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How to build the most sensational, inspirational, celebrational Muppet Show episode

It’s time to play the music, it’s time to light the lights, it’s time to stream the Muppets on Disney+ tonight.

Yes, the time has come at last: The Muppet Show has finally arrived on streaming, making the complete run of Jim Henson’s classic series available for the first time ever. Almost 50 years after its debut, the show remains a treasure trove of delightful music, absurdist comedy, and sly pop-culture commentary, and has become a valuable entertainment time capsule. Over more than 100 episodes across five seasons, the Muppets worked with some of the biggest names in show business at the time — music superstars like Elton John, Diana Ross, and Paul Simon; comedy legends like Bob Hope, George Burns, and Carol Burnett; beloved actors like Julie Andrews, Sylvester Stallone, and Gene Kelly; and so many more.

With all that in mind, the question becomes, where to start? You could simply begin at the beginning, of course, or cherry-pick episodes with guest stars you know and love, but we here at EW have found a way to assemble the most sensational, inspirational, celebrational Muppet Show, selecting some of the finest moments from throughout the series’ run. No such endeavor could ever hope to be complete, but we hope this will serve as a map for points of entry to the Muppetational wonder that we call The Muppet Show.

Best Muppet musical number: “Mahna Mahna” (Episode 101: Juliet Prowse)

The show boasted many musician guests over the years, but the Muppets also knew how to deliver a killer musical performance on their own — no celebrity necessary. Nearly every episode has a magical music moment, from Scooter and Fozzie singing “Simon Smith and His Amazing Dancing Bear” to Rowlf’s performance of “Cottleston Pie.” But the most iconic Muppet song has to be “Mahna Mahna.” It’s catchy, colorful, and totally ridiculous — in other words, the Muppets at their best. —Devan Coggan

Best guest musical number: “Turn the World Around” (Episode 314: Harry Belafonte)

While many of the musical performances on The Muppet Show were marked by the guest star gamely singing amid Muppet anarchy, “Turn the World Around” by Harry Belafonte leaves the anarchy out and melds his iconic song with some magnificent works of African-influenced puppetry. The regular Muppets stay out of this number until the very end, but it’s a beautiful performance highlighting the joyous humanity of both Belafonte’s song and The Muppet Show itself. Belafonte and Henson worked closely on the number, and when Henson died, Belafonte performed the song at his memorial, as it was one of his favorites. —Lauren Morgan

Best of Miss Piggy (Episode 214: Elton John)

When booking guest stars, The Muppet Show‘s producers would ask if there was a particular character they’d like to work with on the show. The most common answer — of course — was Miss Piggy. That led to many a great moment between the porcine diva (played by Frank Oz) and various guest stars (see below), including a magnificently campy duet with Elton John on “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart.” “Eat your heart out, Kiki!” Piggy snarls in between choruses, shortly after planting smooches all over John’s chest. As Rowlf once put it, “She’s a born ham.” —Tyler Aquilina

Best Backstage moment (Episode 418: Christopher Reeve)

Some of the best Muppet Show backstage moments were when the star in question would play with their own persona, and Miss Piggy’s breathless reaction to Christopher Reeve allowed the Superman actor to poke fun at his heartthrob status at the height of his fame. As Miss Piggy fawns and checks his closet for the Superman costume, she convinces Reeve to hold her like he did Lois Lane, only to be interrupted mid-snuggle by a jealous Kermit. Reeve, who was always an underrated comic actor, is totally game for the silliness, accidentally breaking the doors off his closet and crushing his desk in a demonstration of his latent superhero strength while leaving the normally confident Piggy flustered in his handsome presence. —L.M.

Best moment of sincerity: Robin sings “Halfway Down the Stairs” (Episode 110: Harvey Korman)

Much of The Muppet Show was packed with zany comedy, from unexpected explosions to boomerang fish. But the best episodes also took a moment to breathe, infusing the series with a much-needed earnestness. The best example comes in the show’s first season, when Kermit’s nephew Robin (voiced by Jerry Nelson) sings a moving rendition of “Halfway Down the Stairs,” adapted from an A.A. Milne poem and set to music by Harold Fraser-Simson. It’s a bare-bones performance, just a frog puppet sitting on a staircase and singing a nonsensical children’s song, but it’s also deeply moving — and it proves that the best variety shows know the value of a little, well, variety. —D.C.

