In my opinion, the Muppet Show is one of the greatest artistic achievements of the 20th Century. It’s clever. It’s wonderfully funny. And it has heart. A few months ago, I posted on the idea of how something could be “joyously dumb” and yet smart as well. Well I reckon that could sum up the Muppet Show. The jokes are often dreadfully corny, and yet there’s something amazingly clever about the way the whole thing is constructed that works so well.
As a writer, I can see how the show brings together so many elements with such great success. The basic concept is great – a bunch of puppets putting on a vaudeville-style show to a bunch of other puppets in the audience – with all the backstage drama that entails. The writing itself is sharp – the pacing is snappy and the jokes fly. But the most amazing thing about it, the main element that makes it work so wonderfully, is the amazing range of characters.
Most live-action shows would kill for a group of characters as strong, as clearly-defined, as engaging and as entertaining as those on the Muppet Show. Just think of a few of them: Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Animal, the Swedish Chef, Beaker… The list just goes on and on. Each one clearly recognisable. Each one playing their part. It must have been a writer’s dream to create dialogue and situations for them
And once all of those elements are put together, something undefinably great was created. Maybe not directly satirical but incredibly subversive in the best possible way.
I watch old episodes with a real sense of wonder. And my lasting hope is that the writing I produce can have the same effect, even though I’m working in a different medium. If I could produce something half as entertaining, half as funny, half as clever, half as subversive, and with half the heart of a typical Muppet Show episode, I’d be happy.
I just want to finish off by sharing a clip which seems to me to sum up the spirit of the show. It’s a Muppet tribute to Ingmar Bergman – a piece of high art in the greatest “joyously dumb” tradition. And just look at the expression on Sam the Eagle’s face as things start to go haywire. Most live actors would struggle for that level of expressiveness.
I hear that there’s shortly to be a revival of the Muppet Show. I really hope they can do justice to the original.
Posted by Jonathan Gould and tagged as