Looking back at 1982, it was a very interesting time for entertainment in the United States. Both Julie Andrews and Dustin Hoffman were cross dressing on the big screen in Victor/Victoria and Tootsie respectively. Michael Jackson was in his prime as he led a flash mob of zombies in Thriller (while still black, wooing a woman, and his body was presumably made of less than 10% plastic). Cats opened on Broadway. Miss Piggy was enjoying a successful year too. She and Kermit the Frog appeared as famous movie couples in their own calendar Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy as Famous Couples of the Silver Screen. Miss Piggy was even giving Jane Fonda a run for her money with her own workout album Miss Piggy’s Aerobique Exercise Album. Just as countless acts had done previously in the 1970s, Miss Piggy would star in her own variety special, The Fantastic Miss Piggy Show in 1982. The special was not a pilot for a new series, however; it was just a way for the Muppets to continue riding a wave of marketing and popularity. The special was a regular sausage fest between Miss Piggy and guest stars John Ritter, George Hamilton, and Andy Kaufman’s lounge act alter-ego Tony Clifton. Don’t worry, her Muppet costars were nearby. This special loosely follows the Muppet tradition of the show within a show and Kermit, Janice, Fozzie, Gonzo, Rizzo Rat, Dr. Benson Honeydew, Beaker, and the whole gang are crammed into the control booth to keep the show going despite Miss Piggy’s ego and tantrums. In other common Muppet theme, Miss Piggy finds herself the object of an obsessed John Ritter’s affection. Meanwhile, Miss Piggy pursues a cold George Hamilton and succeeds in making Kermit even greener with envy. Although the special includes show stopping musical numbers and funny comedic sketches, it signifies the extinction of the celebrity variety special, a genre that, up until this time, had managed to survive since the 1950s. Most of the musical numbers run too long and the shrill squeals of Miss Piggy’s voice begin to grate on even the biggest fan’s nerves. George Hamilton is forgettable and bland at best. Miss Piggy’s unrequited lust and digs at his leather tan get old. It really feels as if he is going through the motions during the entire special. He is detached during the skits and his ho hum singing is ill matched for the over the top choreographed numbers. John Ritter is a bright spot in the special. He provides the same comedic timing and slapstick genius he brought to Three’s Company and steals the show in every skit he appears. He matches the spirit and energy of the Muppets to keep the show moving. The most bizarre portion of the show is not Gonzo, it is Andy Kaufman’s performance of Tony Clifton. Tony Clifton is introduced as Miss Piggy’s discovery that bridges the gap between modern music and old style Las Vegas. If you take a closer look at Jim Henson’s work in the 1960s from his experimental film Timepiece and his performances on The Ed Sullivan Show, it is not surprising that he would cross paths with performance artist and comedian Andy Kaufman. Thanks to the Internet, the film Man on the Moon, and Bob Zmuda (Andy Kaufman’s writing partner), we know that Kaufman was Tony Clifton. I could only imagine how audiences in 1982 felt with cigarette-smoking Tony Clifton taking the stage on a Muppet special. I imagine Jim Henson was chuckling to himself when he thought about viewers at home not quite getting it. Clifton’s medley of songs left the gang in the control room speechless. Not even Gonzo had anything to say about his performance! I imagine a lot of folks thought, “Gee, the Muppets are slipping!” Artists like Henson and Kaufman exist on a different plane than most of us Muggles. They see, hear, and think differently, but are able to translate these thoughts into an art for us to enjoy. The show runs about an hour, but it could have easily been whittled down to 30 minutes by removing a lot of fluff that just slowed the pacing. One problem I have noticed with the Muppets is that the great specials are too short while other works that are not as strong seem to be drawn out like a piece of taffy. The best sketches could have easily been edited into or out of The Muppet Show itself. They are funny and subversive. One of the funniest sketches is a consumer segment called “Don’t Take It Lying Down Sucker!” It places Miss Piggy and John Ritter in a Dr. Bunsen Honeydew and Beaker roles from the old Muppet Labs skits. Miss Piggy is the consumer advocate while Ritter wears and tests the integrity if the “Mr. Thick Skull” hard hat. Miss Piggy forces him to test them under battlefield conditions. While the hard hat makes the grade, Ritter doubles over in pain while an oblivious Miss Piggy considers it a success. In two other skits, Miss Piggy cozies up to first George Hamilton and then John Ritter in a Dinah Shore-like celebrity interview. She is still chasing after Hamilton, but is rebuffed. Meanwhile, Ritter cannot keep his paws off her. Ritter and Piggy both deliver over the top performances and it is hilarious! The songs are huge production numbers were choreographed by Anita Mann who also choreographed The Muppets Go Hollywood and Miss Piggy’s tap dancing number in The Great Muppet Caper. Most of the musical numbers drag on and on, but one of the best performances is when Miss Piggy takes center stage to sing “You Light Up My Life.” The scene is right after Miss Piggy and Kermit have a fight over her celebrity love triangle. She dedicates it to Kermit and he is visibly moved. In fact, Gonzo points out that Kermit is glowing. This is one of the few moments that Kermit not only acknowledges that he and Miss Piggy are a couple, but becomes jealous. Henson’s performance of Kermit is subtle. You feel that Kermit is in love with Miss Piggy and genuinely hurting. The Muppets always know how to pull on the audience’s heart strings. A diva’s television special would not be complete without a tantrum! By the end of the special, Miss Piggy has lost it and refuses to perform the finale. In one final and literal show stealing move, Ritter comes out dressed like Miss Piggy complete with a floral dress and fake pig nose. This is the final straw for Miss Piggy who destroys the set and nearly kills Ritter with the falling set! In the end, the show just does not work save for a handful of skits and songs. The show really should have been cut in half. Miss Piggy is a delightful character, but she really could not carry the entire show. The rest of the Muppet characters needed to be more present in the special. Rowlf could have accompanied her on the piano. There needed to be a female foil or competition for Miss Piggy. It was nice to see Kermit’s feelings for Miss Piggy instead of the usual bit of Miss Piggy chasing Kermit around. Statler and Waldorf could have really gotten some nice digs in between the sketches. Even a cooking segment with Miss Piggy and the Swedish Chef would have been great to see. Muppet fans should keep an eye out for Steve Whitmire who plays one of the recurring backup singers. Muppet writer Jocelyn Stevenson can be seen clapping during the Tony Clifton performance. The Fantastic Miss Piggy Show is a nice footnote in Muppet history, but it is not fantastic to watch. The best songs and skits make it worth a single viewing, but it is not a classic. I worry that Miss Piggy may karate chop me, but her special gets 2 out of 5 rubber chickens! Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.