Congratulations: You’ve made it to the end of another work week in Omni Consumer Products’ America, a designation that presumes you managed to get any work done without being constantly distracted by current events, like 29 percent of respondents to a recent BetterWorks survey and 100 percent of Anthony Andersons in the best episode of Black-ish’s third season. And if you’re anything like the staff of The A.V. Club, you probably have some pent-up aggression left over from the New England Patriots’ impossible comeback, the Cabinet confirmations of an ursuphobic non-educator and a racist not-not-a-racist, or the news that thousands of dead bees mysteriously washed ashore in Florida. So why not take the edge off with 14 minutes of Muppet mayhem subsidized by a regional coffee manufacturer?
Beginning in 1957, Jim and Jane Henson made nearly 180 commercials for Washington, D.C.-based Wilkins Coffee, all based on a simple concept: Wilkins (the lanky Muppet) wants his buddy Wontkins (the triangular fellow with the drooping mouth) to try some of the brand’s wares. Wontkins turns him down, and Wilkins visits some sort of slapstick violence upon his scene partner—often involving some form of explosion. It’s a uniformly hilarious (and brazen) approach, and after witnessing the type of advertising that comes out of Washington these days, it’s as refreshing as a stiff cup of Wilkins Coffee itself.
The Wilkins ads tend to get passed around a lot online, often accompanied by shock and awe at how violent early Muppet productions could be. But such cathartic punchlines were a Henson signature; reflecting on his work, he once remarked, “It all ends in one of two ways: Either someone gets eaten or something blows up.” Think about that while watching this montage from 1986’s The Muppets: A Celebration Of 30 Years, and commit it to memory so you can call someone out when they try to pass it off as a summation of the totally fake, never happened Bowling Green Massacre.
The practical effects that made Muppets go up in bursts of flame and puffs of smoke were perfected by the late puppet designer Don Sahlin. Sahlin’s prankish spirit and flair with a flare led him to become the namesake for Muppet Show pyrotechnic expert Crazy Donald—later renamed Crazy Harry. This compilation from YouTuber Sam P. finds Harry and many others blowing their tops—in the literal fashion, not the metaphorical type that might lead a commander in chief to fire off a tweet in ALL-CAPS.
The classic Muppet sketch “Java” shows up elsewhere in this post, but it’s worth watching in full. Scored to an Allen Toussaint instrumental that later won Al Hirt a Grammy, Henson, Frank Oz, and Jerry Juhl performed the routine on a number of variety programs prior to this Muppet Show staging. It’s the “one of two ways” philosophy in action. That the big orange bully gets its comeuppance in the end is just icing on the cake.