If there’s one thing I’ve picked up on frequenting Topless Robot it’s this: nearly everyone here is obsessed (in a good way) with The Muppets, Sesame Street and anything else synonymous with the brilliance of Jim Henson. But like every great creative genius before him, Henson had to start somewhere humble in his puppeteering career beginning with the series Sam and Friends and, afterwards, commercials. Throughout the 1960s Henson’s creations advertised numerous now nonexistent products to the masses, from off-brand lunch meat to PSAs preaching the potential dangers of tailgating. True, these commercials are the height of retro entertainment and showcase prototype versions of soon-to-be famous characters, but there’s an overwhelming aura of weirdness to some of them — so much so that the products they were pitching became lost in the obscurity and the only thing you remember is one Muppet violently beating on another as questionable retribution for his or her poor brand choices, or some other kind of perplexing nonsense.
So pour yourself a scalding mug of Wilkins Coffee and grab a bowl of Munchos as 10 bizarre Muppet commercials hit the airwaves!
Let’s start with the obvious here: yes, that is indeed an early prototype — one of many in fact — of everyone’s favorite blue, hirsute glutton Cookie Monster (going under the droll alias of Arnold at the time). But he’s not the reason this Munchos commercial is on the list, oh no. Rather, the real star here is Fred: one of the most boring, uninspired and… NORMAL Muppets ever to be conceived by Jim Henson! I understand completely that he’s meant to act as a contrast to Arnold, but, good god, listening to his explanation of Munchos feels like you’re sitting through a homily. I think Arnold wolfing down the bag of Munchos with gusto, alone, speaks volumes that they’re delicious.
But like all strait-laced people, I’d like to think that Fred’s had that one closeted “wild” moment in his life, like the time he took some peyote at that Electric Mayhem concert in the desert and ran across the stage yelling “Yip-yip-yip-yip… Uh-huh. Uh-huh.” Hey, it was the ’70s, who’s judging?
9) La Choy Chinese Food
If you gaze into a mirror in a darkened room while saying “Bloody Mary” three times, you’ll summon her murderous spirit. But if you’re dumb enough to tearfully verbalize your culinary ineptitude, then you’re sure as hell going to get a visit from a being much more horrifying and deadly than the aforementioned ghost: the La Choy Dragon! Jumping out from behind grocery shelves, or the pantry, in your own home when you least expect it, the La Choy Dragon is mindless destruction incarnate on a near biblical level! When he’s not causing extensive collateral damage to his immediate surroundings (thanks to his tail), he’s breathing scorching hot flames to cook noodles — while they’re still in the can (not a very good idea for obvious reasons)! So when you end up being sent to the ER with third degree burns, tell the doctor your face got “cooked in Dragon Fire”! Believe me, both of you will get a good laugh out of that, granted your mouth isn’t melted shut…
8) Wheels, Flutes and Crowns
The prudent executive at a snack food company knows that when advertising their products, never frighten your clientele with the commercials since a majority of them are small, less than health conscious children. But back in 1966, someone at General Mills thought it would be a good idea to terrify children with the prospect that ravenous monsters would break into their house trying to steal their snacks. And if that wasn’t enough nightmare fuel, they’re also disguised as your very family, shedding their human flesh coats whenever you dare fix a bowl of Wheels, Flutes or Crowns. Fortunately for children everywhere, the commercial never aired, but you can only imagine the amount of them developing inhibiting phobias over snack foods and their own parents if they had.
Also, the fact that the Muppet in the commercial is distraught and paranoid during his confessional doesn’t help the matter much either. I’m really waiting for him to pause and bury his face in his hand with the cameraman saying “Do you need a moment? We can stop taping for now, if you’d like.” Again, thank god it never aired.
7) RC Cola
A common element in most of Jim Henson’s commercials are two characters each with contrasting personalities: one who extols the product in question and another who couldn’t care less, sometimes finding the antics of his compatriot irritating. But in the case of Nutty Bird and Sour Bird, the latter has every right to be glum. After all, he’s watching his friend Nutty Bird throw his life away with his RC Cola addiction. “Quick-fresh energy” he says with every bottle he guzzles. But we and his gloomy friend know that’s a nicer way of saying he’s got a mild buzz that’ll last for only a few seconds… before he needs another immediate fix. Naturally, there are numbers Sour Bird can call or support groups he can reach out to in order to help end his friend’s addiction, but like Nutty Bird, he’s in serious denial and believes that he’ll ultimately help himself — after that 33rd bottle of RC Cola, of course.
