The Muppets have seen a big resurgence following the smashing success of the 2011 movie starring Jason Segel and Amy Adams. Last year’s Muppets Most Wanted with Ricky Gervais and Tina Fey did admirably as well. Sesame Street was picked up by HBO in a deal that has the potential to get the seminal children’s series a broader audience and higher production values than ever before, and Fraggle Rock’s addition to Hulu has resulted in some big exposure and a brand new audience, leading to a new series based around the Doozers and a new movie supposedly in the works from Joseph Gordon-Levitt. With this in mind, and the premiere of the new Muppets TV series on ABC landing September 22, we thought it was time to rank these fuzzy little guys.
The list consists of what I (Kris Randazzo, the author of this piece) consider to be the best characters ever officially considered Muppets. That’s any character from any Muppet show or movie, Sesame Street, and Fraggle Rock. Yes, there have been many other Henson-designed/inspired puppets over the years, but according to my calculated research, those 3 categories are the only varieties that land in the actual Muppet universe. So while just about everything that comes out of the Jim Henson Creature Shop is awesome, it doesn’t mean they’re Muppets (Sorry Yoda and the Bear in the Big Blue House). So, with those guidelines in mind, here’s the list.
10. Miss Piggy – This one caused quite the roller coaster for me. At first, the only reason she was on the list at all was out of obligation. But how can you do a Muppet top ten without including Miss Piggy? Well, she’s kind of annoying. She’s a narcissist. She’s violent, selfish, and in the end, not all that funny. But after some consideration, it occurred to me that that’s only some of the time. Other times she’s incredibly sweet, loving, and an excellent source of comedy. While it’s true that the bulk of her schtick can get very old very fast, when used correctly, she can be an excellent character. It’s also worth pointing out that there isn’t exactly an abundance of female Muppets, so it’s nice that the most prominent one is a confident, talented, successful karate expert. She’s got her issues, but there’s no denying just how important she is.
9. Swedish Chef – The Swedish Chef is great. Sure, he did try to cook Big Bird that one time, but can you blame the guy? He looks delicious. He’s got his talent, and he knows how to stick to it. His gags usually tend to follow the same pattern (cook something, use weird tools to do so, get attacked by his creation-in-progress) but his absurd look and demeanor manage to keep him from getting stale. He’s also a man of mystery, and I’m not just talking about his incomprehensible speech patterns. Chef stands out for a couple of reasons among his Muppet brethren. First, he’s one of the few overtly human characters that isn’t just an actual human being. Second, he has real human hands. He’s Muppet everywhere else, except the hands. Third, he has some sort of personal life the show never delves into. He can be seen wearing a wedding ring starting in 2006 (he debuted in 1975) so at some point he got married. And I say good for him, though I do wonder what his wife must sound like…
8. Fozzie Bear – Fozzie is the ultimate bad joke machine. If you’re a fan of bad puns and wordplay that can only be described as the pinnacle of “dad humor,” Fozzie is the Muppet for you. He’s also a stand-up comic through and through. This guy literally gets laughed off the stage more often than not, and he always comes back for more. He has a dream, and he’s going to see it through no matter what. What really kicks him up to the next level though is how he’s incredibly loyal to Kermit. He’s eternally thankful to be a part of the Muppet Show, and he always tries to impress him with his comedy. Also, if there was no Fozzie, there would be no Statler and Waldorf (a duo who just barely missed being on this list) and where would we be without those two? I think Fozzie is hilarious, and that’s why he made the list. Even if most people find his jokes un-BEAR-able. (I couldn’t help myself).
