Muppet Fans Look Back at the 2010s: The Best and Worst of the Decade (Part 1)

Published: January 1, 2020
Categories: Commentary, Feature

Can you believe the 2010s are over? It’s fun to complain that the Muppets never do anything, or never do anything good. But if you look back at everything we got from the Muppets, Sesame Street, and the Jim Henson Company in the 2010s, there was actually a ton of stuff. Some of it was really good! And some of it was less good. But we had thoughts about all of it.

A few of us Tough Pigs writers put our heads together and came up with this, our official Best and Worst of the Decade picks in several categories. (You may notice that we didn’t always come up with a “Worst” for every category — sometimes even we can’t think of anything to kvetch about.) Read on, and let us know if you agree with us or violently disagree with us!


BEST – Constantine:
Before he was an “Evil Kermit” meme used by a bunch of dumb people on the internet, Constantine was the funniest new Muppet character in years. “Kermit’s mean doppelganger” doesn’t necessarily sound like a recipe for hilarity, but “Kermit’s mean doppelganger who has a silly Russian and accent, and fools the Muppets despite being pretty bad at impersonating Kermit, and loves blowing stuff up, and is rude to his sidekick” made for some great comedy. And the fact that fans had no preconceived notions about him meant the filmmakers and performer Matt Vogel could cut loose and make Constantine as weird as possible. (Ryan Roe)

RUNNER-UP – Walter:
Walter is us.  Created to be an obsessive Muppet fanatic, it’s easy to see a lot of ourselves in his featureless little face.  And Peter Linz does a miraculous job making Walter an entertaining, funny, and compelling character. We’re so grateful that he made his debut in 2011’s The Muppets, but we’re still left wondering what’s next for Walter.  Maybe he’ll start his own Muppet fan site… (Joe Hennes)

WORST – Angelo:
There is absolutely nothing necessary or interesting about Angelo. He’s literally just “what if the Swedish Chef wasn’t likable?” There are many reasons why Muppets Kitchen with Cat Cora was a misguided production that we’ve all basically forgotten about, but there’s honestly no explaining why they decided a bland-looking chef with no interesting character traits was the anchor we needed. (Evan G.)


BEST – Uncle Deadly:
As a kid, I loved Uncle Deadly because he just had the absolute coolest aesthetic, but admittedly there wasn’t much to his character to latch onto. In 2011, Deadly returned as a dramatic villain, and we all loved that, but I could never have been prepared for his turn as Miss Piggy’s flamboyant fashion designer best friend in the Muppets’ 2015 TV show. Thanks to an amazing performance by the inimitable Matt Vogel and jokes that felt genuinely fresh, Uncle Deadly has skyrocketed to being one of my all-time favorite Muppets. I’m so glad we’re now at a point where Deadly can show up at D23, perform the Haunted Mansion pre-show dialogue, and everyone cheers and applauds. He’s truly a core Muppet character now and we’re better for it. (Evan G.)

RUNNER-UP – All the Muppet Babies:
I admit, I was skeptical when it came to the Muppet Babies reboot.  I wasn’t sure I wanted new audiences to meet the Muppets through their animated infant counterparts, while so little was happening with the OG Muppet crew.  But oh how wrong I was! Baby Kermit and Baby Fozzie have reinvented what best friendship looks like, Baby Piggy is way less abrasive than the 1980s version, and Baby Gonzo is so delightfully weird.  The computer animation isn’t the only thing that helped make these characters more three-dimensional! (Joe Hennes)

WORST – Floyd:
ABC’s The Muppets was all about trying new things with the characters, and some of its attempts were more successful than others. Among the least sensical was the decision to give Floyd occasional dialogue painting him as paranoid and prone to believing conspiracy theories. It’s hard to reconcile the groovy, laid-back dude we’ve known for years with a guy who thinks birthdays are a bogus holiday created by greeting companies, refuses to give his real name at the coffee truck lest he gets followed home by drones, believes the Earth revolves around the moon, and suspects Kermit of being a robot sent by the network. Okay, actually that last one sounds like a Muppet Show plot. But otherwise, Floyd is no Dale Gribble. (Ryan Roe)


