Macabre Muppet Moments: Alan Arkin

When the likes of Vincent Price or Alice Cooper showed up to The Muppet Show as a “very special guest star,” it was no wonder that things took a turn for the macabre. And although Twiggy isn’t generally associated with the creepy, that episode’s introduction of now-beloved Muppet Uncle Deadly backstage gave it its spooky spin. Now that Muppets Haunted Mansion has begun haunting Disney+ (with an EP of its featured songs available online!), let’s take a look at another spooky episode of The Muppet Show!

So, what does an episode with special guest star Alan Arkin…the Alan Arkin who also played a hilariously bored Muppet Studios tour guide in The Muppets (2011)…do to warrant being a “Macabre Muppet Moment”?

Floyd Pepper looks at the camera and asks in confusion, "Ultra-Powerful Jekyll-Hyde Potion?", from the TV show, "The Muppet Show."
What a very specific spontaneous guess, Floyd.

Unlike any of the three aforementioned episodes covered so far, this episode of The Muppet Show doesn’t lead with its creepy content, whether onstage or backstage. We start with a backstage introduction to Alan Arkin with a lovely visual pun.

After the theme song, our opening number has a mere hint of the macabre, being a Muppet performance of “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.” This fun number onstage leads to a funny backstage exchange of Kermit the Frog telling the Devil that his performance was good…

The Devil exclaims to Kermit the Frog, "Good? I'm not supposed to be good!", from the TV show, "The Muppet Show."
…Offending the Devil can’t lead to anything good…

Dr. Bunsen Honeydew and Beaker find each other carrying identical glasses, one containing “bicarbonate of soda,” meant to help Alan Arkin with some pre-performance heartburn, and one containing…

Floyd Pepper looks at the camera and asks in confusion, "Ultra-Powerful Jekyll-Hyde Potion?", from the TV show, "The Muppet Show."
Yes, that.

After ignoring Beaker’s warnings, Dr. Honeydew accidentally switches the glasses…maybe. Dr. Honeydew sure thinks he has the right glass. Beaker doesn’t. Regardless, Arkin’s none the wiser about any possible mix-up and happily drinks what Dr. Honeydew offers. But…did Dr. Honeydew give him the right glass?

Alan Arkin gives a menacing face in his "Hyde" form with bushy eyebrows and Muppet fangs, from the TV show, "The Muppet Show."
Well, that answers that.

Alan Arkin then goes on a rampage, destroying his dressing room, messing around with Beaker’s neck and head, and crashing through the wall to continue his tour of destruction in backstage parts unknown.

Kermit the Frog, blissfully unaware, goes on stage to introduce Alan Arkin’s planned musical number. Scooter tries to warn him about Arkin’s current state, but can’t muster up the right words in time. Thus, Kermit introduces the number, and the Bun-Bun Brothers begin singing “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah” in an idyllic spring setting, complete with a rainbow.

There are a few inevitabilities in the world. In the Muppet world, where there are bunnies, there is impending pain. It’s practically a tradition at this point.

Thus, Alan Arkin follows this grand Muppet tradition by rampaging onto the stage and through the musical number, and the bunnies become collateral damage.

Alan Arkin, in his "Hyde" form, throws a bunny into the air to hit it with a wooden board, from the TV show, "The Muppet Show."
…And home runs.

The segments with Alan Arkin in his “Hyde” persona bring back some fun Muppet motifs from other macabre episodes: Muppet-like fangs, as previously seen in the Vincent Price episode, and relishing mischief with maniacal hand-rubbing, as previously seen in Uncle Deadly’s introductory episode.

Alan Arkin, in his "Hyde" form, smiles and rubs his hands together, from the TV show, "The Muppet Show."
Uncle Deadly would be proud.

After “Hyde” Arkin puts a destructive end to the number, Kermit waits in the wings and instructs a group of pigs to tie Arkin up when he comes backstage. Arkin charges backstage, and these Muppets do just that. After all, tying people up in order to put them in a straitjacket may be illegal, but Alan Arkin’s a celebrity, and as we all learned in the Muppets’ 2011 film (thanks to fish boomerang extraordinaire Lew Zealand), “A celebrity is not a people.”

