Brow Beat

The One Good Thing About the New Muppets: Pepé the King Prawn

Pepé is great in all the ways that the rest of the show is not so great.

The Muppets, once one of the fall season’s most anticipated new shows, stumbled out of the gate. The premiere was largely met with shock, meh, and disappointment over the show’s decidedly more “adult” tone and bizarre re-characterization of Miss Piggy, newly split from longtime paramour, Kermit. “Bossy, shrill, hysterical, irrational, moody, and all the other condescending words that are disproportionately used to describe and police women’s behavior, all truly apply to this iteration of Miss Piggy,” Slate’s Willa Paskin wrote in her review of the new show. “She’s not a fully developed moi, just a set of high-maintenance tics.”

That was in September, we are now about midway into The Muppets 16-episode season order—and not much has changed. Miss Piggy is still #TheWorst, Kermit is nearly as insufferable in his newly condescending, put-upon way (does he even like his new girlfriend, Denise?), and it’s impossible to go a single episode without scrunching up your face in response to a beloved Muppet cracking uncomfortable jokes about Muppet sex. (ABC has clearly assessed the cool reception, as last week it announced one of the showrunners, Bob Kushell, has been ousted and replaced in an effort to reboot the back end of the season.) But amid all of this felt carnage, one character currently stands tall, a beacon of funny and effortlessness that stands out among all the show’s main characters: Pepé the King Prawn.

Yes, Pepé, the scrawny, bug-eyed Spanish Muppet (he hails from Madrid) who’s a romantic at heart is the best part of this new version of the Muppets. While his screen time is all too sparse, usually relegated to a one-liner here and there, he’s proven to be the most consistently hilarious part of The Muppets. He’s often the voice of reason, offering his pals sage relationship advice—regarding Kermit’s idea to give Denise a tennis bracelet for her birthday, Pepé shoots him down: “See, that’s good. If you’ve been married for 30 years, you have two kids, and you’re seeing another woman.” He dreams of being in a Boyz II Men video, hence the occasional turtleneck sweater and gold chain. And man oh man, those eyes. Paskin noted in her review—rightly—that the Muppets’ immobile eyes don’t suit the mockumentary’s deadpan stares, but I would argue that Pepé’s huge peepers are employed perfectly on quick reaction-shot zoom-ins on his face.  

Most importantly, though, the essence of Pepé hasn’t changed one bit in this new incarnation. He’s always been one of the more “adult” Muppets, what with his Lothario persona and his frankness about it. On The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson in 2008, he spoke of being unable to practice monogamy, his 1300 children, and his love of breasts. So when, on The Muppets, he admits to finding Josh Groban—a human—attractive and proudly points out that “gender is fluid,” it’s not icky or weird or a soiling of your childhood. It’s Pepé being Pepé. (Please, no more jokes about Scooter’s mom’s boyfriend Ken, who apparently doesn’t like to wear clothes around the house. Just, no.)

Though he was apparently a huge hit when he made his debut on the Muppets’ last primetime television venture, (the short-lived Muppets Tonight), he’s penned a memoir (“Pepé has great life advice,” says one Amazon reviewer), and served, weirdly enough, as the spokesprawn for fast-food chain Long John Silver’s—I admit I never paid much attention to Pepé before now. But now I love this little guy. That is either a testament to how blind I’ve been in the face of his charms or just how terrible The Muppets has been thus far. Either way, I sincerely hope that when the reboot returns in the spring under the new showrunner, Pepé is front and center.