|JOHN DENVER AND THE MUPPETS: A CHRISTMAS TOGETHER (abc, 1979)|
Why was it such a misfit?
John Denver and the Muppets was a one-hour Christmas special that aired while the original Muppet Show was still running, and it is basically an extended episode of The Muppet Show if you removed most of the comedy bits and added a lot more of the musical numbers. How you feel about this depends on your opinion of Mr. Denver's musical stylings. Me, I'm not a fan of the slow stuff.
This one opens with "The Twelve Days Of Christmas" sung in its entirety by the cast. They perform pretty well, except for Fozzie, who forgets his line nearly every time it comes up. Poor Fozzie, always the Woobie.
The next scene is in a meeting room, as the Muppets are discussing the final version of the script for their performance. Gonzo remarks that he's pleased with the finished script. "It's full of wit and has good taste!" Animal decides to take his word for it and ravenously chows down on his copy of the script.
John Denver steps through the door and asks if everyone's satisfied. They all seem pleased, but then again, Miss Piggy isn't in the room yet. When Piggy enters the room she does so in an overdramatic hand-to-forehead fashion, saying she's late because she had to flee adoring fans (at least this is what she claims; all we hear are dog barks).
In contrast to everyone
else, Piggy has a problem with the very first line she
reads. "On earth peace and good will toward men.....why
doesn't this say men and WOMEN??"
That opens up everyone
else to suggest edits of their own. Gonzo then says,
"Hey! How about we have it say, "Good will
toward men and women AND CHICKENS?"
This is as aggressive a point as John Denver can get to, and he immediately changes back into milquetoast mode again. "Friends! May I humbly suggest, for what it's worth...that this would be a very good place to practice peace on Eaaaaarth?" He's about to go into his first big song, "May I Have The Pleasure Of Your Company."
Denver steps out into an empty snowy field. There's blue-colored noise outlining his body and he has no shadow, so it's obvious some kind of special effect is about to take place. An entire town (or rather, a stage set resembling a town) appears around John building by building. Then people come out, organize themselves in rows and start kicking their feet in choreographed synchronized dance moves. Denver joins them, and it's pretty sad-looking since he obviously can't dance and he doesn't have the face for this -- it looks like the younger Bill Gates attempting Broadway. Like I implied earlier, it's going to be more this than Muppets. It's not like musicals are bad in and of themselves -- it's this kind of dippy dated version, with this kind of budget, that makes the genre look bad.
When all that finally ends, we dissolve to Miss Piggy in her dressing room, having a passive-aggressive conversation with her agent. It seems in the script, Piggy is scheduled to play an elf, covered in green paint. This simply will not do for moi, so Piggy tells him to find any way to get out of it in the patented half-sweet-half-scary alteration of her voice that made her famous. When she's done talking, John walks in her room.
Piggy has obviously taken a shine to him, rubbing up against his chest and calling him "Jonathan" repeatedly. Her come-ons are as unsubtle as you can get, and when John tries to tell her he's married, Piggy insists that "Jonathan" is so much man that no single woman could possibly have all of him. (This is John Denver we're talking about.) Piggy creepily insists that John take off his glasses, "just for moi." John refuses at first, but it's clear she's never going to leave him alone until he obeys, so he slowly takes his spectacles off.
At the sight of his glasses-lessness, Piggy slowly turns to the camera and mutters, "Put them back on, John" without turning back around. John actually breaks here and starts cracking up. He's unable to keep a straight face through half of this sketch, which works to its benefit, really.
"SAY IT, JONATHAN!
SAY THE WORDS I'VE BEEN LONGING TO HEAR! SAY THEM, SAY
I'm using a copy from my dad's basement that was a reairing from 1981, but it's probably the best copy anyone can hope for, because Polaroid sponsored the special that year and they were currently using the Muppets as spokesfelt. That means we get two rare ads from this campaign in one night. Unfortunately Dad cut out every other ad but Polaroid's. I wish there was more than one second of this.
"Did you ever hear the story of the Christmas tree that didn't want to change the show? He liked living in the woods and playing with squirrels, he liked icicles and snow." Talking about Christopher the Christmas Tree? No, he's more than likely referring to Hans Christian Andersen's Fir Tree, which was intended as a parable about living in the moment and not dwelling on the past or future. It becomes clear in a second, though, that Denver has never actually read that depressing story. "He liked everyone, from wolves and grizzly bears all the way down to little bugs and spiders! And he often had dreams of a fat man in a sleigh with presents and toys and all sorts of wonderful things!" That wasn't it at all; the tree complained throughout its entire life and then it died.
