Mild Muppetry

[Look away now if you were hoping for something more substantial than a short blog inspired by a little sticker on a DVD case. I’m writing another post about Yasujiro Ozu. Come back when that’s ready.]

Today, I took delivery of my DVD boxset of season three of The Muppet Show (don’t ask!), which was not as exciting as the package I was hoping for: my book came out this week, and I have yet to see a copy. My author copies have still not arrived, perhaps lost in the post or stolen by a postman angered by my misrepresentation of Destination Moon. Anyhow, the Muppets will have to serve as some meagre compensation.

Aside from the fetching Fozzie-faced packaging, my eye was caught by the BBFC guidance on the back cover. Although the Irish Film Censor’s Office has approved the series with their ‘G’ certificate, ‘FIT FOR VIEWING by persons GENERALLY‘, the British Board of Film Classification has seen fit to warn me that, although it carries a ‘U’ certificate (‘Universal: Suitable for All’), it ‘contains infrequent mild sex references, slapstick & dangerous behaviour’.

After my disappointment that the sex references were all going to be ‘mild’ and ‘infrequent’ had subsided, I noticed that this consumer advice was on a sticker placed over the original statement that the boxset contained ‘no material likely to offend or harm’. Quick consultation of the BBFC website (they give advice for each individual episode) revealed that the comic violence was perpetrated in the shows involving Spike Milligan, Lynn Redgrave and Roger Miller, while Leslie Uggams attracted associations with ‘potentially dangerous behaviour’ and Roy Clark indulged in ‘very mild innuendo’. Alice Cooper was a perfect gentleman. Somebody must have forgotten to total up the levels of debauchery and concluded that, on aggregate, The Muppet Show was inoffensive and harmless but, thankfully, some bright spark noticed that there were, nevertheless, examples of naughtiness to be found in a small number of episodes and intercepted the DVDs just in time to slap a premonitory label over the ‘all clear’ stamp that nearly made it past the censor and into the hands of the unsuspecting hands of innocent consumers unaware that they held in their hands a muppetic timebomb. I hope this has cleared up any anxieties you may have had.

This reminds me (because of the Muppety link more than because of the gravity of the censoriousness) of the Sesame Street controversy from last year, when DVDs of the earliest episodes came with the following warning: “These early Sesame Street episodes are intended for grown-ups, and may not suit the needs of today’s preschool child.”

I guess the point of the Muppets was always to have a bunch of frustrated variety performers straining at the boundaries of taste and decency, performing like cartoon characters and railing against the limits of being puppets, but still faced with the realities of having to make a living on the stage. It makes sense that they would occasionally overstep the mark. That’s exactly what kids like me found exciting about them in the first place. However, I haven’t actually watched any of season three at time of writing, so if I discover a scene in which Spike Milligan is kicked to death by Gonzo’s chickens and flambéd by the Swedish chef (oh, for the days of casual xenophobia on kids’ TV!), I’ll gladly withdraw my endorsement of this filth.

Ready for some more slightly adult Muppet fun? Try these. Warning, this stuff is pretty puerile. But it is the weekend:

The Jim Henson Company’s puppet improv troupe has clips from its shows here. The jokes are not always golden, but the puppetry is as imaginative and nuanced as you’d expect. Well worth a look, and proof that the Henson legacy is not (and never has been) just for children.

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