The recent death of Bob McGrath must be a sad one for many people who grew up watching him on Sesame Street. He was on the show from 1969 to 2016. The adults on the show often seemed to play second banana to Big Bird, Grover and Bert & Ernie. So, appearing on the show as Bob Johnson for so long meant McGrath must’ve loved working with The Jim Henson Company and Sesame Workshop (Children’s Television Workshop).
McGrath had a friendly inviting face that the show needed. But by the 1980s, the Muppets had broken off in two sections. The Sesame Street Muppets seemed for the pre-school/early childhood crowd who wanted to hear about the alphabet. Then, you had the more mature Muppets like Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, The Great Gonzo and Rowlf. The Muppet Show was geared toward older children that the adults watching could get in on the joke. It’s very likely no one knew who Joel Grey was as guest but the adults just might.
The Muppets had their own three successful movies (The Muppet Movie, The Great Muppet Caper and The Muppets Take Manhattan) before the Sesame Street gang did their own movie Follow That Bird in 1985. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a big success because it was released during a very competitive summer season, so a lot of people didn’t really want to listen to Big Bird sing a duet with Waylon Jennings despite the rave reviews for the whole movie.
Henson was also working on the popular show Fraggle Rock about the Fraggles who live mostly underground in a hippy-like commune. The show had become popular in America where it is a co-production with the Cananadian Broadcasting Corporation and the British Television South. The Fraggles had premiered in the winter of 1983 and ran for five seasons through the spring of 1987 but still reruns aired in America and other countries, including the Soviet Union, which was Henson’s intention to get it broadcast in as many countries as possible.
So, when it came time to think of a Christmas special, why do one special for one group of Muppets when you can do it for all. The Muppets and Sesame Street characters interact with the Fraggles and there’s even a reference to the very popular at the time Muppet Babies. The premise has the Muppets on their way to surprise Fozzie’s mother for Christmas. There’s just one problem, his mother, Emily Bear (performed by Jerry Nelson), is planning to head to the tropics for the holidays. And she’s rented out her house to Jerome “Doc” Crystal (Gerry Parkes) and his dog, Sprocket.
Apparently, Emily Bear was doing AirBnB before it was a thing. And just like AirBnB, problems arrive when Fozzie (performed by Frank Oz) and about two dozen other Muppets show up on her doorstep. This not only means she has to immediately cancel her trip but Doc is becoming hostile because he had rented out her house and now has to share it. Doc’s mood gets worse as Bert & Ernie, Big Bird, Grover and others also show up to enjoy the holidays with the Muppets.
However, Kermit (performed by Henson) grows concern as Miss Piggy (performed by Oz) is many miles away finishing a photoshoot and shopping as a winter storm is coming. Also, Gonzo (performed by Dave Goelz) has ordered a turkey for Swedish Chef (Henson) to cook, but a real living turkey shows up and tries to convince him to cook Big Bird (performed by Carrol Spinney).
To pass time, they find and watch some old of the Muppets as children, using the same Muppet babies that were featured in The Muppets Take Manhattan. Kermit and his nephew Robin (Nelson) find a hole and tunnell leading underground where they find the Fraggles (Gobo, Whimbley, Boober, Mokey and Red) and explain to them the concept of Christmas.
Yet, Kermit still gets worried as Miss Piggy experiences car trouble. So, Doc, who at first was aggravated, has come to like and get along with all the Muppets, tells Kermit he’ll go out and look for Miss Piggy, eventually bringing her back. With everyone at the house, they gather around and sing songs such as “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” “The Holly and the Ivy” and “Happy Holidays” as well as others. Count von Count sings “I Saw Three Ships.”
It’s a simple little TV program for any fans of the Muppets. It was broadcast on Dec. 16, 1987 on ABC. At the end, Henson makes a small cameo as himself as he watches everyone from the kitchen and he and Sprocket wash dishes. It’s even more sad thinking about it now considering that less than three years later, Henson would pass away at 53 from streptoccal toxic shock syndrome. If anything else, it’s a nice look at all of Henson’s TV family-friendly accomplishments up to that time.
There have been many other Muppet Christmas specials and movies, most notably Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas in 1977 and The Muppet Christmas Carol, directed by Henson’s son, Brian. But this one is the third in that great Muppet Holiday Trinity. The full special is also available on YouTube pages such as this one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bi9qSKZuvC4
If your kids or grandkids love the Muppets or just being introduced to them, this is a perfect holiday special to show them that you’ll love too.
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