Denver sings a song that's
too Muzak-y to recount, and then meets up with Kermit.
"When Christmastime comes around I often think about
my family," Kermit says. "You know, I once knew
this tadpole who claimed everything was easy as falling
off a log. Then I never heard that anymore....he really
fell off a log."
Kermit continues. "You know, John, the problem with show business is that it takes you away from your roots. Really delicious roots at that old pond. But you know, the nice thing about Christmas is that it's the one time of year when everyone seems to be part of everybody's family." This is the cue for Kermit and John to sing "Believe in Christmas," a duet together.
Piggy is having her makeup
applied (on top of her previous makeup) when Denver
enters her dressing room. Piggy springs to life and start
snorting against his chest (she literally does this, with
snorting noises; it's hilarious). "OH JONATHAN,
JONATHAN!! HOW'S MY NEW MUSICAL NUMBER COMING
When John leaves Piggy is so pleased that she starts singing to herself: "Christmaaaas is coming, the goose is getting fat! Pleased to put the penny in the old man's hat! If you haven't got a penny, a haypenny will do, if you haven't got a haypenny then God bless you!" She sings this weird song repeatedly and then others in the room start to join in, and then more Muppets come in the room and start singing it while dancing erratically, and....I have no idea what's going on. If this was 2010 I would call it a Big Lipped Alligator Moment, and....that's still the definition on TVTropes, so let's go with that.
It's night-time in the town square, and John Denver sings "The Season Is Upon Us Now," which is more Muzak. It's very slow and so are the visuals, and we won't see another Muppet for three minutes, so pardon me if I fast-forward. Three minutes later, John is standing by Rowlf's piano as he belts out "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas."
After that's finished, suddenly "JONATHAN! JONATHAN!!" is heard coming from stage left. Yes, it's Piggy again, who's got yet another bug up her curly-tailed buns. "You know that big number, the one you promised for MEEEE? It is now starring somebody named...FIFI!!" Then in the darkest, grittiest, growliest voice I've ever heard come out of her, she stares John in the face and says: "WHOOOOOO.....IS.......FIFIIIIIII???" Let me add that Piggy's putting on one of the funniest performances I've ever seen from her. She doesn't quite save the special from boredom, but she livens it up significantly.
In response Denver tells her the obvious: she read the script wrong and she's playing someone named Fifi. "You're wrong, I will not play Fifi.....MOI will play FIFI!!"
Here's the big number Piggy was promised, and it looks like Denver pulled a fast one on her, as half the act revolves around HIM instead. The scene is a toy's-eye view below a Christmas tree. A line of toy soldiers, one of them John Denver, marches out of an open present box and sings "We've Got Camaraderie." Like everything that came before it, it's incredibly goofy and more than a little embarrassing. But that was your average 1970's variety show in a nutshell.
This is the kind of thing
people watched back then. They not only watched it, they
LIKED it. It makes me wonder, are humans of the future
going to look at the things we're watching and be just as
puzzled as I am looking at this?
The soldiers march out of the room to serve in some undescribed war outside, and right after they leave, another box opens with Piggy dressed as a doll inside. Playing Fifi, the Denver soldier's girlfriend, Piggy climbs on top of a pile of presents and dramatically sings "I Will Wait For You." Most people of my generation recognize this song from Futurama, where it played while Fry's dog waited for him in the 21st century until it died. Having Piggy sing it does not make it any less sad.
But the toy soldier DOES return, and he and the doll run to each other in slow motion while the music swells, except for one moment where Piggy pauses to remark "I seem to remember doing this in a movie somewhere."
The show's last act takes place on a living room set as John strums his guitar. You would think Denver doing a duet with most Muppets would ruin the mellow mood, and you'd be right, but this time he sings with Scooter and they blend together surpisingly harmoniously.
There's a retelling of the Nativity toward the end of this, with John Denver reading directly from the Book of Matthew. Visuals are achieved with some lifeless human mannequins that look jarringly far from the Muppet norm.
After this the Muppets sing Silent Night -- in German! Why? Because, as they explain midway through, the song was written by an Austrian man, so they're actually singing the original version. After this they sing it in English, and pull back to reveal a large audience of children that are singing along.
Then all the Muppets say Merry Christmas to each other, and the whole thing ends. Very low-key ending, but it was a very low-key special.
Why didn't it fit in?