Can you think of any children’s show you actually like? Well, I could try. How about . . .
Before anyone gets up-in-arms, I will say that I am not going to trash Sesame Street. I just couldn’t. It’s an awesome little show. Almost everyone forty and under grew up with this show. The fact that it is still on the air after over thirty years, with many of the same actors, is testament to the quality. But I wish to review it anyway, because the shows I snark on could stand to learn a lot from their example.
Are there sunny characters that make you want to puke? Oh, sure. But for every Elmo (more on him later) there is an Oscar. Oscar the Grouch is a hairy green puppet that lives in a trash can. And he LIKES it there, thank you. In response to his relentlessly cheerful neighbors, Oscar says, essentially “Bite me.” I admire that in a puppet. There is also Bert, who contrasts Ernie in an odd couple sort of way (there has been endless speculation from people with too much time on their hands – like me – who wonder what their relationship is exactly. I say they’re brothers, since they live in the same house. And I’m sticking to that.) Ernie is chipper and bouncy and loves stuff like lollipops. Bert, on the other hand, likes to sit quietly and read (while Ernie tortures him with joy and gladness). He prefers linoleum to lollipops. I like Bert. My husband has said that when Bert finally snaps, he’s sure to take out Ernie first. But he hopes Elmo is next.
|“H” is not for Homey, Elmo.|
Elmo is a special case. Elmo came after a lot of the first generation of Sesame Street viewers grew up. He is an INVADER. And not only that, he has his own little spot on the show, called “Elmo’s World”. Elmo is another scarily cheerful puppet with a high-pitched voice who speaks in third person. Elmo wants this, and Elmo wants that, etc. You know a show has a loyal following when adults get violently angry about a new puppet usurping authority. “We had Grover, darn it, and we were HAPPY.” But little toddlers love Elmo. Which means their parents, people of my generation, had to watch him. And buy the toys. One of them, “Tickle Me, Elmo” (less said about this the better) was one of those hard-to-find toys one Christmas. Which meant parents were tackling each other to get a toy of a character they felt had ruined a part of their childhood. Ironic, that.
|WTF? Where me freakin’ cookies???|
But Elmo is still only one character. Most of the characters are multi-faceted. They aren’t just nice or mean or happy or sad. They have personalities. Grover is sweet and lovable (and also speaks in third person) but has a definite mean streak, like when he’s acting as an incompetent waiter. And Big Bird has such vivid delusions they actually come to life. Anyone else remember when Snuffleupagus was his imaginary giant friend? Now everybody sees him. I guess they figured if they were friends with a six-foot tall bird, an enormous whatever-he-is wasn’t such a big leap. Cookie Monster will always be one of my favorites because of his total lack of self-control. Don’t listen to those guys trying to make you eat healthy, Cookie Monster! “C is for Cookie” is good enough for me, too. He has been paired with polar opposite Prairie Dawn, who is one of the few puppets that you can actively imagine has a stick up her behind.
And that’s what makes this show so good. You forget these things are puppets. People develop genuine love for these characters. They are purple, and blue, and green, and no one is better than the other (not even Elmo). Without resulting to syrupy didacticism, this show does present good values to kids, partly because it all just comes naturally. Seeing such different looking creatures – and their non-caricatured adult human friends – interact promotes diversity. You don’t have to spell it all out, as in – “Look, here is Cookie Monster, an obsessive-compulsive blue puppet who is hanging out with a hairy, green, homeless hoarder named Oscar!” Kids can see that for themselves.
|The 70’s were a long, long,
LONG time ago
Sesame Street also has something to offer adults. There are parodies of everything from “Saturday Night Fever” to the more recent “Law and Order”. Even Dr. Phil has been puppetized, to hilarious effect. Also, there are the guest puppets like the “Yip-Yip” aliens. These wacky looking characters beam down with their giant mouths yipping as they try to understand human culture, usually mistaking clocks and phones for humans and cows. I can still watch clips of this show and laugh out loud.
Sesame Street is located on a city street, not a sanitized suburb. This is not a gated community like so many children’s shows. This is real life – only with puppets. It’s true that too many of these inner-city neighborhoods are violent, and unsafe, but not all. Some of them do have neighbors that will work together and form a community. And even if they don’t, Sesame Street is something to aspire to – it is hope. The songs, which also stick in your head, are actually meaningful. It isn’t easy being green, but there are good things that come with the color, along with the bad. You can come and play here, everything’s A-okay. Can you tell me how to get to Sesame Street?
But my favorite message of all comes from crazy old Cookie Monster. “What is friend? Friend is somebody you give up last cookie for.” If Cookie Monster can give up a cookie, maybe there is hope for the rest of the world as well.
Hairy, red usurper – YES
Multiple Personalities and Disorders Presented – YES
Diversity Promoted Without Nausea – Yes
Is C for Cookie? – YES