Sunday, January 29, 2023

Alice Cooper on The Muppet Show

(This post is part of  The Great Muppet Guest Star Caper hosted by Taking Up Room and Realweegiemidget Reviews)

In the Sixties rock stars appeared on American television nearly every week. The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Lovin' Spoonful, The Doors, and others appeared on variety shows from The Ed Sullivan Show to The Jonathan Winters Show to The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. By the mid-Seventies this had changed and it was rare for rock stars to appear on television beyond such specialized shows as Don Kirshner's Rock Concert. The Muppet Show was then unique in that it actually guest starred the occasional rock star, among them Elton John, Paul Simon, Debbie Harry, and Alice Cooper. Alice Cooper guest starred on the seventh episode of the show's third season, the 307th episode of The Muppet Show over all.

Alice Cooper began his career with the band of the same name. He was one of the pioneers of shock rock, with his stage shows featuring everything from an electric chair to a boa constrictor. Much of the imagery of Alice Cooper drew upon classic horror movies. The band first met with success with their third album Love It to Death. Their song "School's Out" would turn out to be a major hit in 1972, peaking at no. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100 and going all the way to no. 1 on the UK singles chart. It remains Alice Cooper's best known song. In 1975 Alice Cooper went solo with the album Welcome to My Nightmare. He proved to be a success as a solo act, with the hit singles "Only Women Bleed" (no. 12 on the Billboard Hot 100), "You and Me" (no. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100), and "How You Gonna See Me Now" (no. 12 on the Billboard Hot 100).

Given how successful Alice Cooper was in the Seventies, not to mention his highly theatrical stage act seemed well suited to television, it was perhaps no surprise that he appeared on The Muppet Show. It should also be no surprise that his episode is reminiscent of Vincent Price's guest appearance on the show in its first season. That episode capitalized on Vincent Price's status as a horror movie legend, complete with Kermit turned vampire. The episode guest starring Alice Cooper capitalized on his status as "the Godfather of Shock Rock," as he would eventually be called. Both episodes draw heavily on the mythos of horror movies.

From the beginning Alice Cooper's guest appearance on The Muppet Show is humorously macabre. At the start of the episode he informs Scooter that the monsters in his dressing room don't belong to the Muppets, but to him. Early in the episode Alice reveals himself to be an agent of the Devil and offers the Muppets "fabulous riches and worldwide fame" in exchange for the souls. While Kermit rejects the offer, Miss Piggy does a trial run of the offer before deciding its not for her. Gonzo also wants to take the deal, but spends most of the episode trying to get a pen to sign the contract before he finally decides it isn't worth it.

The running sketch in which Alice offers to buy the Muppets' souls is hardly the only part of the episode that deals with horror movie tropes. The whole episode does. The Muppet Labs invent a Germ Enlarger, inadvertently creating a gigantic germ that attacks Beaker. Fozzie is so freaked out by the creepy atmosphere of the episode that he takes refuge in the canteen with "clean cut kids," only to learn that they are not "clean cut" at all. On the Pigs in Space segment, Link is suffering from some strange space disease. An attempt to cure him simply turns him into a mere outline of himself.

As might be expected, Alice Cooper performs some of his songs on the episode. He performs "Welcome to My Nightmare" early in the episode, backed by The Vile Bunch (a group of monstrous Muppets). He sings "You and Me" to Beakie, who turns out to be Miss Piggy (who was transformed as part of the deal for her soul). Finally, Alice and some of the Muppet monsters perform "School's Out."

Here it must be pointed out that Alice Cooper's guest appearance on The Muppet Show marked the first appearance of Beakie, a bird-like, rainbow coloured monster. While in episode 307 she was simply a form Miss Piggy had been transformed into, she would later appear as an independent. background character in future episodes.

Early in the episode Kermit remarks, "Things weren't this spooky when Julie Andrews did the show." And while everyone I know (including myself) enjoyed Julie Andrews's guest appearance on The Muppet Show, I know there are a lot of us that loved Alice Cooper's guest appearance on the show as well, complete with its creepy atmosphere. Like Vincent Price's guest appearance on the show, it is a fun send up of horror movie tropes. The fact that one gets to hear three of Alice Cooper's most popular songs is an added bonus.


Realweegiemidget Reviews said...

This does sound a dark episode, time for a rewatch. Thanks for joining us in the blogathon.

Rebecca Deniston said...

Wow--Alice Cooper on the "Muppet Show" would have been unique if nothing else. It always amazed me how they went beyond average kids' stuff. Thanks again for joining the blogathon, Terence--it was fun, as always (I still have "School's Out" in my head). :-)