When I heard that ABC might be bringing back The Muppet Show, I was stoked. Everyone loves Jim Henson’s Muppets: they’re good-hearted and child-friendly, yet regularly make intelligent, adult jokes too (like that one time when Bert bragged about training for ten years learning to play the whistle at Juilliard).
I’m so excited about seeing new Muppet material that I’ve found some stuff from the original Muppet Show that never aired in the US! That’s right! The show was originally shot for the United Kingdom’s ITV which had shorter commercial breaks than the US. As a solution, the show included two-minute long sketches (known as “UK Spots”) that could be cut for more ads in the American market.
A few of the segments were mere time-fillers but most of them were as same high-quality as the rest of the program. The Muppet Show DVDs feature the full episodes, complete with UK spots, but for the most part these have never been broadcast on American TV before.
Here are five of the best:
1. Cottleston Pie
Rowlf was one of the very first Muppets, but by the time The Muppet Show aired, he’d been relegated to the supporting cast. In his UK spots, though, he got his time to shine —many of the UK Spots actually feature him singing while tickling the ivories.
“Cottelston Pie” is originally from Winnie-The-Pooh — it’s a song Pooh would sing whenever he got confused — and it’s a cute, jaunty song. Rowlf’s even-more-laid-back-than-usual demeanor makes it feel intimate, like he’s right there playing the old piano in your family room.
This song was also sung at Jim Henson’s memorial service by Frank Oz (as Fozzie Bear). In the interests of not making every single Unicorn Booty reader cry, I have not included that particular link.
2. Vegetarian Hospital
Everyone remembers the “Veterinarian’s Hospital” sketches starring Miss Piggy, Janice, and Rowlf, but in the episode with Cloris Leachman, the pigs take over the show and turn it to Vegetarian’s Hospital. While the sketch never made it to the US, it’s just as good as the other sketches, featuring the same terrible puns you’ve grown to know and tolerate.
3. Mack The Knife
Despite being a scolding moralist with his distaste for the lowbrow, Sam the Eagle has always been one of my favorite characters. You might think he’d be fine with this song from Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht’s The Threepenny Opera, but I honestly can’t see Sam being a Brecht fan. I figure that he’d think of Brecht as the beginning of the end of highbrow theater, what with Brecht’s experimental nature and the fact that Threepenny features a murderer as its main character.
The organ player Dr. Teeth, though totally kills it with this funky version or “Mack the Knife,” after “explaining” the song’s objectionable lyrics away. Kinda.
One of the greatest things about the Muppets is how they can take a one-joke character and give him so much personality he becomes real. Beaker can only say “meep,” but he puts such emotion into meeping that he gives life to the Morris Albert favorite “Feelings.” It certainly helps that he’s backed up by Rowlf and some of the Electric Mayhem who put a little swing in it. And good on Animal for helping out once the audience rebels against the non-stop Meeping — Animal’s a good guy.
5. I Never Harmed an Onion
So we begin and end with Rowlf. This is a fun song based around that essential component of what makes the Muppets the Muppets — terrible, terrible puns. Unlike “Vegetarian’s Hospital” above, this time the puns get sung! It’s a silly novelty song about how Rowlf can unemotionally abuse foods of all sorts, but the onions are the only ones who make him cry. Perhaps the onions are striking back on behalf of their friends, you ever think of that, Rowlf? (But, to be fair, the melon had it coming.)
BONUS: Special Non-Muppet Show Film, “Time Piece”
So even though this was made by Jim Henson, it doesn’t have anything to do with the Muppet Show, and doesn’t even feature any Muppets. BUT it wasn’t aired on American TV and it’s absolutely hilarious, so there.
Henson struggled his whole life with the idea that the Muppets and other puppeteering was for children, so he worked on a lot of experimental film for adults (If you want more of this work, check out The Organized Mind or The Cube).
Time Piece (above) is probably the most accessible of his experimental work — and it’s awesome. Whatchagonnado, NOT watch something awesome? That’s silly. You’re silly.