Michael Wermuth – The Muppet Show has so many great episodes, and so many great songs and sketches from various episodes. But what are the best ones, exactly? This is a question that’s been on my mind for over a year. Many of the best episodes have some segments that aren’t that good, and many episodes that aren’t that good have at least a few really great sketches. With that in mind, it can be a challenge to determine which ones are truly the best.
But after thinking and thinking, I have determined my Top Ten Favorite Episodes, from start to finish. With these episodes, there’s barely a dull moment. They have great backstage plots, funny sketches, memorable songs, and more. No, I am not including episodes just because they include a certain character or recurring sketch that I like. No, I am not including certain episodes just because they have a few sketches that I really like. And no, I’m not including episodes just because I’m a huge fan of the guest star.
1. Episode 123: Kaye Ballard
One of the strongest episodes from the first season (and the only one from Season 1 on this list), this is one of the few episodes where the Electric Mayhem is involved with the plot. It also features rare speaking appearances (at least by Muppet Show standards) for Nigel, Thog, and Trumpet Girl. Plus such great performances as “You Don’t Want My Love” with the Country Trio, “Life Gets Tedious” with Pa from The Gogolala Jubilee Jugband, and “Oh Babe, What Would You Say?” with Kaye Ballard and Thog. And Rowlf’s solo performance of the closing theme is great as well.
2. Episode 209: Madeline Kahn
If there’s a Muppet retrospective, it’s always a safe bet that a clip from this episode will be included. And it’s such a great one, with highlights ranging from Kermit’s “Happy Feet,” Madeline Kahn’s encounter with Doglion in the park, Miss Piggy’s refusal to believe that Link Hogthrob used a control that he said he did, Floyd’s rendition of “New York State of Mind” (which also gets repeated in another episode… and that episode is on this list as well!), and of course a backstage plot where Gonzo falls in love with Madeline, leading to him singing “The Wishing Song.”
3. Episode 212: Bernadette Peters
Another of the show’s greatest episodes, this one involves Robin wanting to run away from home after not being noticed by the others. Additionally, there’s the running gag of Miss Piggy being jealous of Miss Mousey. Sketch highlights include Bernadette Peters singing “Take a Little One Step,” “Apple Jack,” and of course the classic “Just One Person.” Plus, Sam the Eagle recites “The Ant and the Grasshopper,” a shoe is the patient in Vet’s Hospital, and Beaker tries Bunsonium in Muppet Labs.
4. Episode 223: John Cleese
One of the shows funniest episodes by far, this one involves Gonzo getting a long arm after catching a cannonball with his bare hand, getting teased by Fozzie and Floyd, and finally getting help from John Cleese (who only succeeds in being weirder than Gonzo). Cleese himself spends the episode not wanting to be on the show, complaining about having to work with pigs and monsters, and refusing to do the closing number. Plus Lubbock Lou and His Jughuggers sing “Somebody Stole My Gal,” Kermit and Piggy sing “Waiting at the Church,” Robin and Sweetums sing “Two Lost Souls,” Kermit interviews the Koozebanian Spooble, “At the Dance” couples tell “fly in my soup” jokes… Well, a list of what I don’t like about this episode would be shorter.
5. Episode 301: Kris Kristofferson & Rita Coolidge
This was the first episode with two guest stars, and as the first episode of the third season, it’s a strong season premiere. The guest star numbers are great, but there’s also elevator shoes in Muppet Labs, Gonzo balancing a piano, a repeat of “New York State of Mind” (but in this episode it’s not the UK Spot), and we get the introduction of Gladys the cafeteria lady and the Canteen setting.
6. Episode 318: Leslie Uggams
Sesame Street’s Big Bird joins Leslie Uggams in this show (sort of a second guest star) for the closing number, “Love Will Keep Us Together,” and also gets to meet Miss Piggy and Gonzo. Uggams herself sings with the big monsters for a rendition of “Hey There Good Times,” we get the first Bear on Patrol sketch, Vendawish makes a short Muppet taller, and Gonzo courts Camilla.
7. Episode 424: Diana Ross
In this episode, Statler and Waldorf keep track of the show’s acts like Olympic judges, based on what the audience likes. And for some reason in this episode the audience only likes the guest star, Diana Ross, who does such show-stopping numbers as “Last Time I Saw Him” and “Reach Out and Touch.” Her numbers are great, but the Muppet-only bits are also great, including the opening number “I Go to Rio” and Beaker’s rendition of “Feelings.”
8. Episode 502: Loretta Swit
In this episode, Kermit actually fires Miss Piggy for planting items about them in the gossip papers, with guest star Loretta Switt replacing Piggy in Veterinarian’s Hospital and Pigs in Space. This episode has more focus on the plot than sketches, but there are some great sketches, such as Loretta’s performance of “I Feel the Earth Move.” Other great moments include Miss Piggy’s rendition of “One of These Days” and the rousing closing number “Side by Side by Side.”
9. Episode 506: Brooke Shields
In this episode, the Muppets put on a production of Alice in Wonderland, with Brooke Shields as Alice. Things don’t exactly go as planned when Brooke shrinks and can’t get back to her normal height. Some of the highlights include the opening number “I’m Falling,” Scooter acting out the Jabborwocky poem, a courtroom scene with Marvin Suggs as the judge, and a mad tea party with a song from a famous movie based on a different fairy tale.
10. Episode 523: Linda Ronstadt
In this episode, Miss Piggy locks Kermit in a trunk after realizing he has a crush on the guest star, Linda Ronstadt. Three of Linda’s four numbers have been on other lists I’ve made on The Muppet Mindset, so it goes without saying that they are great numbers, and she’s such a great guest in her scenes. Additional highlights include a gloomy rendition of “I’m So Happy,” a rare full-body appearance of The Swedish Chef, and Rowlf’s performance of “The Cat Came Back.”
Well, those are my top ten, but I know there’s a lot of great episodes I didn’t include on this list. What are some of yours?
The Muppet Mindset by Ryan Dosier, firstname.lastname@example.org