When it first aired in the mid-1970's, The Muppet Show was unlike anything that had come before.
It's also unlike anything that has come since.
For the uninitiated, The Muppet Show is a Muppet (Jim-Henson brand puppet) - based variety television show that hosted real-live, often real-famous, guest-stars. The show was, and is, innovative. And while the costume style and musical choices on the various episodes may be quite dated at times, the humor and creativity is not. That being said, I will caution first-time Muppet viewers that this first season reveals The Muppet Show as the actors, writers, and performers were "getting in the groove" and at times some of the skits or jokes tend to fall a little flat; so if Season One is your first induction into the world of The Muppet Show don't form your final opinion too quickly. I don't mean to sound negative--there is nothing that makes any of the shows not worth watching, but sometimes the show just isn't quite "on" the same way it is more consistently in later episodes and die-hard Muppet fans will notice a difference. This is not a criticism, all shows "grow into" themselves over time as it takes the creative talent a little time to synchronize. South Park and the Simpsons both exhibit similar evolutions.
Watching this first-season of The Muppet Show, I found it hard to realize that there was a time *before* the advent of Muppet characters like Miss Piggy, Gonzo, and the gang. Watching this first season on DVD was a rare opportunity to view the evolution of these characters...from their physical design, to their voices, to their personalities... It's also curious to watch how the relationship-dynamics between the various characters evolve over time. For instance, Miss Piggy's roles are much less central in these early shows...her prominence as a lead character is something that slowly emerges over time. Those of you who recognize many of these now well-established icons in their current form will be amazed at the transformation between these early incarnations and what you've come to know.
Those of you, like myself, who grew up with The Muppet Show have been waiting a long time for this deserving series to find its way onto DVD in complete season sets. Previously available were 15 "Best Of" compilations (with 3 episodes per each) that were presented randomly, though the quality of those shows on DVD was excellent. That series (originally released through Time-Life) did provide some of the shows in the first season, and most notably preceded each show with a short introduction by Jim Henson's son, Brian. Sadly, those introductions by Brian Henson are not included on this DVD set (I wasn't expecting them to be) so if you're an ultra-die-hard-Muppet-fan you may not want to throw them up onto ebay just yet. However, in almost every other way this DVD presentation of Season One via Buena Vista is what we've been waiting for--my one real criticism being that there are no chapter-stops within each episode (pressing the "next" button jumps you to the next episode...when it really should advance you from skit-to-skit within the same episode...DVD producers take note for Season 2). And purists will be pleased to know that the original opening sequence (with its more wedding-cake style finale versus the more grandiose lighted-archway finale in later episodes) is preserved. I've read discussion about the episodes being sourced from original PAL masters and containing uncut "British" skits at www.muppetcentral.com:
I can't really comment...I've watched the episodes on this DVD but my memory of the original television experience in the 1970's leaves something to be desired so I can't reliably compare. You fans who are more equipped for such discussion...please chime in with your input (especially once you get the set). And I encourage all Muppet fans to check out Muppet Central's website (the link above) if you haven't before. Some GREAT info...like the upcoming Fraggle Rock Season 1 DVD release in September. Ahhhh...times are good....
Another informative review you'll enjoy reading: http://www.tvdvdrevi...uppetshow1.html
(send me more good review links and I'll post them here)
BTW, did I mention that the outer-packaging is fuzzy green?
I'm amazed. Flabbergasted really. How can a 1970's TV show taped direct-to-video look so darn good? I mean it looks GREAT. Even on a 100" screen! My projector was still packed for this review (just moved into my first new home...accepting gift-cards to Home Depot...pm me... ) so I enjoyed the luxury of screening the Muppet show on my friend's 1080P JVC HD2K projector. WOW. Two things really impressed me--both on my friend's projector and on my friend's 27" TV...the Muppet show has colors that are simply dazzling, and is very, very detailed for a "video medium" originated program.
The excellent detail in this transfer could be a mixed blessing for some viewers: When watching a few episodes with friends the other night they both said "for some reason the Muppets look more like puppets and less like real characters than I remember." That's because on these DVDs you see the texture of the puppet design...like the fuz on the fabric that creates the face, or wrinkes where the neck flexes from wrist movements. Those small anamolies were invisble on the broadcasts you remember...smoothing out the look of the Muppets and making them less physical. On this DVD set...you'll see Muppetry detail you've never seen before. Personally, this is the way I'd like to have it. If you see too much detail and it "pulls you out" of the Muppet-moment...just defocus your PJ or temporarily turn down the sharpness on your monitor.
Colors are vivid, rich, and loaded with variation and gradation...no visible "color banding" or bleeding that I could see. The palette of hues is incredible...reds that vary from scarlet to apple to magenta, greens of every imaginable shade and tint, it just goes on and on. This kind of wide-band variation is uncommon for "video" mediums that usually present colors that look more "paint-by-numbers" cartoon-like. And perhaps most astonishing given the video-based origin of the show, colors never seemed to be oversaturated or bleed. About the only fault I could find along those lines was that the whites appeared crushed in one scene...where the camera was filming a scene that included light bulbs that were turned on. I think I can find it in my heart to forgive that transgression.
Black level is solid and contrast ratio seems wide--again unexpected given the 1970's video-origin of the show. In fact, there was very little in the way of "artifacts" that I could see...and the worst of it was some occasional ghosting or edge-ringing from time to time that appeared to my eyes to be inherent in the source itself and not a produce of DVD-mastering or subsequent digital "restoration".
