, the charm of "The Muppet Show" cannot be denied. They'll probably never be another show like it (even though I thought "Muppets Tonight!" was decent), and that's probably a good thing. It's always rare for a show to be so appealing to both adults and children, but "The Muppet Show" was one of those rare deals. I'm sure the guest stars attracted many adults, as well as some amusing over-the-head references children wouldn't catch on to. And for the kids, there were those lovable Muppets and the Wacky fun they offered. The musical variety and wide variety of sketches always added a nice touch (such recurring and memorable sketches were "Pigs In Space," the Jug Band and "Vet's Hospital), as the show never got old or the slightest bit dull. The writing was always amazingly sharp, the guest stars never took themselves seriously which was part of the magic and the Muppet performers had great comedic timing and knew how to nail the show so perfectly and intricately.

The theme of this third volume are more great singers. Harry Belafonte competes against animal and performs some great songs, Linda Ronstadt also competes (she's Miss Piggy as far as winning Kermit's heart) and John Denver also songs and has some fun with the Muppets. I know this all might not sound like much to most of you, but the greatness of "The Muppet Show" was that it all came together to be a very entertaining, well produced, well constructed and well written show. If you never seen it, then I can safely say you've never seen anything like it and it's something you need to watch at least once in your lifetime. Besides, then you'll fully understand what I'm talking about. So whether you're new to the Muppet franchise or have seen these episodes many times, everyone should enjoy such classic TV on DVD.

 

Presented once again in their original 1.33:1 full screen aspect ratios, everything here is pretty nice. The bad first: yes, the episodes can be a bit fuzzy at times, can be a little soft and have some noise. Still, they look pretty damn good after all this time. Fleshtones on the humans are nice, color saturation is bold and very fitting if not slightly underwhelming, detail is very nice and you can see much of what makes a Muppet. No major complaints here, so enjoy these for what they are.

 

The two channel English mono tracks once again nicely match the show. Since these episodes are more musically based, it's a chance for other sounds and the songs to shine. Harry Belafonte's performances, especially "Day-O," do sound nice but certainly won't blaze your speakers up or anything. Still, the musical performances are very nice and add some change and more action in the sound (as do the sound effects). The rest of the dialogue is clear and easy to hear, fidelity is once again very good and the dynamic range doesn't amount to much, but given the age of these episodes and the nature of it all, it's fine with me. And yes, there's English closed captions through your television too. Enjoy!

 

Unlike some other television shows on DVD, those who were putting the Muppets on DVD were wise enough to include some decent bonus material. First up are Brian Henson Introductions. Lasting about a minute each and filmed, these are very nice as the man who pulls the main strings of our puppet friends now (get it?) and who has taken over his father's legacy talks about each episode presented. Henson provides great background information on the guest performers involvement with the show and highlights key moments (complete with clips from the episode). Very heartfelt (especially the Harry Belafonte introduction since it comes together with the death of Jim Henson) and very well spoken. They're nice touches if you ask me.

Muppetisms is the new name for "Muppet Moments" (as featured on the past two DVDs). Bunsen and Beaker hop around with penguins and they all wear rabbit ears ("The Bunny Hop"). This full frame forty second piece is yet another inspiring PSA. Movie Mania is a funny look at Muppet screen tests, as our friends try out for "A Streetcar Named Desire" (it lasts a minute and one second and is in full frame). From The Archives featres a Stalter and Waldorf drawing by their original builder, Bonnie Erickson and then there's Trailers for other Columbia/Tristar family titles, "Kermit's Swamp Years" and "Stuart Little 2."

Oh, and a note: if you go and select a show, you'll only be able to select certain scenes. Hit the "Play Show" icon at the bottom to get the entire episode (and yes, you can chapter skip there).

 

Even though The Muppets sadly seem to be fading from the pop culture scene, their legacy will always live on and probably be best remembered for "The Muppet Show." Columbia is doing a terrific job with television releases, and this is a prime example with a solid presentation and some nice extras. The list price is very nice too, so if you're a Muppet fan, then do yourself a favor and pick this volume (as well as the others) up!