Television

Friday A/V Club: Too Hot for Sesame Street

Happy 45th birthday, Big Bird.

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Fun fact: There are college graduates who are younger than Elmo.
Sesame Street

Monday marked the 45th anniversary of the first Sesame Street, and sites across the Internet have been honoring the occasion all week. (I especially enjoyed The Onion's tribute.) Back when the show was turning 40, I pointed out one of the reasons it had been so successful:

When the program's entertainers were at odds with its social engineers, the entertainers frequently won. If Sesame Street's board of academic advisers had its way, the show's people and puppets wouldn't have interacted at all. (It was inappropriate, they felt, to mix fantasy and reality.) For its first two decades on the air, writers and performers were usually free to follow their creative instincts…

But not always. Whether they were pulling Roosevelt Franklin from the show for fear that he was too much of a stereotype or ending the grown-ups-don't-believe-in-Mr.-Snuffleupagus gag for fear it would discourage kids from revealing they'd been molested, the writers did periodically bow to pressure. The biggest loss may have been Don Music, a songwriting Muppet who starred in several funny sketches with Kermit the Frog. Those ended when the producers heard some kids had copied his habit of frustratedly banging his head on the piano.

Fortunately, they've been preserved online. Here's Don Music, the Muppet too hot for Sesame Street, writing "Twinkle Twinkle" with the assistance of an amphibian:

There's also the program's infamous unaired episode, "Snuffy's Parents Get a Divorce"—but given how the test audience reacted to that one, it's probably for the best that it never was transmitted.

(For past editions of the Friday A/V Club, go here.)

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  1. This sounds more like family fun!

  2. Of course the original Sesame Street episodes are not considered inappropriate for small children. They contain horrible things like a child interacting with a nice older couple and going into their home. That is just rape, straight up!!

    1. It’s very sad. Both for the changing attitudes about what kids are capable of doing on their own, and for how much has been done over the last 45 years to fuck up nice urban residential neighborhoods.

      1. It is horrible and is doing horrible things to our society. What the hell kind of society teaches its children to fear and distrust adults?

        1. One that fears and distrusts adult, and especially *autonomy*.

  3. I think that I, on at least one occasion, banged my head on the piano after seeing Don Music do it. My head and the piano survived intact.

    I hadn’t heard that explanation of the Snuffleupagus being revealed as real to the adults. Weird.

  4. Someone else is going to have to explain the appeal of Sesame Street to me. Big Bird gave me nightmares, so I only watched it the one time.

    One! One time! Ah-ah-ah-ahhh!

    1. I liked the homoerotic undertones of the Bert and Ernie relationship. It was very unique.

      1. Sounds like it might be worth going back and watching a few episodes.

        As long as I can skip past Big Bird. He still creeps me out.

        1. I just thought he was annoying.

        2. Just focus on Bert and Ernie

        3. I loved Sesame Street as a kid. But even as a three year old, I knew that Big Bird was a whiny loser, and Snuffthefuckupolous was a boring passive-aggressive loser. As soon as those jerks came on, it was time to make a sandwich or switch channels.

        4. You’ll enjoy The Muppet Show a lot more. It was specifically designed for both kids and to have adult jokes (actual funny ones) that flew over the kid’s heads. Sex jokes, drinking jokes, you name it. Great show that’s still funny today.

          Don’t get me wrong, I love Sesame Street, but my feeling is that it was much more solely for kids and is less fun for adults.

          1. What about Fraggle Rock? It is without a doubt Henson’s magnum opus.

            1. Fraggle Rick was good but I always preferred The Muppet Show. But all of Jim’s stuff tended to be at least good. I love The Dark Crystal.

              1. The Dark Crystal is such a good movie. It’s one of the few that I’ve made a point to own.

                1. Henson apparently made Dark Crystal because he thought it was unhealthy for children to not be scared. I applaud his attempt at new-age mental scarring.

              2. Dark Crystal is great

            2. Yes, Fraggle Rock was one of the best children’s TV shows ever.

            3. Fraggle Rock was good, and I liked it as a kid, but Farscape is Henson’s masterpiece.

          2. I actually did grow up loving that show. I remember watching it while eating breakfast before I went to elementary school.

            In fact, I actually watched Muppet Treasure Island for the first time last week. I know: I live the thug life.