Really folks, the image is quite a knock-out. and while it didn't look as razor sharp on my friend's projection screen as the Matrix Reloaded, it still gave me the "look at that detail" feeling and those of you watching on smaller displays or from a greater than 2 screen-widths viewing distance will probably have a razor-sharp impression.
Honestly, I can't imagine it looking any better.
One caveat I should note: my friend's JVC scaler incorporates the latest-generation Faroudja deinterlacing which is very, very good at "progressivefying" native-interlaced signals just like this. For that reason, your mileage may vary depending on the quality of the deinterlacer in your signal chain, and depending on your system it's possible some folks may note more pronounced stair-stepping or combing from time to time that I was not subjected to on my friend's setup.
Picture Quality: 4.5 / 5
In the past I think I've been too ambiguous with my scoring or at least haven't applied it consistently from title to title, so I've endeavored to define my rating system more clearly to help make the scoring more meaningful (for all titles reviewed December 2004 and later):
|1-2||An absolute abomination. Hurts to watch. Think "Outland" (scan-line aliasing, chroma noise, dotcrawl)-- truly horrid.|
|2-3||Has some serious problems, but one can at least watch it without getting a headache despite all the problems though you might try to talk your guests into picking a different movie to watch if you have a large projection screen. Think Cold Mountain.|
|3-4||Good or at least "acceptable" on a big-screen, but not winning any awards and definitely room for improvement if you view the image wide-angle (though smaller-screen viewers may be quite content). Think the first extended cut of Fellowship of the Ring...decent picture but still some HF filtering and some edge-halos.|
|4-5||A reference picture that really makes the most of the DVD medium and shows extraordinary transparency to the film-source elements. Non-videophile observers can't help but remark "WOW". Think The Empire Strikes Back or the Fifth Element Superbit (full “5” would be sans EE).|
The audio is presented in a single 2.0 DD English signal (English subtitles are also provided) that appeared to be mono to my ears. However, the fidelity of the audio was quite impressive despite the "mono" mixing and I was especially impressed with the frequency response and open, easy, natural top-end. While I wouldn't pull out The Muppet Show to rattle your subwoofer to show off to friends, the upper and mid-bass gave satisfying "body" to the sound. The open-natural top-end was particularly welcome as, given the variety-nature of the show, there are bound to be women singing...and I think you'll be impressed with the quality of the vocal presentation of most of the singing numbers. Ethel Merman, for instance, delivers a few of her signature bellowing tunes and the audio never got irritatingly choked or overloaded. Well done.
Sound Quality: 3.5 / 5
The extras aren't overwhelming, and honestly I felt a little short-changed when I first popped in the discs and went to the bonus features and saw what was there. HOWEVER, that attitude turned around as I actually watched the special feature content--what's here is worth having--some of it quite collectable. I'll remind owners of the previous Time-Life "Best Of" compilation volumes that the Brian Henson introductions are NOT included on this Buena Vista DVD release (so fans may want to hold onto those discs if that's important to you). All four discs contain the "Muppet Morsels" bonus feature. The first 3 discs contain 4 episodes each, and the final 4th disc contains three episodes as well as the remaining bonus features:
- [*]Muppet Morsels: This was the special feature that first under whelmed me when I read about it, but then turned around and impressed me quite a bit. This is the only special feature on the first 3 discs and appears to be present on each and every episode. The best way to describe this feature is a "Subtitle Commentary". In terms of content it far surpasses the "fun pop-up facts" you are familiar with on many of the Disney animated features (why I initially cringed at the thought)...this is a VERY rewarding feature that is loaded with some very interesting facts and is screen-specific in its content. And there's a lot of it...turn it on only after having watched the episode through normally...the pop-ups are so frequent they'll distract you from the presentation. Treat this as a legitimate commentary track, and you'll learn some fascinating stuff about each episode, the creative decisions and issues at play behind it, history being the development and performers of key characters, information about the guest star and musical numbers they may perform...the list goes on and on. You can access this via the main menu but, being a subtitle track, you can also turn it on/off during disc play by simply toggling through your subtitle options. It appeared as "English 2" on my DVD player.
[*]Original Pilot: God these guys are brilliant. I actually found the humor and pacing of the pilot to better than many of the episodes that aired. The "Ruler" skit and gag with the seven deadly sins are among the N.D.H. (noteworthy dry humor). Image quality is again surprisingly good (though not as good as the feature series) and sound not too shabby. This is a serious gem for Muppet fans...and maybe we'll get the rumored "other" pilot on the 2nd season? (PLEEEAAASE...)
[*]Jim Henson's Pitch-Reel: Another rare gem that Muppet fans and casual viewers alike will adore. View the (less then 5 minutes) original pitch-reel video that Jim Henson sent to studio executives to try to get The Muppet Show aired. Brilliant.
[*][b]Gag Reel: Cute, but not earth-shattering. I would have much preferred the "Jim Henson Retrospective" that I had heard tale about but maybe on the next Season...
[/list] The Pitch-Reel and Original Pilot more than justify the purchase of this set for Muppet fans, and the Muppet Morsels is a great way for both fan and casual viewer to learn more about a particular show, character, or guest-star who may interest them. I'm very impressed...and I'm hopeful that season two will bring even more goodies...
[b]It's time to play the music. It's time to light the lights. It's time to get things started on The Muppet Show tonight.