In 1975, The Muppet Show: Sex and Violence aired as a variety special and served as a second backdoor pilot to what would become The Muppet Show. Despite having 20 years of success with his Muppets, Jim Henson struggled to sell his idea of a prime-time show featuring the Muppet cast. Confused about the name of this show? Don’t worry. The Muppets did not go through a dark period. At the beginning, an announcer proclaims that this show is, “The end of sex and violence on television!”
During the 1970s, it seemed like every celebrity had a variety hour of some sort. Sonny and Cher, Julie Andrews, and even The Brady Bunch got into the act. It only made sense that the Muppets be introduced to this format. Known primarily for live television shows, Dave Wilson was recruited to direct. Henson would team up with Wilson later with the “Land of Gorch” segments featured on Saturday Night Live.
Although it was met with positive reviews, the Muppet Valentine Special was not the home run Henson had hoped. The Muppet Show: Sex and Violence adopted more of a “putting on a show” feel which flowed better than the at times slow Muppet Valentine Special. This special is quite similar to the future The Muppet Show. Nigel and the other Muppets are charged with putting on a television show. Behind the scenes of the show, Nigel and the other characters kill time in the control room and organize a pageant showcasing the Seven Deadly Sins. Every skit contained within this show demonstrates the Seven Deadly Sins. This time, Henson has opted to omit a celebrity special guest and focuses on his original characters.
The show is tongue in cheek. Henson pokes fun at the television industry throughout the special. Not only are the Seven Deadly Sins playfully featured, he also pokes fun at the violence in television with explosions and a wrestling match. This is the first Muppet production to showcase anthropomorphic pigs to the ensemble in a scene parodying Gene Shalit when the actors of a movie are depicted as pigs.
As with any Muppet special, this show includes music. The musical skits are entertaining and maintain the pacing of the show. In addition to Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem Band, there is a jazzy bird sketch. Ever wonder what birds are saying with they are chirping in the trees? In this skit the male birds are trying to attract the female birds. Each bird has its own phrase such as “whaddya know” and “oh man.“ By repeating the phrases with different inflections and tones, the birds have an entire conversation and transform the meaning behind the phrases. This is also a scene where the performers are dressed in black velvet and shot against a black background, making the colorful birds appear to move freely instead of being manipulated by rods or strings.
The skits are quick and snappy. It gives you the sense of channel surfing. Mildred, George the Janitor, Kermit, and Crazy Donald from the Muppet Valentine Special all return for the show. New characters and future favorites such as The Electric Mayhem Band, Statler and Waldorf (a.k.a. the old guys from the balcony), Sam the Eagle, and the Swedish Chef were all created for the show. They retain their basic original form when they return for The Muppet Show.
This special provides great classic Muppet laughs. One of the best skits is the recurring “At the Dance” segment reminiscent of the Masked Ball scene from Hey! Cinderella. Rowlf the Dog quips that he was from The Jimmy Dean Show and Bert and Ernie make a cameo. This illustrates how Henson continually recycled and improved skits to keep them entertaining. It also demonstrates how he cleverly and subtly “name drops.” Instead of plastering, “From the Creator of Jimmy Dean’s pal Rowlf the Dog” or “The Man Who Taught Your Children Their ABC’s with Sesame Street,” Henson relied upon sight recognition of his characters.
Even though it shows characters and a format close to the successful The Muppet Show, ABC decided to pass for whatever reason suits use to justify passing on great shows. Despite the absence of a celebrity guest star, I give The Muppet Show: Sex and Violence 3 out of 5 rubber chickens!
The Muppet Show: Sex and Violence was included as an extra feature on the Muppet Show: Season One box set.