Jean-Paul Sartre once said “Hell is other people,” but his characters were just stuck in a plain old room with some other folks and no exit. None of them was the lone existentialist trapped in a children’s television program.
Here’s a tribute to those top five hapless souls who, though depressed, distraught, or just plain angry, are doomed to live in saccharine-filled worlds where cotton candy lines the streets and the power of friendship is always, always the answer.
5. Oscar the Grouch: Poor Oscar. Even if he weren’t grouchy, “the Grouch” is still part of his name and his species. He lives in a trashcan, he has no legs, and his only friend is a worm. I’m fairly sure he became a grouch back in ‘Nam and at some point lived in a van down by the river. To add insult to injury, the only way he can make enough money to scrape by is to teach dumb kids the letters of the alphabet.
Oscar can’t be too high on this list, however. After all, he’s not the only one of his kind like those poor saps below. Then again, even having kindred spirits in the wonderful land of Sesame Street isn’t too much help for Oscar. If this clip from the Sally Messy Yuckayel show is to be believed, even other grouches hate Oscar because he once had his heart melted by an adowabul kitten. The fellow just can’t win.
Wanna know 4, 3, 2, and 1? Well, you’ll have to click, won’tcha?
4. Grumpy Bear: What worse fate for a sad sack than to live in the uber-joyful Kingdom of Caring? Well, I bet the constant knowledge that you’re a baby blue teddy bear with a heart plastered on your ass can’t make you feel any better.
As if that weren’t bad enough, the other Care Bears, particularly Cheer Bear, have made it their goal to cheer up Grumpy, and if you’ve ever been grumpy yourself, you know that having stuffed animals sing for you in an attempt to raise your spirits is just going to turn you from a Grumpy Bear to a Murderous Bear. Then, finding that show tunes were ineffective against Grumpy’s unyielding grumpiness (shocking, I know), the other Care Bears turned their Care Bear Stare on him! I know you probably don’t think that’s that so terrible, but, remember, this stare is their ultimate weapon that they use to torture their enemies. How much worse can they get?
I had thought that when American Greetings decided to re-launch the show in 2007, they’d put poor Grumpy out of his misery. But no. Of the dozens of Care Bears and Care Bear Cousins from the original series, they handpicked five to redo with giant-er heads and giant-er eyes. And, yes, Grumpy was one of the chosen few. He’s going to be stuck in the Kingdom of Caring forever.
3. Charlie the Unicorn: At least someone realized that having a depressed, cynical character in an insanely happy universe was a great source of comedy. Well, great for us. Not so great for Charlie the Unicorn, who, like all great depressives, just wants to sleep, damn it. No such luck. Instead, he’s forced by two sugar-addled psychopaths to go on an epic ad-ven-cher! to Candy Mountain, a world of sweets and joy and joy-ness. And then he has to deal with a song sung by personified letters of the alphabet before… well, if you don’t know the ending, you really ought to experience it for yourself.
2. Squidward: Squidward has a special place in my heart, because, like me, he plays the clarinet, is something of an artiste, and can’t help but be negative about everything. Fortunately for me, I don’t have to live in the world of Spongebob Squarepants, a place so loony it rains underwater. What. The Hell.
Of course, Squidward isn’t the only Negative Nancy in his cartoon world. Plankton, Mr. Krabs’ nemesis, also doesn’t seem to fit into the Spongebob oeuvre. The difference is, Plankton has a purpose. He, like all cartoon villains, has a life plan, which is to see the good guys fail. Like Murky and Lurky or Pinky and the Brain before him, Plankton is doomed to perpetual failure, himself. But that’s what makes life worth living. The constant vicissitudes give an arch-villain’s life shape. And shape is precisely what someone like Squidward lacks, leaving him a life of ennui and agitation.
The interesting thing about Squidward is that he once got out. In the second season episode, “Squidville,” our melancholic mollusk moved away from Spongebob and Patrick to Tentacle Acres, a place filled with other sarcastic glass-half-emptiers like him. And you know what? He was unhappy there, too. Guy needs some SSRIs, stat.
1. Eeyore: Eeyore is a donkey. Eeyore eats thistles. Eeyore’s tail hangs on by a single nail. Eeyore is you. Eeyore is me. Eeyore is all of us.
Eeyore is the number one pessimist living in an optimist’s world because he, more than any other character, is in a “No Exit” situation. Sure, we, the audience, know that none of these characters will ever escape their Technicolor hells, and we know they will never die. This is children’s television, for God’s sake!
But, theoretically, within the confines of their own universes, they could die. The Care Bear stare could fail, leaving Professor Coldheart to tear Grumpy to shreds. Squidward could become dinner at a lovely Italian restaurant. Oscar could get AIDS. Audiences might never see the ends of these beloved misanthropes, but, off-screen at least, they might eventually rest in peace.
Eeyore can’t. Ever. He’s a stuffed animal. Even within his own universe, he is doomed to an infinity of despair. No disease can touch him; he is invulnerable to bullets. I suppose he could light himself on fire, but who knows if he’s flame resistant? Christopher Robin will get old and die. Eeyore is forever.
That poor, poor bastard.
Just so you can understand the depths of Eeyore’s hopelessness, try this classic passage:
“You seem so sad, Eeyore.”
“Sad? Why should I be sad? It’s my birthday. The happiest day of the year.”
“Your birthday?” said Pooh in great surprise.
“Of course it is. Can’t you see? Look at all the presents I’ve had.”
He waved a foot from side to side.
“Look at the birthday cake. Candles and pink sugar.”
Pooh looked – first to the right and then to the left.
“Presents?” said Pooh. “Birthday cake?” said Pooh. “Where?”
“Can’t you see them?”
“No,” said Pooh.
“Neither can I,” said Eeyore. “Joke,” he explained. “Ha Ha.”
Oh, that this too, too sullied flesh would melt, eh, Eeyore?
Well, that’s the end of this list. Who’d I miss?