Like most kids, I was treated to many episodes of Sesame Street and loved all the characters. There was also some learning involved, but I don’t think I realized it at the time. I loved the way the characters interacted with children and adults, just other people in the neighborhood learning alongside the kids on the show and me at home. Inevitably I got “too old” for Sesame Street, but there was that void that couldn’t be filled by The Electric Company or Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. Enter the “most sensational, inspirational, celebrational, Muppetational” show ever created.
My whole family watched, though it was the biggest hit with me, my mom, and my younger sister. I had no idea who most of the guests even were. Years later I would see Sylvester Stallone, Steve Martin, or James Coburn and say: “Hey, it’s that guy from the Muppet Show!” The Muppets were real to me, and they seemed even more lifelike when I watched famous adults interact with them like they were people. I anxiously awaited the recurring sketches, like “Pigs in Space” and “Animal Hospital”. What would Nurse Piggy say to make everyone laugh? How would Dr. Strangepork’s scientific knowledge save the crew? The fact that Kermit was a completely frazzled theater manager really sold it, too, as a place you could just stumble into downtown with the guest’s name on the marquis out front. Even better was the way that Kermit and most of the cast were completely aware of the Muppet Theater’s place in the entertainment world. It kept me sympathetic with the characters, watching them try their best to amuse a small, sometimes hostile, audience because they loved to create and perform. The musical numbers were some of most memorable parts of the show. Who could forget Alice Cooper performing “School’s Out”? What about the drum duel between Animal and Buddy Rich?
There have been many movies made over the years featuring the Muppets. Aside from A Muppet Christmas Carol, I wasn’t a huge fan of them. They never seemed to capture the magic of the regular show, and though I liked them, they just couldn’t compete. I still have a soft spot for the first movie though. I even surprised my mom on my wedding day, by selecting “Rainbow Connection” for our traditional dance at the reception.
Probably my favorite Muppet spin-off, and Christmas special, is “Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas”. To this day I catch myself singing “Ain’t No Hole in the Washtub” in the car. Emmet, along with his friends and mother, enters a talent contest in the movie. At first, it’s a way to try to win enough money to buy Christmas presents, but it becomes much more. It’s about sacrifice, generosity, love, and family. It portrays poor folks trying to make a living, always a glimmer of hope just around the bend for a better life. Most importantly to me, it was about people, in the forms of otters and other critters, using their talents together to change their lives.
Finally, if it weren’t for The Muppet Show, I might not have listened to all of the hype about Farscape, produced and populated with fantastic creatures by The Jim Henson Company. It’s given me hours of “wow” over the years. My son decided early that The Muppet Show was “for little kids”. So far, I haven’t been able to convince him otherwise. Maybe it’s just too rooted in my own childhood and he couldn’t develop the appreciation for it that I did when he watched it on DVD. He is at least enjoying Farscape a great deal. Maybe he’ll enjoy The Muppet Show as an adult someday, like I do now. Needless to say, I’m psyched for its return on ABC, even if I have to watch it by myself.