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|Kevin Krock, editor|
As a child of the late 1970s and early '80s, the Muppets hold a special place in my heart. It's hard to put into words just how excited I was upon learning that Disney was releasing the first season of The Muppet Show on DVD. I recall many evenings in front of the television with my family watching the Muppets, such that they became like members of the family.
Unlike previous Best of the Muppets DVD releases, the Buena Vista Home Entertainment release contains all 24 complete episodes from the first season. The episodes even include U.K. spotssegments that were produced and originally shown on British broadcasts, but which had not aired in the U.S.
Guest stars included in the set include Juliet Prowse, Connie Stevens, Joel Grey, Ruth Buzzi, Rita Moreno, Jim Nabors, Florence Henderson, Paul Williams, Charles Aznavour, Harvey Korman, Lena Horne, Peter Ustinov, Bruce Forsyth, Sandy Duncan, Candice Bergen, Avery Schreiber, Ben Vereen, Phyllis Diller, Vincent Price, Valerie Harper, Twiggy, Ethel Merman, Kaye Ballard, and Mummenschanz.
The episodes are presented in the order that they were produced, not necessarily in the order in which they aired; some of the episodes taped first were aired later to show a more polished product. It's fascinating to see the development of the characters we came to know and love over the five seasons of the show. In the early episodes, the performers were still experimenting with puppet design and voices, and the writers were still developing the relationships among the Muppets that ultimately made them so endearing.
It's hard to pick any highlights, since every episode has its own laugh-out-loud moments. If I had to pick some, they would include any time the Swedish Chef appears, the origins of Muppet Labs featuring Dr. Bunsen Honeydew (Beaker was added later), Statler and Waldorf's heckling, and Mahna Mahna.
In lieu of a commentary, the set includes a feature called Muppet Morsels. When activated, trivia pops up during the episodes that relates to what is onscreen at the time. Tidbits of information about the episode, like its air date, details on the guest stars (particularly useful for the more obscure ones), information on songs being performed and insight into the characters on-screen are shown about every 30 seconds. Several gaffes are also pointed out, such as where performers' heads are briefly visible. Anyone who is not already a diehard Muppet fan will learn something, and maybe even they will, too. The Muppet Morsels feature expands the versatility of the set to appeal to casual viewers as well as longtime fans.
One of the most hilarious goodies contained in the set is Jim Henson's original pitch reel, used to try to convince executives to greenlight The Muppet Show project. Henson had his audience pegged, pointing out the appeal of the Muppet Show to a varied audience, from small children to freaky, long-haired, dirty, cynical hippies.
The original pilot, Sex and Violence, shows the initial basis of the variety show concept that was to become The Muppet Show, and includes Nigel, the original host who was replaced by Kermit in season 1 (Nigel became the orchestra's conductor), as well as many of what were to become core characters. It's an interesting look at the very beginning. Be sure to pay particular attention to the clocks on the wall of the office and the bust near the back wall.
The Audio, Video, and Interface
The audio and video quality are mainly limited by the source material. However, I found the audio quality to be quite good for a mono presentation. The interface is fantasticthe animated menus are accompanied by the distinctive Muppet theme song and other music from the show. Each main menu is hosted by Waldorf and Statler; try watching the menu without pushing the buttons for a little while to see what they have to say about it.
The Final Evaluation
The set is a great buy for families as well as fans of the show who have been waiting a long time to see The Muppet Show on TV again.
The magic of the Muppets is that they appeal to all ages. The corny jokes, puns and physical humor provide laughs for everyone, while the more subtle irony provides another level of comedy for the adults. Because the writers steered clear of controversial subjects and politics, the shows are almost timeless; one of the few things that dates the show are the fashions and hairstyles of the guest stars.
Disney is capitalizing on the wave of '80s nostalgia that my generation is experiencing by releasing these episodes. In addition, it's providing an opportunity for the younger set to experience this classic television program that was beloved by people around the globe. Perhaps this release will inspire younger viewers to create the next generation of Muppets. I look forward to the release of future seasons and many hours of enjoyment visiting with my Muppet friends.
Thoughts, questions, or comments? Contact Stephanie here.
Kevin Doc Krock is been a long-time animation buff and home theater fan. He's been following the rise of the DVD format in the home market since its introduction, and he hopes to help you make the most of your family's home theater viewing time and video collections.
You can contact Kevin here.
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