BEST – Gonger:
Gonger is my jam.  He’s almost certainly my favorite new Muppet character of the decade from any franchise.  His speech impediment fits perfectly in a world with Elmo and Cookie Monster. He comes equipped with his own food truck.  And he’s awfully cute and adorable. Of any Sesame Street character created in the last few decades, Gonger most feels like he could’ve been around since the classic years.  I just love him so much, you guys. (Joe Hennes)

RUNNER-UP – Julia:
Moreso than any Sesame Street in recent memory, Julia feels important. She represents so much: not just an understanding of those with autism but an appreciation for how their viewpoints are valued. She’s artistically talented, inventive, and very cute. Sesame made such a strong choice by having the characters work with Julia’s needs rather than try to get her to act like everyone else. We’re going to be seeing a lot of Julia, and we’re all better off for it. (Evan G.)

WORST – Smartie:
The new “Elmo’s World” segments are shorter than the old ones, which means Elmo has less time to use different methods of learning about the topic at hand. So I guess it shouldn’t be surprising that he’s now doing what we all do when we want to take a shortcut to learning about something: He pulls out his smartphone. And I know preschoolers do, in fact, spend a lot of time interacting with smartphones these days. But is it a great idea to encourage it? I could also gripe like an old man that Smartie is computer-animated, but that’s been a part of “Elmo’s World” since Elmo hung out with Shade, Computer, and TV, so I’ll let it slide. But I’m not doing a happy-happy dance-dance about it. (Ryan Roe)


BEST – Deet:
Muppet history is rarely kind to female characters.  The Muppet Show family is overrun with men (and the few female characters are still performed by male puppeteers), Labyrinth has exactly one strong female character amongst a world of men, and even the original Dark Crystal ignores Kira’s innately compelling backstory and abilities to favor the bland Gelfling Jen.  The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance fixes this problem with a huge amount of compelling women, both on camera and behind the scenes, the best of whom is Deet. Deet is interesting, smart, funny, unique, and flawed. She’s truly three-dimensional, and a strong enough character to potentially tentpole the entire Dark Crystal franchise.  We’re all better for having Deet in our lives. (Joe Hennes)

RUNNER-UP – The Heretic & The Wanderer:
The Dark Crystal is Henson’s most somber universe. While the original film does have Fizzgig and Podlings to lighten the mood, it is defined by its seriousness. This mood carries over even more so into Age of Resistance, with political intrigue, murder, and creepy spiders. As a result, the appearance of the genuinely-funny Heretic and Wanderer is an amazing (and necessary) breath of fresh air. These guys make “recapping the backstory of The Dark Crystal” about a million times more entertaining than “watching The Dark Crystal,” and that’s a feat worth celebrating. (Evan G.)

WORST – Cara and Ezra:

The Happytime Murders has its fans, but I am not one of them. One of the clearest examples of its “Ha ha, puppets doing gross things” comedy philosophy is Cara and Ezra, a pair of puppets from The Happytime Gang who are incestuous cousins, and whose developmentally disabled offspring are played for a laugh. Did anyone find this funny? (Ryan Roe)


BEST – Muppets Most Wanted:
It’s been five years and I still can’t believe the world didn’t adore Muppets Most Wanted as much as I do. This film is pure, unadulterated nonsense in the best Muppet way, with amazing songs, a great new character in Constantine, and some of the most quotable jokes since The Great Muppet Caper. It isn’t as adorably endearing as The Muppets (2011) but it is funnier, more creative, and has held up much better in my opinion. It’s a modern classic and absolutely deserving of your time. I suggest you look for the Blu-Ray: the extended version available here adds some terrific jokes to an already stellar film. (Evan G.)