7. Boober Fraggle – “There are only two things certain in this world: death and laundry.” Boober is Fraggle Rock’s resident curmudgeon, but there’s more to him than just negativity and a stylish red hat. He’s something of a hypochondriac, but he insists it’s more out of a need to be prepared for anything, and since whatever can go wrong, will go wrong, and probably happen to him, in his mind that’s a good strategy. He’s also a clean freak and a bit of a germaphobe, hence his love of laundry. His most definitive quality though is his want for solitude in a world that’s all about gatherings. By nature, Boober likes to be left to his own devices. If he could just spend all his time washing socks and cooking, he would be happy as a clam. However, Boober also loves his friends, so he sacrifices his precious alone time to be with them and help them out if they need him, even if he does spend a lot of time complaining about it. But that’s what makes him such a great character. Sure, he’s got a silly voice, his pessimism can be a great source of comedy, and he has an alternate personality named Sidebottom who is the embodiment of all the “fun” things Boober hates, but it’s the struggle against his own nature to be a better Fraggle and friend that makes him not just a great Muppet, but a great character no matter the medium.
6. Cookie Monster –Cookie Monster has seen some hard times lately. Apparently the rumor is that he’s all about cookies in moderation now, but in actuality, Mr. Monster has been promoting healthy living since the 70s. Hoots the Owl sang “A Cookie Is a Sometimes Food,” not Cookie Monster. He has even gone on Twitter to defend his title by saying “Maybe you hear rumor that me going on a diet. Not true. Me just eating healthy foods AND cookies. What wrong with dat?” Cookie Monster is Cookie Monster. End of story. Now that that’s out of the way, COOKIES!!!!! What’s not to love about this guy? He eats everything with an unstoppable ferocity, including hubcaps, baseball bats, letters, and of course, his favorite, cookies. And man oh man, when you see those googly eyes spinning around like crazy, and cookie bits flying through the air, it’s hard not to laugh. But what gets him so high on the list is just how sweet he is. Sure, he’s ferocious when it comes to eating, but he’s also very loveable with kids and adults alike. Just check out his videos “Cookie Monster, Life Coach” or “Cookie Monster Learns a Lesson from Tom Hiddleston” and try not to smile at least once. Perhaps no other character on this list is more huggable than Cookie Monster. Plus, it’s hard to ignore the greatness of his more articulate alter-ego Alistair Cookie, host of Monsterpiece Theater.
5. Beaker – Mee-mee-moo.
4. Grover – Grover, to me, is like the Muppet embodiment of love. He’s blue, furry, silly, awkward, and always about spending time with others. Seriously, he’s one of the most loveable characters ever created, and he can bring the comedy to boot. He’s worn many hats over the years, from superhero, to cowboy, to fireman and everything in between. He’s said to represent the mind of a 4 year old. When asked how old he actually is, he has been known to answer “older than a breadbox, but young enough to live at home with my mommy.” I don’t know what that means and I don’t care. That’s awesome. This might call some of his skills into question, but it’s that very fact that makes him so great. It’s his limitless imagination, and innocent curiosity coupled with his child-like conviction and bravado that makes him the best of what a kid can be, without all the annoying traits of a character like Elmo (or, you know, actual 4 year olds.) To top it all off, The Monster at the End of This Book is a thing that exists. If that doesn’t cement Grover’s position near the top of the list, I don’t know what does.
3. Gonzo – Gonzo is… well, we don’t know what Gonzo is. He’s been an alien, a whatever, a thing, but what he is doesn’t really matter. In fact, not knowing what he is only adds to his overall charm. I mean, look at him. He’s a blue and purple thing with scraggly fur that loves chickens, fires himself out of cannons, and hangs out with a rat. He tends to get hurt a lot, and the things he finds glorious, most people think are rather mundane. He’s had some bad luck, he’s had some good luck, but he’s unquestionably who he is because of who he’s with. He’s basically Moe from the Simpsons if Moe had friends. Gonzo does everything a great supporting character is supposed to, all while being strong and interesting enough to occasionally handle the spotlight himself. What’s more, he’s hilarious. His comedic timing is spectacular, and his matter-of-fact delivery of just about every line is spot on. He gets jealous when his chicken girlfriend strays, but even when he’s frazzled, it’s nothing like Miss Piggy’s over the top explosion of rage. He’s just such a weird, yet good guy that on the whole, even when he’s frazzled, jealous, or getting ready to perform, he has an air of calm around him. He’s incredibly malleable, too. He’s been put in a variety of roles over the years, and can be just as effective in a dramatic role as a comedic one. Still, he’s at his best when he’s being funny, and few others on this list are quite as genuinely funny as Gonzo. Great characters like Beaker and Swedish Chef are great because of what they do. Gonzo is great because of what he is. Whatever it may be.