            1. If you haven’t seen the first Muppet Movie, or haven’t seen it in a long time, watch it. It’s fantastic. Seriously, it’s an amazing movie, and funny as hell.

              1. Did you ever find the rainbow connection? I think I found it once, but it was hard to tell what was going on at the time.

                1. I’ve heard of the rainbow connection, but I haven’t seen it. I figure Sailor Moon was close enough.

                  1. I see we’re getting Japanese anime involved now. Monster is really good, but very different from Sailor Moon.

                    1. I’ll have to check that one out. My tastes are decidedly impacted by Toonami’s run back in the day.

              2. I don’t think I’ve seen it. When I was much shorter, I used to love the Muppet Christmas Carol.

                Who am I kidding? I still do. I must find the first movie!

                1. Also, the second one, The Great Muppet Caper, is also really good. The third one, The Muppets Take Manhattan, is where they start to go downhill a bit. Still good, but not up to the standards of the first two.

                  1. I liked the Christmas Carol movie they did a few years ago with Micheal Cain as Scrouge. But generally, you are right, the first two were by far the best.

                    1. a few years ago

                      In 1992.

          3. The Muppet Show is much more fun to watch. The Muppet Show is one of the best TV shows of any kind ever produced. It is not just a great kids’ show. It was a great show period.

    2. Someone else is going to have to explain the appeal of Sesame Street to me. Big Bird gave me nightmares, so I only watched it the one time.

      I was scared shitless by the yup-yup-yup aliens. Loved everything else about the show but those googly eyed amorphous bastards haunted my dreams.

      1. Radio-radio-radio…

        Still, super creepy! Dr. Seuss also terrified me, but I could watch “It” without having problems. Tim Curry is a national treasure

    3. Big bird is annoying. But I liked the show as a kid. That was before Elmo became a popular character, though. I fucking hate Elmo.

  5. My kids stopped watching the day the Cookie Monster became the Veggie Monster. That level of ham-handed manipulation spoiled it.

    1. Mmmmm…ham…

    2. Progs eventually ruin absolutely everything.

    3. Kids tend to be a lot smarter than people give them credit for, and do not like to be blatantly manipulated. You get better results just asking kids about things and engaging them then trying to push messages into their head without context.

  6. Oh, and music.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_ul7X5js1vE

    Almost as big as when the Jackson 5 was on Wonderama!

    P.S. The rainbow undertones of Ernie and Bert’s relationship were groundbreaking.

    1. I see we share a common interest in the show

      1. You mean the music, right?

        1. I’m talking about the undertones you referred to. The music is obviously secondary.

          1. Yeah, I wouldn’t call that a common interest. I don’t know if there’s a hetero pride flag, but if there were, to be frank, I’d be marching under it.

            I support gay rights because I want gay people to support my rights, too.

            I suspect Ernie and Bert were partially a response to The Odd Couple, though, which looking back, I guess, had tons of rainbow undertones, as well.

            Laverne and Shirley, too.

            In some ways, you could put a lot more stuff on television when everyone was in the closet and pretending that these things didn’t exist. Nobody talked about things like Tinky-Winky’s purse until it these things because an acceptable topic of conversation in polite society.

            I bet if they created Ernie and Bert today on PBS, the right wingers would go apeshit.

            1. P.S. Auto correct sucks.

              Nobody talked about things like Tinky-Winky’s purse until…these things [became] an acceptable topic of conversation in polite society.

  7. I love the episodes where the thief tries to fence his alphabet letters on the street corner.

  8. Screw the social engineers, much prefered the violence and mayhem of cartoons, preferably Loony Tunes and Tom and Jerry.

    1. Some of that stuff was great. Bugs Bunny was hilarious, but a lot of that stuff isn’t PC enough for kids anymore.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ifv-3aSEckA

      I wanted every minute back that I wasted watching Woody Woodpecker, even when I was nine years old!

      …and even back then, Popeye seemed like a front for a government propaganda operation–to try to make me eat spinach.

      1. A pox on PC BS. Those cartoon characters, especially Bugs, are creations of genius, including the incredibly detailed scores courtesy of Carl Stalling.