RUNNER-UP – The Muppets Take the Bowl:
There are plenty of fans out there who would like nothing more than to see the Muppets just do The Muppet Show again, and for the rest of time. As refined, sophisticated fans, we try to be open-minded and receptive to new kinds of Muppet projects. The Muppets Take the Bowl was perhaps the best compromise between the two: a live Muppet Show-style stage production, on a larger scale than they’ve ever done before and with a combination of classic bits and new material. It was so many of the best things the Muppets do — right there in front of an audience! (Ryan Roe)

WORST – Lady Gaga and the Muppets Holiday Whatever:
It’s painfully obvious that this special didn’t start out with “Muppets” in the title.  This was meant to be a generic Lady Gaga holiday feature, with an emphasis on “generic”.  As that became more and more apparent to the producers, who (smartly) decided that a good way to fix it would be to add more Muppets.  Unfortunately, most of the musical numbers are de-evolved into Lady Gaga wearing wigs and growling into the microphone while the Muppets wiggle next to her piano.  The cheap and rushed nature of the special is glaring, and it stands as one of the worst Muppet productions, Christmas productions, and Muppet Christmas productions of all time. (Joe Hennes)


BEST – When You Wish Upon a Pickle:
I love Wish Pickle. Wish Pickle is amazing. It’s a very bizarre special with a ton of clever ideas, including an Elmo and Chris body-swap, a pickle that sounds like Mel Brooks, and Bert getting trapped in a wrestling match. This is pretty much my favorite Bert and Ernie content since the early 90s and is worth watching just for the amazing opening number where Ernie fantasizes about Bert being a suave weatherman. Imagine that. (Evan G.)

RUNNER-UP – Monster Foodies:
The Sesame Street segments of recent years all seem to be lacking something.  “Abby’s Flying Fairy School,” “Elmo’s Wonderful World,” and “Elmo the Musical” are all fine, but none of them hold any sort of extended appreciation from kids or adults.  Whatever that X factor that they’re missing is, Monster Foodies has got it. The segment is often hilarious and irreverent, featuring two of Sesame Street’s best characters, and it’s legitimately educational.  Plus, the sweet tag of Gonger’s gift to Cookie Monster at the end of each segment never fails to elicit an emotional response from me.  It’s amazing how they manage to pack so much perfection into one small food truck. (Joe Hennes)

WORST – The Magical Wand Chase:
Some of our ToughPigs colleagues are going to hate us for this, but the Magical Wand Chase just isn’t that good. While it’s great to see the Muppets in the real world again, the plot is a lot slower than you’d hope and gets incredibly repetitive by like the halfway point. It’s not awful, which speaks to Sesame Street’s genuinely consistent level of quality, but I’ve never felt the need  to go back to it. (Evan G.)


BEST – The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance:
Yes, the original Dark Crystal movie is a technical marvel. No, it doesn’t really hit the mark when it comes to things like compelling characters and engaging storytelling. Yes, Age of Resistance is better. The Henson Company had made Dark Crystal tie-in projects before, but with Netflix’s money and cultural influence, they had the opportunity to make Age of Resistance exceptionally good and popular. And it was both of those things! The show used puppets and modern technology to skillfully expand the world of the movie, adding lots of new characters and a fantasy epic story that appealed to Game of Thrones fans. The result was a thrilling series to watch, even though we have a bad feeling about what’s going to happen to all of these Gelflings later. (Ryan Roe)

RUNNER-UP – “Do It Anyway” music video:
The Fraggles are back!  For the first time in decades, all five Fraggles (plus Traveling Matt) reunited for a Ben Folds Five music video. Fraggle appearances are as rare as Fraggle holes, and it was incredibly satisfying to see them back in action doing what they do best: dancing their cares away. (Joe Hennes)

WORST – The Happytime Murders:
A puppet murder-mystery noir? There’s a lot of potential there, and the Henson Company worked to get the movie made for years. But by the time it hit the screen — whether due to studio meddling, Melissa McCarthy’s rewrite, or other forces — it was a mess, full of easy, cheap and vulgar jokes. And some cool puppetry effects. But mostly just the vulgar stuff. (Ryan Roe)


