in Review, Shocktober

“Alice Cooper” The Muppet Show (1978)

Season 3, Episode 7
Original Air Date:
November 24th, 1978

Hey! Why isn’t the goddamn Muppet Show on Disney+? I did some digging and the best answer I could find is that Bob Iger thinks the Muppets are dumb. The Muppets being an acquisition by Iger’s predecessor Michael Eisner, Iger hasn’t been interested in integrating the Muppets into the Disney brand post-90s. That means I had to go to the deepest darkest depths of the internet to find this episode. Thanks, Bob.

Fortunately, the upload I did find included an intro from Brian Henson that helps put this episode into context. According to Brian, Jim Henson booked Alice Cooper for The Muppet Show as a response to people saying the show was too wholesome. So who better to guest star than a man who had a song that was banned in schools across America?

It’s funny to think that Alice Cooper was ever deemed a threat to the youth. Alice Cooper would be the first person to tell you that what he does is an act. He’s not a devil worshipper or a murderer. His songs are tongue-in-cheek. We’re talking about a guy who recorded a song about having sex with a corpse. Yet to conservative parents, he was the antichrist.

The Muppet Show gave Alice an opportunity to show off his lighter side. An opportunity to show people that his whole shtick was nothing more than smoke and mirrors. I like to think this appearance shifted, even if just slightly, the public perception of Alice as Satan’s favorite son to more of a spooky court jester. Which is what he’s always been. How can you be afraid of a guy when he’s singing a love ballad to a hand puppet?

The episode begins with Kermit fretting over the spookiness of tonight’s show. If I have to be honest I don’t see how this particular episode is any spookier than any other episode of The Muppet Show. There are monsters here and there but there are always monsters on The Muppet Show. What the hell is Sweetums?

Alice rises from a coffin dressed as Dracula for his first number, “Welcome to My Nightmare”. He creeps around on a haunted castle set as creepy critters and projected ghosts dance around. There’s not much to it but if you’re in a Halloween mood it’ll really hit the spot.

Interspersed between Alice’s three songs is a plot where Alice tries to convince Kermit to sell his soul for rock and roll. All he has to do is sign a “Soul Contract” and he will become the ultimate rock star. It’s not a bad setup but it never goes anywhere. Kermit turns it down but Gonzo is onboard so they…. do nothing. We never see Gonzo sign the contract or see the effects of the contract. It’s a wasted opportunity.

Apart from Alice’s scenes, there isn’t much in the way of spooky skits. Bunson Honeydew and Beaker enlarge a germ that attacks them, the Pigs in Space are turned invisible, and a bunch of living stalactites and stalagmites do what I can only describe as a spoken word piece (not a sketch because those are funny) about a toothache. It’s moments like this where I have to remind myself Jim Henson originally set out to be an experimental filmmaker before he put his hand inside the puppet head.

The most confusing inclusion in the episode is Robin the Frog singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” by a pond. It’s a sweet moment. I always enjoy Jerry Nelson’s nasally but comforting voice coming out of some of the cutest muppets. But why the hell is this moment in the Alice Cooper episode? Brian Henson says in his introduction that this moment gives the episode “A little something for everyone.” But it seems weird to have this tender moment in an episode with multiple references to Satan.

Later there’s a love duet between Alice Cooper and a green chicken monster. They sing Alice’s 1977 song “You and Me” and it has just the right amount of ‘70s cheese. At the end of the song, the monster is revealed to be Ms. Piggy transformed after a curse? When and how did this happen? She is transformed back somehow and storms off. Then a disappointed Alice makes a call via ham radio to Satan that he failed to get a soul. I like that. Again, why wasn’t this bit fleshed out more?

The big closing number and the best moment of the show is when Alice sings the aforementioned song that was banned in schools “School’s Out” with a gang of life-size monsters. Alice sings while dressed in a cap and gown only for it to be ripped away to reveal a red jumpsuit with a devil tail. Moments like this are why I chose this episode in the first place.

I wish more of an effort was made to make this a Halloween episode. Though despite what Wikipedia tells me this was never the intention. The episode aired in November. It seems like a no brainer to combine the Muppets with Halloween. Pumpkin puppets? Maybe a cameo appearance from The Count? It’s too bad that never happened. Where is my Muppets Halloween special? The curse of Iger lingers.