The Muppet Show: Sex and Violence (1975)

Ladies and gentlemen, presenting the end of sex and violence on television!

Who doesn't love The Muppet Show? Debuted in 1976, ran in prime time syndication, five seasons, 120 episodes, survived the downfall of the variety show craze, celebrated as one of the greatest televisual achievements of the modern era, spun off a number of movies and specials and series and everything.

Don't deny it. You watched it as a kid and/or when it first came out and you loved it. A lot of you could probably name your favorite episodes off the top of your head Vincent Price Elton John Gilda Radner Carol Burnett John Cleese Alice Cooper.

But as with all television programs great and small, they have to start somewhere. Usually with a pilot.

Sex and Violence was one of TWO pilots for The Muppet Show, the other one being The Muppet Valentine Special one year earlier. While the Valentine Special had Mia Farrow as a guest star and contained several musical bits, Sex and Violence has more of an emphasis on comedy and puppet-induced silliness. You might say that the Muppet Show that eventually emerged is a combination of elements from both pilots: the guest stars and songs of the first and the sketch format of the second.

It was first broadcast on March 19, 1975 on ABC and was advertised in TV Guide as "a fun-filled musical comedy special for grown-ups...and kids too!"

...Wait, "kids too"? Well, yeah...even thought the name of the pilot is Sex and Violence, there isn't really any sex in it and not a lot of violence either. It sort of satirizes the proliferation of sex and violence on TV with Jim Henson's trademark Muppet humor. It was actually marketed as more of an adult-oriented Sesame Street, but otherwise it's pretty tame content-wise and is for the most part safe for family viewing.

The special begins with an announcement of "the end of sex and violence on television"...followed by Crazy Harry blowing up the words SEX AND VIOLENCE carved in stone.

Okay, maybe the end of SEX on television, but I don't think violence will go quietly.

After the title sequence, we begin in the conference room, and already we're seeing some familiar faces. Our host is a lizard-type Muppet named Nigel (whom die-hard fans may recognize as the conductor of the Muppet Theater orchestra), and music man Floyd Pepper and Sam the Eagle are there as well. Animal is barely visible when the camera pans over to him growling through a barred window in one corner of the room. Nigel, Sam and company are getting ready for the "Seven Deadly Sins Pageant", where all seven deadly sins compete for...which of them is the deadliest sin, I guess. Actually, when I say "getting ready", I really mean they're just playing board games while the Deadly Sin Muppets come in one by one and are shown to their dressing rooms.

FYI, for Muppet n00bs, Nigel's the one on the left.

From this point on the special can be broken up into a number of scenes cut up into segments and spliced together in random order resulting in a series of jump cuts. Such bits include:

The presidents of Mount Rushmore exchange jokes, all of which go over George Washington's head...no pun intended. ("Roosevelt nice but Gladys felt nicer!")

A foreign cooking show strangely titled "Railroad Crossing" features the Swedish Chef showing us how to make a foot-long submarine sandwich. His list of ingredients grows a little odd as he adds a napkin, a rubber chicken, a glove, a 7-inch vinyl record, and even puts a candle on top. At the end of his last segment, the sandwich grows wings and flies away only to disintegrate when the Chef tries to shoot it down with his "bloomerspoot."

It's worth noting that this is the Chef's only appearance in Muppet canon where they actually give us subtitles. Subtitles in Chinese and printed backwards, but subtitles nonetheless.

A wrestling match is taking place between two long-limbed wrestlers named The San Francisco Earthquake and The Homicidal Maniac. Pay attention to the crowd in the background and you'll notice some more old (new?) friends--Rowlf, George the Janitor, several members of the Electric Mayhem, Kermit in his "Sesame Street News" jacket...

Speaking of the Mayhem, Floyd is called on stage, where Dr. Teeth and the group--they're all there, including Animal at the drums--perform a rather violent love song titled "Love Ya to Death", the instrumental of which is the opening and closing song of the show.

Why if it isn't our old heckler friends Statler and Waldorf! And they're...just sitting there. Talking to each other. Not really doing much of anything. They're just sitting there talking while the grandfather clock ticks in the background. Kinda dull, if you ask me. A major departure from the wily old coots in the theater box we know and love.

Lloyd introduces our next act as strictly "for the birds" and plays some bass music to accompany the scene. Here we have a trio of male birds roosting on a tree branch and chirping in English phrases ("Whaddya say?" "Oh boy!" "For cryin' out loud!") They meet some nice lady birds on the branch of an adjacent tree who also chirp in English ("Oh, really!" "You know!") whom they totally fail to get off with - they both fly off with a gatecrasher ("Right on right on! Right on right on!")

In a rather abstract bit, two feathery compost pile monsters hit each other with clubs, and then take out their further aggression on two long-nosed creatures who talk gibberish.

Throughout all this we cut to one of many "At the Dance" segments like they had--or WOULD have in The Muppet Show, where dancers tell jokes with their partners. Only in this special the jokes are more like one-liners. At one point Kermit the Frog makes a cameo, offering his dance partner a job in "an educational show for kids."

Hey, it's Bert! I wonder who he's dancing with...


A Gene Shalit Muppet gives a review of the newest installment of the popular science fiction franchise, "Return to Beneath the Planet of the Pigs", which takes place on a planet where pigs evolve from men or however that works. A Charlton Heston Muppet is rounded up with the other remnants of humanity and is about to be experimented upon by mad scientist Dr. Nauga, who looks and sounds like a lot like Dr. Strangepork from "Pigs in Space". Miss Piggy appears as well, or the beady-eyed Muppet who will look like her once the series is greenlit.

By this time you may notice that characters from certain sketches are appearing in other skits--for instance, Dr. Nauga shows up at the dance, while the two long-nosed creatures are watching the wrestling match. You might have also noticed that every time we cut back to the conference room they change some things up in the background--look for a picture of Big Bird in one segment.

We finally get to the Seven Deadly Sins Pageant. The tension builds as our host Nigel is about to announce the winner, but sadly they run out of time before the judges can make a decision. The credits roll and the Electric Mayhem, joined  by a Jim Henson-lookalike Muppet on the banjo, play us out while Crazy Harry makes some more explosions. Watch during the end credits as the camera pans backwards slowly to reveal Jim, Frank Oz and all the puppeteers running around on set.

It's always interesting to see a TV series in its pupa stage, when its creators were still figuring out what worked and what didn't. Sex and Violence gives us an early glimpse at pieces of the Muppet Show series that made the cut--Swedish Chef, Dr. Teeth and others--as well as some that didn't (REALLY glad they reworked Statler and Waldorf, because it wouldn't be as fun with them in the balcony the way they are here). It doesn't have as much comic energy as the TV series which it helped birth, and there are some parts that slow the pacing down to a crawl, but overall it has its moments. I found the skits with the birds and the heap monsters very original, and the Electric Mayhem's song was very nice as well. And of course, the Chef is always a crowd-pleaser.

Diehard Jim Henson fans will get a kick out of this. Casual fans who preferred the chickens and eating and explosions I'm not too sure, but they'll find some bits they like from it. So at least everyone will come out happy.

And let's not forget the series WOULD have a bigger budget...

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