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HTF REFIEW: The Muppet Show, Season One... HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!!!


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#1 of 138 OFFLINE   DaViD Boulet

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Posted August 02 2005 - 11:42 AM

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The
MuppetShow


Studio:Buena Vista Home Entertainment
Year:1976
RunTime:24 Episodes (604 minutes total)
Aspect Ratio:4x3 encoded 1.33:1 (OAR)
Audio:2.0 DD English (mono)
Subtitles:English (hearing impaired)
SpecialFeatures:Jim Henson's original pitch reel, Muppet Morsels (text-commentary), Original Pilot, Gag Reel, Fuzzy cover...
ReleaseDate:August 9, 2005







Feature...



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:

http://www.muppetcen...05/060105.shtml

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? Posted Image


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Picture...




Stunning.

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... Posted Image ) 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. Posted Image

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

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Rating Rationale...

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):

Rating Key:

SCORE Description
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).






Sound...



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

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Special Features...



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]All Together...




    [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.



    [b]HIGHLY RECOMMENDED









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#2 of 138 OFFLINE   ScottR

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Posted August 02 2005 - 12:06 PM

Great review!!! The only thing missing from the set are the original closings, which had to be changed because ITC is no longer the distributor....unfortunately.

#3 of 138 OFFLINE   DaViD Boulet

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Posted August 02 2005 - 12:13 PM

I'd like to know more about that...is only the very *very* end of the closing replaced?

reason I ask is that one of the shows that I watched last night (forgive me for forgetting which one) was where the band-members decide to "walk out" of the show because they can't stand the theme music. When the closing credits roll...there's just the Piano-playing dog Rowlf at the piano with the lone-conductor...and the entire closing theme is just him playing the paino without the usual instrumentation. It's clearly the original one that went with that episode... thoughts?

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#4 of 138 OFFLINE   Casey Trowbridg

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Posted August 02 2005 - 03:15 PM

David, thanks for the review, I can't wait to pick this up. It will be interesting for me to see what episodes fall in to the first season since my not being born until 1981 means that I only saw this show after the fact on various stations.

#5 of 138 OFFLINE   ScottR

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Posted August 02 2005 - 04:31 PM

The episode you watched is the original...but most episodes end with Zoot blowing the sax and something different happening (I don't know how many variations occur during the first season), and the newer versions cut to black with the audience laughing, but you don't see the joke.

#6 of 138 OFFLINE   Dane Marvin

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Posted August 02 2005 - 05:00 PM

Thanks for the review! I can't say I knew that season sets were eventually coming, but I lucked out and wound up neither buying nor borrowing/renting any of the Columbia House releases during their time. That means I haven't seen an episode of the original Muppet Show since I was still crawling (in the very early 80s). Needless to say, I'm excited as hell for this release. The Disney acquisition has panned out!

#7 of 138 OFFLINE   ScottR

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Posted August 02 2005 - 05:13 PM

We used to live on the next street over from my grandma's house, and every Saturday night, we would walk over through the backway and I would watch The Muppet Show..I remember the sights and smells of her house (orange carpet)! and the Muppets on tv. (We also watched Sha-Na-Na and Hee Haw on the same channel...CBS, I think it was in our city.)

#8 of 138 OFFLINE   John Stell

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Posted August 03 2005 - 03:16 AM

At 38, I can't believe how excited I am about this. I hope my 3 year old shares my enthusiasm when I get the set.
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#9 of 138 OFFLINE   Sam Favate

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Posted August 03 2005 - 03:45 AM

Thanks for the great review. Looking forward to future seasons coming out quickly.

#10 of 138 OFFLINE   Jonathan_Clarke

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Posted August 03 2005 - 03:53 AM

I think I've been waiting for this longer than any tv dvd release.

Glad to hear it was worth the wait.
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#11 of 138 OFFLINE   Brenton

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Posted August 03 2005 - 08:12 AM

Great review, David.

Unlike many of you guys, I wasn't born until 1986, so the only time I have ever seen the show was in syndication when I was very young. I have little to no memory of the show itself, however I do remember that I watched it with my sisters and dad probably at about the age of four. I have loved the Muppet movies ever since I can remember. I am especially partial to the first two (both made prior to Henson's death). For this reason I am eagerly looking forward to getting my hands on this boxset next week for 12 hours' worth of Jim Henson-era Muppet material, all new to me.

#12 of 138 OFFLINE   Eric Larsen

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Posted August 03 2005 - 08:46 AM

You know I've been waiting for this!
One of my earliest memories was watching these at night in the late seventies.

So looking forward to your review of that Fraggle Rock season one, and the four upcoming special edition Muppet movies coming soon!

This and a widescreen Jerk. What a month.

Now if they keep on with the extras. I'll be a happier stockholder for a while!

#13 of 138 OFFLINE   DaViD Boulet

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Posted August 03 2005 - 08:57 AM

just added this paragraph to the PQ section:

Quote:
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.

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#14 of 138 OFFLINE   TonyD

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Posted August 03 2005 - 01:47 PM

i sold my time life set and it has been awhile sine i even looked at them but i think those dvds also boasted an extra skit per ep that may have been labeled something like never before seen or never seen on during origional broadcast.

looking forward to this set.
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#15 of 138 OFFLINE   John*D

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Posted August 03 2005 - 02:20 PM

I'm going to rent this.

I'm still hoping for MUPPET BABIES!!!

#16 of 138 OFFLINE   Dane Marvin

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Posted August 03 2005 - 05:01 PM

Muppet Babies would be SWEET. Rights issues for the film clips though. Man, those would have to be a pain in the butt.

#17 of 138 OFFLINE   DaViD Boulet

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Posted August 04 2005 - 05:46 AM

BTW, Kudos to the Disney folks for clearing all the rights to the music/performances in these shows. Keep in mind folks that being a variety show, almost EVERY episode has music with rights issues that needed to be addressed. That had to be one big headache and probably cost a bit of $$ too.

Thanks Disney! Posted Image
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#18 of 138 OFFLINE   TheLongshot

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Posted August 04 2005 - 06:01 AM

Nice review. This is definitly a "must get", particularly since Muppets is a fav of my wife.

BTW, you need to fix the thread title...

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#19 of 138 OFFLINE   Brenton

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Posted August 04 2005 - 06:53 AM

I would like to see some photos of the cover (not just a scan).

#20 of 138 OFFLINE   Eric Emma

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Posted August 04 2005 - 08:53 AM

I was born in Dec. 1987 so the show was over long before I was born and I discovered the muppets through muppet babies and watching the movie hundreds of times so I didn't find out about the show till much later and I've only seen three episodes since I rented it once from Blockbuster and loved it, so I'm glad I'll finally be able to see this show fully or at least the first season.