In the midst of the height of the chaos, Alan Arkin—the non-“Hyde” Alan Arkin—comes to his senses and respectfully requests his release…surprisingly respectfully, quite frankly, given that he has no memory of what happened, and just thinks he’s suddenly being tackled and tied up for no reason.

Alan Arkin, tied up, asks, "Excuse me, guys, would you mind taking this rope off me, please?", from the TV show, "The Muppet Show."
Would you be this polite?

Kermit quickly ushers away the pigs so he can talk to Alan Arkin. Arkin has absolutely no memory of anything that just transpired in his “Hyde” mode and is ready and excited to do his musical number.

Unlike in the Vincent Price, Alice Cooper, or Uncle Deadly episodes, Alan Arkin strikes fear into the Muppets’ hearts completely unwittingly. He has no idea of the havoc he’s wreaking. This adds a new element to this foray into macabre material for the Muppets: not only do they have to adjust to deal with Arkin’s “Hyde” form who pops out without warning and disappears just as quickly and mysteriously, but they also have to adjust again to deal with the aftermath when Arkin is back to himself and the unpredictability of the transformations.

Kermit’s forced to deliver the awkward news that he had to cancel Arkin’s number. However, he can’t quite spit out why he had to cancel it, leaving Arkin completely crushed. Arkin trudges back to his dressing room, weeping, leaving Kermit behind to wait in the awkwardness.

Alan Arkin, weeping, blubbers, "I guess it just wasn't good enough," from the TV show, "The Muppet Show."
He just can’t Hyde his crushed spirit.

We had two scenes in which we saw the “true” Alan Arkin before his monstrous transformation, and now, we get to see a comedically vulnerable moment afterward. These moments establish Arkin as, to quote Kermit, “a sweet, sensitive, gentle man” who’s pleased to guest star and wouldn’t hurt a Muppet fly, much less hit a home run with a Muppet bunny, when the Ultra-Powerful Jekyll-Hyde Potion isn’t in effect. His weeping upon finding out his musical number was canceled solidifies him as a non-threat in his regular form and adds a comedic contrast to when he’s in his “Hyde” form. If he’d been framed as a guest star who resented being on the show and was frustrated with the Muppets, his periodic rampages probably wouldn’t be as funny.

Also, although he causes structural damage and wrestles with some Muppets, none of it is portrayed as devastating. The dressing room wall is never addressed again. The set is quickly replaced for the next act. And while Beaker, the Bun-Bun Brothers, and others scream and cower during Arkin’s tirades, there’s nothing graphic about the violence, any damage done (such as yanking Beaker’s neck) is quickly undone, and the Muppets who are targeted, while spooked, are physically fine afterward. This resilience and “elasticity” without any lasting physical harm being done further adds to the comedic nature of the attacks.

Speaking of, just after returning to his dressing room, Arkin transforms again and goes on another unseen rampage backstage. While he does that, we get a break from the macabre with Fozzie struggling to find his rhythm to sing “I Got Rhythm” with an exceedingly patient Rowlf trying to accompany and guide him (Shout out to accompanists who do everything to make us singers sound good no matter what!), a “Pigs in Space” segment, an angel singing “You’re No Good” to the Devil, making a return appearance, and Fozzie’s comedy act completely sinking when his attempted Titanic joke doesn’t get far before hitting an icy response.

Then, we’re backstage again, with the Bun-Bun brothers crowding Kermit, begging him to protect them from Alan Arkin. Kermit’s reluctant…until he hears Arkin snarling and banging from his dressing room, and quickly agrees before rushing onstage, bunnies in tow, to introduce Muppet Labs. Dr. Honeydew almost misses his Muppet Labs cue as he goes to throw out the Ultra-Powerful Jekyll-Hyde Potion, and leaves it on Kermit’s desk backstage. Kermit returns, thirsty, and drinks it.

Kermit the Frog gives a menacing face in his "Hyde" form with bushy eyebrows and fangs, from the TV show, "The Muppet Show."
Never drink mysterious liquid…Especially if you have a scientist nearby.