Honorable Mention: “Bein’ Green” (Episode 219: Peter Sellers)

Kermit’s signature tune “Bein’ Green” first appeared on Sesame Street, but got perhaps its definitive rendition on The Muppet Show‘s second season. The frog, on the verge of a nervous breakdown, takes a seat atop a crate and sings the lovely ode to self-acceptance and serenity, as the bare stage transforms into a forest grove around him. It’s another moment where the typical Muppet chaos gave way to tranquility, proving again that the show could be as much a balm for the soul as a laugh riot. —T.A.

“Pigs in Space” (Episode 417: Star Wars)

While the “Pigs in Space” sketch was initially a parody of shows like Star Trek, one of its most memorable sketches involves the stars of the other major space saga, Star Wars. Tongue firmly in cheek, Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker takes control of the Swinetrek along with C-3PO and R2-D2 on a rescue mission to find Chewbacca. While Captain Link Hogthrob wants to find out who made Luke’s fantastic suit and Dr. Julius Strangepork just wants to push R2-D2’s buttons, Miss Piggy outfits herself as Princess Leia and threatens both Luke and C-3PO when they insist she isn’t quite the princess they remember. Along with an appearance by Gonzo as recurring Darth Vader parody Dearth Nadir, the Star Wars cast episode is also a reunion of sorts since Miss Piggy Muppeteer Frank Oz also famously played Luke’s Jedi Master Yoda in the Star Wars films. —L.M.

Honorable Mention (Episode 223: John Cleese)

Another memorable “Pigs in Space” sketch came from legendary Monty Python comedian John Cleese. Invading the ship as pirate Long John Silverstein, Cleese gives a delightfully silly performance, forgetting which hand is replaced by a hook, getting it caught in his shirt’s ruffles, and then spending most of his time arguing with his cantankerous parrot. —L.M.

Best of the Swedish Chef (Episode 214: Elton John)

The Muppet Show‘s master of culinary chaos, the Swedish Chef, was a particular favorite among the cast and crew, for good reason. Whether cooking up “chickie in the basket” (“That two points!”), nearly serving Kermit’s nephew (or at least his legs), or getting besieged by vengeful lobsters, the Chef is one of the show’s most consistently hilarious elements. That’s largely due to the inimitable dynamic between Henson, who provided the Chef’s “mock Swedish” dialogue, and Oz, who performed his hands. This setup often led to uproarious moments of improv, as in the sketch above, in which Oz starts strumming a frying pan like a banjo at the funniest possible moment. Such was the magic of The Muppet Show: Even a single character could become a playground for Oz and Henson’s creative partnership. —T.A.

Best of Animal: “Fever” (Episode 105: Rita Moreno)

Rita Moreno won an Emmy (and completed her EGOT) for this absurd performance with the Electric Mayhem. It’s a delightful battle for the spotlight, as Animal (Frank Oz) derails Moreno’s sultry crooning with a few ill-timed drum flourishes. Moreno and Oz improvised much of the performance on set, and the result is one of the silliest and most legendary duets in Muppet history. —D.C.

Honorable Mention (Episode 515: Carol Burnett)

Animal also made a star showing as Carol Burnett’s dance partner in the dance marathon episode of The Muppet Show, a script so funny it won the writers an Emmy. Burnett’s comic exasperation as the marathon continues to interrupt her episode is only heightened when she gets paired with Animal as her dance partner. He dips her when she isn’t paying attention, gets caught in Burnett’s dress, and just basically acts exactly how you imagine he would in such a situation. —L.M.

Best of Statler & Waldorf (Episode 203: Milton Berle)

No Muppet Show would be complete without its resident curmudgeons, Statler and Waldorf (Richard Hunt and Jim Henson, respectively), who fling zingers from their balcony seats to punctuate many of the songs and sketches. The show occasionally gave them a bigger showcase, usually against Fozzie Bear, but their finest hour came opposite vaudeville and television legend Milton Berle, who gamely allowed the elderly duo to eviscerate him on stage. (“I have been a successful comedian half of my life!” Berle shouts defiantly. “How come we got this half?” rejoins Waldorf.) Also, stay tuned through the credits of every show for a final remark from the box, something to the effect of: “That wasn’t half bad!” “No, it was all bad! Dohohohoho!” —T.A.

Written by Tyler Aquilina ,  Devan Coggan and Lauren Morgan | Entertainment Weekly

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