BEST – Lipton commercial:
Look, I gotta say it: the Kermit Tea meme is pretty annoying by this point, but we can’t deny that somehow, the Muppet Lipton commercial may have had the biggest cultural impact of any Muppet production this decade. I know. I hate saying it too. But we need to give credit where credit is due. The commercial is well-made. Lipton’s a fine product. So we’re here, with this meme being what y’all remember. Y’all didn’t watch Muppets Most Wanted and the second half of The Muppets (2015), and you know what? That’s none of my business. (Evan G.)

RUNNER-UP – Muppets on Saturday Night Live with Jason Segel:
It would make a lot of folks happy if the Muppets hosted Saturday Night Live, but the practical concerns would probably make it impossible. When Jason Segel hosted the show while promoting the movie The Muppets, the characters joined him for a musical monologue with a great premise: They think they’re the ones hosting, and Segel has to break the news. A stage full of Muppets singing an original song and getting mad at Jason Segel was the next-best thing to having them host. (Ryan Roe)


BEST – Cookie Monster on Saturday Night Live:
Remember when an internet campaign led to Betty White hosting SNL for the first time? And remember when Cookie Monster posted his own hilarious video auditioning to host the show? Well, he didn’t get the gig (see above, re: practical concerns), but when the video went viral the SNL people couldn’t ignore the voice of the people. Cookie Monster got to join Jeff Bridges in a duet of “Silver Bells,” a lovely moment that also made a nice addition to the storied tradition of both SNL Christmas sketches and Sesame Street Christmas songs. (Ryan Roe)

RUNNER-UP – Oscar the Grouch’s Squarespace commercial:
Wow, they really did it.  They made a whole short film starring Oscar, and it’s terrific.  It doesn’t even matter that it’s a commercial – who even remembers that it’s made by Squarespace anyway?  In the ad, Oscar’s trash is mistaken for art, and he finds himself unwittingly becoming a celebrity and dealing with the perils of fame in a way only a Grouch can equally loathe and enjoy.  It’s easily one of the best Oscar appearances in years. (Joe Hennes)


BEST – Kermit and Steve Martin’s banjo duet:
It’s a simple equation.  Take the two greatest comedic banjo players in the world and stick ‘em in front of a camera together.  Steve Martin appeared on The Muppet Show a couple years before Kermit picked up a banjo in The Muppet Movie, so I guess that explains why their duet didn’t happen in 1977.  And I suppose it makes sense that Martin’s insolent waiter character from The Muppet Movie wouldn’t happen to have a banjo with him, so that explains why it didn’t happen in 1979.  It’s legitimately shocking that this momentous pairing didn’t take place until 2013, but we’re sure glad it did. (Joe Hennes)


BEST – Big Birdman:
Big Birdman is an exceptional Sesame Street production, in part because of its low-fi, one-take spoof of the Oscar-winning film Birdman.  But really, it stands out because of how it highlights Caroll Spinney, which seems so much more pertinent now that he’s gone.  It’s a wonderful spotlight on Sesame Street’s most important performer in a way we’d never seen him before.  He deserves so much more, but for now, Big Birdman is a perfect way to honor Caroll in bite-sized form. (Joe Hennes)

RUNNER-UP – Vanity Fair character impressions:
This one was just posted a few weeks ago, so it’s possible that I’m so enthusiastic about it just because it’s fresh in my mind. But I’m pretty sure I’ll still love it ten years from now. The Muppet performers always have fun when they get to riff with the characters without having to worry about curriculum goals, and getting the Muppets to do impressions of each other was a brilliant way to let them shine. Some of them really try to recreate the character’s voice, some of them are more abstract, but every single one of them is funny. (Ryan Roe)

Come back tomorrow for more of our end-of-decade picks!

Click here to agree with us or argue with us on the Tough Pigs forum!

by Tough Pigs Staff

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