It’s without hyperbole I say that The Muppet Show is one of the greatest sketch comedy shows in the history of television. What Jim Henson and crew managed to create was a unique brand of humor that passed as a puppet-driven, vaudevillian variety show aimed at kids while actually being a subversive adult comedy. The Muppet Show’s best skits easily hold up with some of the greatest from Saturday Night Live, and I could happily talk about or rewatch them all day. But one recurring bit in particular gets the top spot: Pigs in Space.
The sketch was peak Muppets, relying on both the hallmark Muppet mania where pure chaos leads to hilarity, Hollywood satire and the sardonic wit that makes Miss Piggy one of the greatest characters ever created. Pigs in Space was hilariously parodying popular space operas long before Spaceballs and Futurama. One could even find enough similarities between Piggy and Dot Matrix or Leela to suspect she was subconscious inspiration for both, or see Captain Zapp Brannigan as a reincarnated version of Captain Link Hogthrob.
Like much of the Muppet movies and show, Pigs In Space was accidentally on purpose a vehicle for social commentary, most notably tackling sexism and misogyny, which Piggy was frequently subjected to from her immature and incapable co-crew of Dr. Julius Strangepork and Captain Link Hogthrob. The sketch was initially introduced in the second season of The Muppet Show and was so well received that it quickly became a show staple and its own pop-culture phenomenon. NASA even twice used PIS to wake up the Columbia space crew as part of their morning wake-up call tradition.
With 32 appearances on The Muppet Show, a cartoon version, a spinoff/reboot attempt with the less-cutting Pigs in Space: Deep Dish Nine, and the basis for a Star Wars/Muppets mashup figurine collection, Pigs In Space was one of the most successful Muppet properties ever. Here are the top 10 moments from the iconic sketch.
The End of the Universe
The Swinetrek are close to the end of the universe, where they will learn the true meaning and purpose of life. But seconds out from the monumental discovery the dinner bell sounds, and they abandon their would-be deep moment for some swill stroganoff. Afterward, the three return, stuffed and demanding their gloating announcer tell them the meaning of life. It may be a reach, but it sure felt like this episode was a dig at society's impatient nature and expecting everything instantly, including the answer to the greatest existential question of all time: "Why are we here?" It also seems to mock those who love to tout just how enlightened they are by way of the announcer, who taunts, "I know something you don't know" only to get yanked off his perch above the crew by Miss Piggy.
Dudley Moore's (the show's celebrity guest that episode) robot M.A.M.M.A. (Music and Mood Management Apparatus) provides a soundtrack for the crew, with the respective songs playing into each character’s obvious traits. Sure, it’s funny, but what makes the sketch is the announcer’s voiceover alluding to the inevitable sexual harassment complaint they’re sure to get for Piggy’s stripper theme music and male castmates ogling her.
We rarely -- if ever -- see any space-set show or movie tackle the reality of how boring the infinite vastness of the universe can be. But Pigs in Space kept it real (aside from the whole anthropomorphic pigs bit) and gave audiences a glimpse at how lame floating endlessly through space can really be.
Piggy is the only one qualified to push the button to put the Swinetrek back on its proper course. So it only makes sense that Link, whose male ego is visibly bruised by the girl knowing more than he does, takes it upon himself to push the button. Unrelated: Link should totally star in a web series spoofing Donald Trump.
The Swinetrek gets caught in dummo rays, which only effect really stupid people, turning Link into a vegetable. Once he comes to, a side effect from Dummo Ray exposure causes him to start tap dancing. Piggy, completely unfazed because when isn’t Link dumb as rocks, DGAF and only wants to know where he got his shoes.
Miss Piggy’s Important Job
Only one person can save the Swinetrek crew, and it’s Miss Piggy. But it turns out what they needed saving from was dirty laundry. Hogthrob and Strangepork bamboozle her into cleaning their clothes while they go play touch football, because of course they do.
Out of Swill
Link and Julius treat Piggy like a short-order chef and demand she makes them swill. She refuses to continue the sketch, lamenting that it's cheap comedy probably written by "The Frog" as opposed to the serious science fiction show they're supposed to be on. Link and Julius feign shock as if they're not on a show, this is real life and they're really lost in space. When Scooter shows up on the ship to tell them to keep going with the sketch, they start acting like an unknown alien somehow invaded their ship. Piggy breaks the fourth wall, nodding her head to signal she's surrounded by idiots. Two things of note: she says, "Oh Captain, My Captain", which illicits instant feels, decades before Robin Williams launched it into the pop culture echelon in Dead Poets, and practically invents the mugging-for-the-camera-on-a-workplace-comedy employed by Jim on The Office.
Long John Silverstein
John Cleese costars as a character-breaking pirate with a nagging parrot. The sketch is ridiculous in the best kind of way.
Gonzo’s classic parody of Darth Vader is first introduced in this season 4 sketch. The most infamous schnozz in Hollywood next to Jimmy Durante finally knows what true power feels like… well, not really. The name Dearth Nadir serves to remind everyone ( except the clueless Gonzo) just how low on the Muppet heirarchy he is: dearth means “lack of” and nadir “lowest point”. But while Gonz...er, Dearth lacks pretty much everything that makes the infamous Vader the greatest villian in pop culture, at least he has his very own chicken stormtroopers. So, there’s that.
Star Wars Pigs in Space
Easily the greatest episode in Muppet Show history, it only made sense that Pigs in Space would take up almost half of the total episode as opposed to it’s usual 3 minute average run time. Luke, Artoo, and Threepio commandeer the Swinetrek to go save Chewie. Piggy cosplays as Leia to flirt with Luke since this episode premiered months before Empire, so Leia and Han weren’t a thing yet and, since it wasn’t until Return of the Jedi that everyone learned they were twins, this isn’t as scandalous as it ends up being years later. Good job, Lucas. Way to retroactively taint a Muppets sketch with uneven storytelling.