2. Wembley Fraggle – Wembley gets the #2 spot for several reasons, most important of which is that he’s the ultimate #2. He’s the best friend we all wish we had. He’s the heart. He’s the soul. He’s as awesome and caring as he is flawed, and that makes him great. He’s rarely in the spotlight though, and he’s fine with that. Gobo’s the star of the show, and Wembley is more than happy to support him in any way he can. In fact, Wembley is happy to support everyone, which is one of his biggest problems. He’s incredibly indecisive. (His name comes from the Fraggle term “wemble” which means going to and from between two things without being able to make up your mind). This makes life rather hard on him and his friends sometimes, but it comes from a good place. He just wants everyone to be happy, and who can argue with that? But that’s not all. He’s also hilarious. As you can see in any number of scenes where he’s just sitting by himself doing his own thing, he’s remarkably quirky. He’s always singing songs to himself, or playing with his toes, or admiring some strangely shaped moss on the walls, and he’s not ashamed in the least. He’s just about the most fun character around. He’s got a funny voice, a banana tree shirt, and a part time job as the siren for the fire department. He’s goofy in the most delightful way possible, and he sings some of the catchiest tunes you’ve ever heard. Wembley is awesome, and well deserving of the #2 spot.
1. Kermit the Frog – Could it have been anybody else? Kermit the Frog is the ultimate Muppet, because he is basically Jim Henson himself, but in frog form. Let’s run down the list. He’s incredibly kind. He’s always willing to help friends and strangers alike. He’s the host of the Muppet show, but he’s also always willing to get his hands dirty and do the hard work. He’s great with kids. His comedic timing is flawless. He’s sometimes indecisive. He’s flawed. He’s friendly. He’s green. He’s the every-frog, and he’s as endearing as a Muppet can be. Just watch him talk. He is one of the most simply designed Muppets out there, yet he manages to be possibly the most expressive at the same time. His overall importance can’t be understated either. Without Kermit, there would be no Muppets at all. Miss Piggy would be pointless, Fozzie wouldn’t have anyone to encourage his comedy, Gonzo would likely be selling toilets somewhere, and that doesn’t even cover what he’s done for the Sesame Street gang. Kermit’s one of only two Muppets to meet the Fraggles (to my knowledge), he was originally voiced by Henson himself, and he’s without a doubt one of the most earnest, soulful characters ever put on television. Much of this list could be up for debate, but this slot is solid. Kermit is undoubtedly the best Muppet there is. So let’s all wave our arms and shout “Yaaaaaayyyyyy!!!!!”
But what about…
In all honesty, when I decided to write this list, I thought it was going to be a blast. And while I did have fun writing it, limiting the list to just ten characters was pretty brutal. It’s easy to look at this list and ask what about Animal? Oscar the Grouch? Sprocket? Statler & Waldorf? Bert & Ernie? Rowlf? Marjory the Trash Heap? Big Bird? Dr. Teeth? The Mahna Mahna guy? And that’s the problem. The list goes on and on, and cutting these characters in favor of others was a far more difficult task than I thought it would be. Sure, I could have taken away Fraggles and Sesame Street, but that would have been cheating. Muppets are Muppets, and I set out to make a top ten list of them all, so that’s what I did. What’s your list? Who would you have cut? If you disagree with this list, there’s a comments section right below, and I would honestly love to hear your feedback. But I think we can all agree that the Muppets, in all their forms and evolutions, are great, and I’m glad they’re still around.