The folks at io9 drew up a list of the 12 worst Muppets. It should disturb and haunt you, but not because the list is correct: It berates quirky and forgotten Muppets when their weirdness often represents more than what meets the eye. Surely there are annoying Muppet qualities, but that's the joy of the Muppets: They are annoying. To condemn their grating qualities is to misunderstand what makes them cool and even defiant. Tina Fey shakes her head in contempt.
So without further ado, I'm defending the 12 “Least Wanted” Muppets. I'm already so flustered and squawky that you'd think I was voiced by Frank Oz.
1. Pepe the Prawn
Latin stereotypes abounding? Perhaps. But Pepe the Prawn's exasperated, self-conscious behavior is more reminiscent of the wonderful Telly Monster than anyone else. You don't hate Telly, do you? Wow. Maybe you hate Telly. And are you telling me you can resist that frantic, overcaffeinated stare? He's the Mr. DeMartino of the Muppet world and therefore a rightful fan favorite.
You can resent Elmo for taking up Grover's mantle as the fuzzy, wide-eyed, maybe-emphysemic Muppet, but you can't hate him for his astounding pop culture presence. The not-so-ticklish truth: Elmo is the reason “Sesame Street” is still on the air. Have you ever watched a 3-year-old sit and watch Elmo? That tot is transfixed and sedated. Delighted. Alive. He mirrors the googly eyes on screen in a Harpo-and-Lucy way. You may feel that Elmo is a cloying wad of whorish laughter, but he's the reason the Children's Television Workshop isn't boarded up.
“Muppets Tonight” was not a failure because of the droll, amiable Clifford: It was a failure because it featured guest hosts who made no sense on a primetime series for kids. Do you know any nine-year-olds who watch TV for the comic stylings of Tony Bennett, Pierce Brosnan, Dennis Quaid or Andie MacDowell? Rita Moreno scoffs at these utterly un-EGOT-worthy hosts. I do not need to see Cindy Crawford showing off her Commedia dell'Arte chops, or whatever.
Beauregard is “ugly”? A “patsy”? How about: Beauregard is easily one of the most sensitive Muppets, and I particularly enjoyed his warmth and sympathetic nature in “A Muppet Family Christmas.” Not every Muppet can be a wisecracking, vaudevillian mastermind, y'all. I much prefer his sincerity over the eyeroll-worthy sentimentality of the much more prominent Robin.
5. Waldo C. Graphic
Are we really going to rag on Jim Henson's attempt to update the crypt-old tradition of puppetry with a little computer flair? He gave us Waldo in 1989, the age of “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”; blending classic kid fare with contemporary attitudes was all but a requirement. What was he supposed to do with “The Jim Henson Hour” — not include state-of-the-art computer tricks? What other quirky, inoffensive items from 1989 should we take down? Is it time to assail Paula Poundstone for wearing baggy collared shirts? Does Djimon Hounsou look a little bizarre strapped to that wheel thing in Janet Jackson's “Love Will Never Do” video? Respect the past and yourselves.
6. Miss Mousey
Listen here: Muppets wearing old lady clothing is a cherished Jim Henson tradition, and I won't hear any disrespect of the art form. You disrespect Mousey, you're disrespecting that creepy-and-kickass Old Lady Who Swallowed the Fly act with Judy Collins. You disrespect Mousey, and you're disrespecting Fozzie's befuddled mother Emily. You disrespect Mousey, and you disrespect the, uh, 3-5 other female Muppets in existence. Leave this distaff anomaly and her Karen Carpenter stagewear alone.
OK, fine, Digit is astoundingly ugly. Like if Bunsen Honeydew was brought to life, stretched on a rack, and then laminated into paralysis. The outfit is pure “She Blinded Me with Science,” which I also can't endorse. Ugh. Can't really say much more about this. But he seems like a nice guy.
8. J.P. Grosse
It's always a good thing when Kermit is stunned into fear, and Scooter's uncle J.P. Grosse, who owned the theater on the original “Muppet Show,” inspired Kermit's biggest gulps and worries. Thanks for that, J.P. While I appreciate the eternal cynicism of Statler and Waldorf, I'm glad we have J.P. as a specifically '70s-type human character who give “The Muppet Show” time-appropriate context. J.P. Grosse is basically a Ned Beatty or Jack Warden character, and therefore a reminder that lumpy, patchy-haired gents were once bankable box office entities.
Snuffleapagus is Eeyore perfected; he is pessimistic but social. Oversize but meek. Monotone but caring. Apparently there is a flaw in humans where they can mistake Snuffy's deadpan pronouncements of “Bird” as anything other than friendly and loving. Sigh! And the slight Zero Mostel growl to everything he says? Fiiiiiire. He's like Sam the Eagle for loner types.
10. Mr. Poodlepants
You'll forgive Mr. Poodlepants for playing second fiddle to the Mormon Tabernacle Penguins, who were more than ready to make fools of themselves. Poodlepants doesn't need to get violent! His decadent Louis XIV wig is starpower enough.
Rizzo makes the greatest non-chicken companion for Gonzo. The interplay between the rat and The Great Whatever in “Muppets” Christmas Carol” is classically comical. “I”m here to tell the tale…” begins Gonzo. “–And I'm here for the food!” intones Rizzo. Yessss. Also: Please don't underestimate that he's essentially based on Dustin Hoffman's character in “Midnight Cowboy.”
12. Abby Cadabby
She's vibrant, wacky, and as annoying as she wants to be. She's a little girl! I refuse to hate a cute child, especially when she's basically a 2000s update of the titular star of “Cereal Girl.”