6) “No Tailgating!” PSA
Like the Wheels, Crown and Flute commercials, the PSAs featuring the safety conscious Billy and Sue and the Muppet with a death wish, Sneegle, never aired, but that doesn’t mean their misadventures were any less weird. Of them, the “No Tailgating!” PSA is the most violent of the bunch. Not only does Sneegle get caught in a near-fatal head-on collision, but we also bear witness to the twisted wreckage and he seconds away from knocking on death’s door. Do Billy and Sue bother to call paramedics? Of course not, let that shattered rib piercing his lung and ruptured spleen be a valuable lesson: drive safely, folks — OR DIE! But before we move on I’d like to point out some glaring inconsistencies with the PSA to the real world: One, if there were two whiny children peeking their heads out the window to tell the car behind them to slow down, the driver wouldn’t hesitate to chuck a bottle of glove compartment hooch at one of their goody-goody heads. And two, how come Sneegle’s car got totaled but Billy and Sue’s is unscathed? What are they in anyway, a damn M4 Sherman tank?
5) Claussen’s Bread
Another recurring element in Jim Henson’s commercials is obviously one of his favorites since he used it often. In a normal world, one respects the opinions of another when it comes to personal preference, but not in the world according to Henson! When tastes conflict, it results in voluntary manslaughter; a harsh lesson in not opening up to new things. Surprisingly, the mascot of the entire Henson legacy — Kermit the Frog — found himself at the end of a shot gun, dropped from a window (as seen in the video) or some other gruesome act when paired with the homicidal Mack in ads for Claussen’s Bread. While getting your friends to try something new is always encouraged, refusing to pull them up from a windowsill and then letting him or her fall so they can “drop down” to the store for some bread isn’t, I’m afraid.
4) Kern’s Bread
If you thought Mack was a monster when it came to one’s preference for bread, then you’ve obviously never seen Tommy and his unwitting victim Fred (no relation to Fred from the Munchos ads). Looks alone, Tommy is a pretty creepy Muppet: pale, purplish-gray skin. Sunken beady eyes with dark circles. Rotund physique (am I describing a puppet or a bloated corpse?). Even worse, he clearly gets a sick delight in torturing Fred, especially in this ad in particular where he sics a pissed off gorilla to beat the living crap out of him. Looking somewhat like a banana, I’m trying hard not to imagine the ape peeling Fred’s skin as you would the fruit, but I can’t seem to shake hearing his off camera screaming before I go to sleep…
3) McGarry’s Sausage
Either Kermit never learned from his past mistakes or he’s a masochist that revels in the pain, because in the same year as the Claussen’s Bread ads he found himself paired with his abusive pal Mack once again. But unlike his previous outings, Kermit is more daring this time around given that he shakes his inhibitions and is more than eager to try McGarry’s Sausages after Mack asks “Wanna a bite?” But what does his friend do instead? Oh, he just goes Hannibal Lecter on Kermit and takes a deep bite into his shoulder, which I’m assuming caused irreparable damage that rendered his arm paralyzed. Really, I find Mack’s actions highly uncalled for this time around being that Kermit actually did what he wanted for a change, but his past abuse pales in comparison to him going on to bigger and better things. As for Mack, well, haven’t seem around much, but I’m assuming he’s in a cell somewhere with a muzzle over his face.
2) Wilson’s Meats
There’s plenty of urban myths surrounding the strange ingredients that are found in hot dogs: typically bugs, rat tails and whatever your twisted imagination can come up with. But if this commercial for Wilson’s Meats is anything to go by, there’s one mystery ingredient that causes flatulence so severe, and with so much force, that it can shoot one up into space. That one with the discomforting grimace on his face as he launches into the exosphere is Skip, while his bitter friend in the rocket is Scoop. Just think of the excruciating pain Skip must be in as the high intensity rectal blast must be shredding his large intestine; I can guarantee that the lower half of his body won’t be there when he loses his upward ascension and makes landfall. Thankfully it wasn’t a shart because, well, you know how that would turn out.
1) Wilkins Coffee
Is this Kermit the Frog in his early days or another character entirely? Hopefully it isn’t the frog we’ve come to know and love because this murderous amphibian (reptile?) delights in nothing more than making life as painful and unbearable as possible for Wontkins: a little blob that would rather not have a cup of Wilkins coffee — a mistake that he would come to regret time and again. While the violence isn’t anything new, the fact that Wilkins is committing these heinous acts with an aura of “I’m doing this for your own good” is unsettling to say the least. I’m surprised there’s never been a commercial where Wilkins has Wontkins’ entire family kidnapped, gagged and thrown in a shed in the Jersey Pine Barrens, and the only way he’ll ever see them again is if he accepts the offer for a cup of Wilkins Coffee. As gruesome as Wilkins’ tactics are, a lot of them carried over as gags on The Muppet Show. Remember all those times Kermit shot Miss Piggy pointblank in the face, or when he blew Sam the Eagle away with a cannon? Classic!