With Candice Bergen, The Muppet Show had a perfect opportunity to concoct a classic episode. After all, it was rare for them to find a guest so comfortable with puppets. In fact, she had likely spent most of her younger years surrounded by them, given that her father was the great Edgar Bergen, one of America’s foremost puppeteers prior to Jim Henson (Edgar would later appear on The Muppet Show himself, making Candice and him the only father and daughter to ever both guest star on the show; he would later not only make a cameo in The Muppet Movie, but when he died shortly before its release, the film would be dedicated to him.).
And Bergen is just as terrific with the Muppets as one would expect (and as we’ve already seen on her SNL appearance). What’s great about her interactions with them is that she’s so used to puppets that she doesn’t treat them preciously whatsoever, nor does she act in awe of them, nor does she affect a deliberately fractious relationship with them. She treats them as people, completely straightforwardly. There’s no winking to the audience and no overflowing delight at being in their presence. Not to say that that can’t be a lot of fun with the right guest–arguably more so–but there’s also something fascinating about this approach, because it isn’t an approach. It’s just entirely natural behavior from a woman who grew up in this situation.
Her interactions with Kermit in the Talk Spot are a perfect example. A trained photographer, Bergen attempts to take candid shots of Kermit, who keeps self-consciously posing, even as she keeps asking him to act naturally (which is both fitting and ironic). It ends with Sweetums interrupting, enquiring as to whether she has a good camera, and then eating it once she confirms it is. It’s hard to pinpoint what it is about her performance but she takes it all in such effortless stride that, although it isn’t the most colourful guest star appearance, there’s something very appealing about its simplicity.
Wire for Kermit the Frog!
Unfortunately, there’s also hardly any structure whatsoever holding the episode together. Of all of the rudimentary backstage plots that Season 1 provided, this is one of the most skeletal. It literally consists of Fozzie delivering a number of pun jokes to Kermit. This is the general idea: Fozzie calls out that he has something for Kermit, in the style of a delivery boy, and then whatever he gives him turns out to be a completely literal version of said thing. For example: ‘Letter for Kermit the Frog! Letter for Kermit the Frog! Are you Kermit the Frog?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘I have a letter for you.’ At which point, he hands him a foam letter R. Or ‘Wire [aka telegram] for Kermit the Frog!’ and then he hangs a wire hanger on his nose. Near the end, Kermit tries to ‘get’ Fozzie instead but it backfires on himself. It’s only during the curtain call that he manages to hit Fozzie with a pie in the face. And that is literally it.
‘Rita Moreno‘ was the only other episode with such a non-existent plot, but that one happened to still skate by as one of the best of the season because it contained such a strong assemblage of segments and Moreno was so beyond-words fantastic. Bergen unfortunately doesn’t bring that same level of excitement and the episode doesn’t have as many ‘wow’ sketches, although there are many wonderful moments. But it’s not enough to make this feel anything more than a hodgepodge.
There is, however, a welcome thread of feminism running throughout the half-hour. During his introduction at the top, Kermit refers to Bergen as a ‘well-rounded person,’ at which point Statler and Waldorf yell out a crude line about her indeed being ‘well-rounded’, hooting and catcalling. But Kermit instantly shuts them down. He declares that ‘Miss Bergen’ is a feminist and that there will be ‘no male chauvinist pig jokes while [she] is out here’! Piggy then marches on stage, declaring that she’s ‘tired of any kind of pig joke’! Then, she segues flawlessly into asking Kermit why, whenever there is ‘a beautiful girl on the show’, he forgets about her. Now, my immediate reaction was to worry that this would undermine the feminism, as Piggy doesn’t always have a great track record of being friends with other women, particularly beautiful ones. However, it actually goes in a different direction than I expected. At first, Kermit clarifies for her that it has nothing to do with Bergen’s looks. ‘We could have a seal act on the show and I might forget about you,’ he says. Without skipping a beat, our dearly deluded diva replies, ‘He tries so desperately to hide his love for me,’ but don’t think that means she’s gone soft. A second later, she’s giving him one of her patented threats.
‘What Now, My Love?’
But what’s most notable about this particular threat is that, instead of pitting her against the ‘beautiful’ guest star, we discover that she has actually allows Candice to take her under her wing. According to Piggy, ‘Ms Bergen said I should stand up for my rights! Either I open the show, or Ms Bergen and I walk!’ making this both the first time we see Piggy frame one of her demands as a consciously feminist act, as well as work with another woman to achieve success. And, notably, it leads to arguably Piggy’s first big star spotlight number ever.
Technically, it isn’t her first. She sang in ‘Temptation’, but in that case, Richard Hunt was performing Piggy’s voice and, although she sang lead, it was as part of the Muppet Glee Club. She was also the solo singer for ‘(Hey Won’t You Play) Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song’, but that was a UK-only spot that most of the world didn’t get to see. So this is really the first time that Frank Oz’s Miss Piggy as we know and love her today, performs a song for a worldwide audience. And although, this being The Muppet Show, it doesn’t go perfectly smoothly for her–she starts off as royalty in an Arabian Nights setting, but suddenly the 3 male Muppets acting as her backup turn into literal monsters and converge upon her, eventually leading her to have to flee the stage–she does finish the song in grand style, which, by Muppet standards, is a total triumph.