Now it’s Kermit’s turn to go on a rampage. After getting the same bushy eyebrows and fangs we’ve seen Arkin with multiple times, he makes short order of scaring the Bun-Bun Brothers away. Then, Alan Arkin comes out to ask Kermit to keep the volume down so he can rest for the final number. Kermit, of course, flails around and snarls in response. Still unaware of his own “Hyde” transformations, Arkin has no idea something sinister is up with Kermit: he just thinks that Kermit’s annoyed with him and upset about the final number. Finally, he manages to grab Kermit’s attention…

Alan Arkin says, "Kermit, when-- When I used the word 'grab,' I was speaking metaphorically," while Kermit the Frog, in his "Hyde" form, bites his forearm and hangs on, from the TV show, "The Muppet Show."
That wordplay has some bite to it!

Kermit wrestles Arkin to the ground. The next time we see him, he storms onstage and chases off the current act, an older woman singing “Let Me Go, Lover” as a snake slowly wraps and tightens around her.

Since we’ve already seen Arkin’s transformations as a funny occurrence, when Kermit has his own transformation, it’s already funny. The fact that it’s happening to a Muppet we know to be non-threatening in his usual state makes the resulting rampage even funnier and gives the same comedic contrast between his two states as Arkin’s have.

Kermit briefly wraps himself in the stage curtain before emerging as his regular self once again and introduces the final number: Alan Arkin singing “Pig Shuffle,” an original song that, according to the Muppet Wiki, was also written by Arkin. Whether or not this is actually true is harder to discern: some songs on The Muppet Show are quite obscure, and the episode credits don’t offer much light on this subject. Either way, the song’s not-so-flattering lyrics get on Miss Piggy’s nerves. And you know what that means…

Miss Piggy does a karate chop to Alan Arkin's stomach while yelling, "Hi-yah!", from the TV show, "The Muppet Show."
Offending the Devil is one thing, but you do not offend the incomparable Miss Piggy.

In the end, Arkin never figures out or is told exactly what transpired, or even remembers his rampages, and, for all we know, he and Kermit will continue transforming after the credits roll. But even so, he still tells Kermit, “I’m fairly sure I had a terrific time.”

And, with any luck, so did we, the audience. This episode deals with its spooky subject matter by making any damage to the environment or the Muppets not only ultimately harmless, which makes both the damage and the Muppets’ terror funnier to witness, but just another piece of chaos that goes on “behind the scenes” of The Muppet Show. Kermit’s reaction to the havoc isn’t that different from his reaction to any of the other havoc we’d see in any other episode.

And when you have cast members who consistently eat each other or blow each other up and a previous guest star who tried to get you to sell your soul, I suppose your guest star spontaneously transforming into a monster and rampaging due to a cast member’s misplaced Ultra-Powerful Jekyll-Hyde Potion wouldn’t be such a weird thing.

Floyd Pepper looks at the camera and muses, "This could be a very different kind of show tonight," from the TV show, "The Muppet Show."
Was it really, though?

No episode of The Muppet Show ever runs perfectly smoothly, despite Kermit’s best efforts and frequent exasperation. But, the Muppets take the chaos in stride and keep going. The show must go on, after all. And, more importantly, no chaos is too weird not to be accepted by the Muppets.

…Just don’t cross Miss Piggy. Then, you’re on your own.

Miss Piggy screams while Alan Arkin lurks behind her in his "Hyde" form with bushy eyebrows and Muppet fangs and one hand reached out toward her, from the TV show, "The Muppet Show."
I think Arkin’s got this one covered.

Looking for more on horror TV? We’ve got you:

“The Walking Dead S11E1: ‘Acheron Part 1′”

“The Terror: Infamy S2E10 ‘Into the Afterlife'”

“Swamp Thing: A Ghost Dressed in Weeds”

“Tales From the Crypt Asks Are You Naughty or Nice”

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Written by Jamie Lee

Jamie Lee’s a writer, actor, singer, director, DJ (including hosting “Jammin’ with Jamie”), and more in film, theatre, and radio. Jamie Lee Cortese, despite loving horror and comedy and being an actor and writer, is also not Jamie Lee Curtis, though she understands where you might get confused. Visit her website at or find her on Twitter @JackalopeJamie.

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