The miracle of home video-and sometimes the curse-is that it allows you to revisit some of your fondest memories of films and television shows past. Sometimes those trips back in time are excursions to nostalgic worlds of wonder. Other times they are descents into hell. And sometimes they are a little bit of both. Case in point: The Muppet Show: Season One, recently released on DVD.
For those of you who never saw the show or have only vague memories, allow me to describe it for you. The Muppet Show was a variety show, akin to Laugh In, Sonny & Cher, and whole host of others that incorporated vaudevillian humor, sketch comedy and music into the program (most of which have not managed to age very well).
Compared to those shows, the big catch is that The Muppet Show, which ran from 1976 to 1981, was populated by puppets. Every week, the Jim Henson-voiced Kermit the Frog would emcee a new episode that featured a real, flesh-and-blood guest star. The lineup of the first season reads like a who's who of 1970s celebrities, most of whom now reside in the nether regions of "where are they now?" has-beenism. Older viewers will look back bittersweetly to the time when Avery Schreiber was a star, while anyone under the age of 30 is likely to wonder, "Exactly who or what is Mummenschanz?"
The Muppet Show: Season One is an odd mixed bag of tricks. Some of the jokes are so dated and corny you'll be left flummoxed trying to explain to your kids (or grandkids) what is so entertaining. You're likely to mumble to yourself, "This was so cool when I was kid," trying to convince yourself that Ben Vereen's poorly lip-synched performance wasn't that bad three decades ago. (You'll also begin to realize that everyone was on drugs in the 1970s and that apparently cocaine makes everything seem funnier.) Still, some of the episodes-or, more specifically, parts of episodes-really hold up. The old curmudgeons Statler and Waldorf are still funny, and Fozzie's lack of comedic timing is still good for a laugh.
It's not so much that you shouldn't check out this four-disc set-rent it or "borrow" it from a friend. But if you want to get The Muppet Show on DVD, wait for future discs, as the show didn't really hit its stride until later seasons.