Happy Birthday Sesame Street! Followed by The Wire and Mad Men, Sesame Street is my third favorite television show of all time. I know it seems absurd that a children’s television show is put into a category that contains a show about the drug-trade and another about a sexist work environment. But the common thread among all three shows is they are all brilliant.
Earlier this year, I read Street Gang – The Complete History of Sesame Street. It wasn’t exactly what I expected it to be.I I was expecting a run-down of the origins of the Muppets. In fact, they are barely mentioned. The first 150 pages focus just on the show’s conception. For instance, it began as a way to bring educational programming to inner-city youth. This is why Sesame Street is kind of dirty and dingy. It was designed to portray a world that inner-city children could relate to. (That’s why I dislike the *new* Sesame Street where everything is sanitized, and Cookie Monster only eats “cookies sometimes.”) It kind of takes away from the original idea.
Obviously, I loved Sesame Street as a kid. But when I got the “Old School” DVDs, I was surprised at how much I still like it at 27. The humor that makes learning fun for kids is also entertaining for adults, but the perspective of it has changed for me. Forget all of this Ernie and Bert are gay bullshit. What I want to know is – how did they pay rent? Kermit and Grover have jobs, so why don’t they?
When I was younger, I used to love Ernie (and I still do). But now I like Bert more in all his up-tight glory. His reactions to Ernie’s pranks never get old. In every skit, you know he is going to blow his top and get pissed – but the laughter comes from his reaction. The same with Cookie Monster. You know he is going to go crazy over cookies. But it’s hysterical to watch him devour everything from a truck to a type-writer in the process.
Sesame Street was,of course ground-breaking on many levels. It made learning fun. A lot of kids learn more when they think they’re not learning. I’m not suggesting Sesame Street tricked them into learning, but it took them on a ride where learning could be fun and engaging. And let’s not forget the multi-racial cast. Everyone at Sesame Street was made to feel welcome and that was exactly the point. No one is excluded. And here’s the real magic of Sesame Street: It made kids smarter, but also made adults feel like kids again. No one so many celebrities and musicians showed up from time to time.
And for proof here’s one of my favorite clips featuring Johnny Cash:
And another where Cookie Monster goes on a classic rampage: