Monday, November 26, 2007

Can you tell me how to get . . .

There is a Holy Trinity of children's television programming in our home: Barney, Teletubbies (affectionately shortened to "Tubbies"), and Sesame Street. I'm not going to argue that this Trinity represents the very best of what is out there for toddlers, but these three PBS shows are working for us. Each show deserves its own post and today the honor goes to, drumroll please, Sesame Street.

I think Sesame Street was an integral part of childhood for most kids in my generation. Beyond cartoons, there were fewer children's programs than there are today. There were fewer characters being aggressively marketed to preschoolers and kindergarten kids (did someone say Disney Princesses?). Plus, Sesame Street has always had the distinct advantage of being perceived as offering entertainment and education. Thanks to Sesame Street, I know, for example, that "agua" means water in Spanish. I remember coming home from morning kindergarten, eating Spaghettios, and then watching Sesame Street. My youngest sister fondly remembers bonus days when she was allowed to eat lunch while watching Sesame Street. My favorite Sesame Street segment were the video clips that featured real people doing things. Two particular ones remain with me: a segment in which a tree stump is sawed and then fashioned into a wooden stool and a segment in which fruit is cut and put into a giant fruit salad. I remember being mesmerized. I also recall a Claymation sort of segment in which members of a farmer-type family run outside and dance in the rain (after a drought, I guess?). My husband was more a character guy. He loved Big Bird as a little boy and a Big Bird ornament, now more than two decades old, graces our Christmas tree each year. Our bub is asleep upstairs right now with his soft Big Bird doll under his arm.

I won't go so far as to argue that Sesame Street is worth viewing even if one does not have a toddler, but it holds more appeal to adults than one might think. There are timely sketches in which Sesame Street characters spoof on today's celebrity culture. A skit featuring The Grump mocks the Donald. The letter "I" is featured in a singing competition with three judges, one of whom comes across as vapidly encouraging, called "The American I." Just this morning, the bub and I watched a segment called "Desperate Houseplants." This is funny stuff. There are also cool guest stars ranging from Tina Fey to Joe Torre. Sure, there are many episodes in which Elmo gets more than his fair share of screen time, but, honestly, Elmo is pretty darn lovable. Even better, Elmo loves you. (NTB, but we actually have a doll with eyes that light up red hearts that sings about how much Elmo loves you.)

Yes, the show has changed over the years. Dork that I am, I found myself researching the history of Sesame Street earlier this evening. Despite the changes, the show still has a lot of the heart, cleverness, and spirit it always has. The show's longevity and success is perhaps due in part to the fact that it still features many of the same characters. Besides the puppets, Maria, Bob, Susan, Gordon, and Luis are still around. They've had children who are now series regulars. There's something about the fact that people who were acting in Sesame Street when I was watching it are still at it. I like to imagine that they love what they do and genuinely enjoy the community they've built on Sesame Street. I just saw most of the gang performing in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, and they seemed to be having fun.

My Sesame Street nostalgia, always close to the surface, has bubbled over these past few days. On an early morning trip to Staples to buy a new printer cartridge, the bub spotted "Bird. Bird" on a holiday DVD display. Impulse shopper and spendthrift that I am, I picked up Christmas Eve on Sesame Street with the thought that it might offer some relief from Barney's trip to the fair on our ride to Cincinnati for Thanksgiving. The bub LOVES it. Big Bird ice stakes. Kermit the Frog interviews little kids. The Sesame Street gang sings a song about "true blue miracles" in the subway. Bob, Linda, and the kids do sign language along with a song about keeping Christmas with you all through the year. Best of all? This Christmas special was made in 1978! The outfits are dated. Maria looks about twenty years-old. The color and video quality are poor. But bub knows no better. He is watching and enjoying a Christmas special that I likely watched at sometime in my childhood. I don't know why the idea tickles me so but it does.

Here's hoping that the bub has a childhood full of great memories and that his children will have a chance to enjoy Sesame Street someday too. Here's also hoping that I can get the song about "true blue miracles" out of my head at some point. Until then, I'll just believe in them. NTB.


CJR said...

I was a 3-2-1 Contact type of kid (as a nerd, it's important that everything relate to science), but I will also say that the Muppet Movie was probably watched 100 times a year until it was watched about 50 and I would be willing to watch it now, as it is one of the funniest movies ever. There is stuff in there that would never make it into a kids movie now. The scene where Kermit is in the electric chair? Awesome. Rampant drug use by Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem? Fantastic. What was the status of Janice and Dr. Teeth? Racier than Tinky-Winky, to be sure.

"It's one of the finest wines of Idaho. . . Would you like to smell the bottlecap?"

E... said...

There's a great set of CD's that we recently had out from the library, called 30 years of Sesame Street that has ALL the songs you loved. Maybe you can get one of them to replace the true blue miracle one. 1,2,3 4-5, 6,7 8,9 10 11, 12...perhaps? I have it on O's wishlist, but it's really for me. I did grow up in a neighborhood with a real live Sesame Street, after all.

hamilton mark said...

Timely post.... Jen and I just discussed yesterday that Maria looks just about the same as she did when we watched sesame growing up. I have always been a big Burt and Ernie fan. Rogan is currently big on the Cookie Monster

Actchy said...

I was also a fan of the human reels on Sesame, and remember vividly the "stump becomes a stool" one, as well as one where a little girl makes soup, starting with a trip to the grocery store. I credit Sesame Street with my overwhelming affinity for urban living, although I have never gotten over the fact that it's not possible for us to keep a llama in our apartment so that we might take him to the dentist.

I also loved The Electric Company, noted at BP a few months back. At age 4 and 5, I thought Sesame Street satiated my childlike interests, whereas Electric Company was more sophisticated, big-kid entertainment. Obviously.

Steph said...

I loved the Electric Company, too! Wow - I haven't thought of these shows in forever! I now have the 3-2-1 Contact theme running in my head. :-)

msp said...

i am so happy that someone else out there is enjoying "christmas eve on sesame street." my sister bought me the vhs when i was in college because it had been my favorite christmas special growing up. i must admit, i even get a bit teary-eyed when i watch it. i'm sure mostly due to the nostalgia factor. and i, too, was quite thrilled last christmas season when eli watched it with me for the first time and fell in love with it. true blue miracle for sure. and we sing "keep christmas with you" at our house all year long. ntb.

favorite real thing sketch on sesame: when the kid looks at a crayon and then the screen swirls into how crayons are made. amazing.

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