        1. Also, often have thought Bugs Bunny is the exemplar of a libertarian icon. Too bad Warner Bros, property rights etc.

          1. There was that one with the construction worker–which is basically about Bugs Bunny resisting eminent domain.

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kzoN-CvH0qU

          2. Bugs was great, but he was a dim reflection of the true Light that was… Screwy Squirrel.

    2. Sufferin’ succotash!

      1. Thufferin’ thuccotath!

    3. The Road Runner. Especially its laws of physics.

  9. Old guys from Baltimore will remember the ultra-violent coffee commercials featuring the proto-Muppets. Every time I’d see Sesame Street, I was waiting for someone to get shot, stabbed, blown up, or beaten to a pulp.

    For those of you who do not have the privilege of being an old guy from Baltimore, I give you the young Jim Henson at his finest:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8RqfSLMg-2M

    1. They should bring this back. I’d imagine there would be some sort of public outrage though. Very funny. Thanks for posting it.

    2. Those are excellent, short caffeine-fueled capsules of violence!

    3. Jim was the reason Sesame Street was good. Jim truly understood kid’s entertainment, and that it needed to not be sanitized and dumbed down.

      When Jim died is when you started to see all the most idiotic changes done to Sesame Street. His influence had been invaluable.

      1. Yeah, but Jim Henson also did this.

        1. Is that a good thing or a bad thing. I prefer the seriousness of The Dark Crystal, but Labyrinth is pretty great.

          1. I’m a fan of both movies.

            I’m not a fan of David Bowie’s very noticeable bulge throughout Labyrinth.

            I enjoy watching it, but it makes me actually laugh out loud at least a couple times during that movie.

            1. It is very silly and makes the movie look more dated than it has to be.

                1. Two weeks from now, when I’m sitting down with the extended family I can’t stand to give thanks, I’m going to be so thankful that someone finally did a comparison piece between Bowie’s junk and Sting’s codpiece.

                  Amen.

                  1. Thanksgiving should be about the junk of English musicians every year. It would make it more interesting.

          1. Hah! Definitely a fan of that show, but I haven’t seen that episode yet. Looks like I have a lot to look forward to.

        2. Hey, come on, Labyrinth is actually pretty damn good.

          He also did this, which was a little after my time but I know people who absolutely loved it as kids.

          1. I agree–that’s another movie I made a point to buy because I enjoyed it so much as a kid, and I still do.

            The best part is I never even noticed his junk until I watched it as an adult, so I still think it’s absolutely appropriate for young audiences.

      2. I think we gotta give some credit to hippies generally for that.

        H.R. Pufnstuf.

        Lancelot Link.

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0d5dKBMK5mo

        I don’t know who would have gone more ballistic against that show now–the left for seeing them use animals and glorify the cold war, or the right wing conservatives for making the hero a hippie, implying that we evolved from chimpanzees, and using names for villains like Ali Ass-a-seen.

        Whatever else we want to say about hippies, they made great kindergarten teachers, camp counselors, and TV shows for kids.

  10. I posted this before, but I still think a young Morgan Freeman and hot Rita Moreno were better on the Electric Company than anything (except maybe Oscar) on Sesame Street.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5u8MY7PjSXU

    And as a kid growing up near Fargo, ND, I always loved Fargo North Decoder.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_ooT5TFj7hM

    I bet that he (the most famous decoder of messages in the world) didn’t work for the NSA.

    1. Electric Company, huh? I always took you for more of a New Zoo Review kinda’ guy.

  11. I recently watched the muppet movie (the one with Steve Martin) for the first time in many years and was surprised at how good it really is. Most of the movies and shows I rewatch for nostalgia are, well, unwatchable.

    1. In 1979, Steve Martin also did The Jerk. Definitely worth a watch.

  12. …ending the grown-ups-don’t-believe-in-Mr.-Snuffleupagus gag because for fear it would discourage kids from revealing they’d been molested

    Huh? What does Snuffleupagus have to do with molestation? Was he voiced by the same guy who did Elmo or something?

  13. My classmate’s mother-in-law makes $73 every hour on the computer . She has been without work for five months but last month her check was $14391 just working on the computer for a few hours. why not try this out.
    vi?????????sit hom?????????epage ????? http://www.jobsfish.com

  14. I’m always amused that the early episodes of Sesame Street carry a ‘not suitable for children’ warning label, due to behavior encouraged in the old days but not today.

  15. Not to mention this. Scroll down to #1.

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