Essential Seven Old School Sesame Street Moments

Disclaimer:  The following Essential Seven List will not have any mention of Elmo, so go tickle yourself buddy!

Sesame Street used to be the kind of dirty city block I grew up on, full of kids running around, and complete with a grouchy guy digging through the garbage. It started way back in 1969, more than 40 years ago now.  Since then it’s definitely been gentrified.  If you watch the show today nobody is hanging out on the front stoop. No one asks “Who are the people in your neighborhood?” They know!

Recently DVDs of Old School Sesame Street episodes were released to show kids these days, “Look how cool Sesame Street was when I was a kid!” That is why this weeks list features the Essential Seven Old School Sesame Street Moments.

7)  Snuffleupagus Doesn’t Exist

Mr. Snuffleupagus (do you think he’s Greek?) first appeared way back in 1971.  Snuffy was Big Bird’s imaginary friend that no one else saw. When I was a kid this was one of the main ongoing plots of the show- once an episode Big Bird was going to show everybody that Snuffy was real, but by some chance they would miss each other and all the adults would accuse Big Bird of being a liar.  In 1985 they decided they had to reveal that Snuffy was real because it was telling kids that your parents won’t believe you and then some pervert could come along and molest you.  I guess the thinking was the pervert would say “You know how the adults on Sesame Street don’t believe Big Bird sees a Snuffleupagus?  Well your parents won’t believe I’m showing you my Snuffleupagus either.”

6)  Jesse Jackson “I Am- Somebody”

One of the best things about early Sesame Street was the shows great length to show diversity.  This was 1970’s diversity, before the days of political correctness and multiculturalism took away all it’s bite.  Early on Maria (who was the super hottie of the show back in the day)  kind of had a thing going with David, the cool black guy.  This was one of the first interracial couples on TV. David was phased out  without any explanation and later Maria went on to marry Luis (some say this is when the show jumped the shark).

But for real cultural shock it doesn’t get any better than the Rev. Jesse Jackson doing a call and response rendition of “I Am- Somebody” while wearing a huge gold medallion around his neck with about 20 kids of every conceivable race and creed gathered in front of him. Can you imagine this happening today?  The tea party nut jobs and Glenn Beck would storm the Children’s Television Workshop and demand Big Bird be stuffed with a side of cranberries. He is a socialist you know!

5) Ladybugs’ Picnic

When you watch Sesame Street from the ’70s the animation and films feel amateur. I don’t mean that in a bad way either.  They had a rawness that was very memorable.  The songs were also amazing!  The trippy grandeur of “We All Live in a Capital I”  to the Pointer Sisters’ funky pinball number count, they’re not just children’s television shlock, they’re really catchy tunes.

Most memorable was “Ladybugs’ Picnic”.  I’m pretty sure the guy who did this was also the guy that did the Alligator King, but this is the song that will get in your head and stay there for days and days.  And who doesn’t like the idea of a bunch of little ladybugs getting together for a picnic?  So cute.

4)  Retired Muppets

Over the years some characters show up and then after a while they’re gone.  Here are some that your kids will never know:

  • The Two Headed Monster. The Two headed monster had a hard time pronouncing words. He  / they would sound out words for us to say.  Great puppet, cool idea, I don’t understand why he isn’t he around any more.
  • Harry the Monster OK, I can see why he was dropped.  We already have Grover and Cookie Monster, how many blue monsters do we need? But he did seem by far the cuddliest of the three.
  • Mumford the Magician. Yeah OK, he’s basically just a guy doing a W.C. Fields imitation and who knows W.C. Fields any more?  But his catch phrase “A la peanut butter sandwiches!” is still awesome.
  • Sherlock Hemlock. This guy never really caught on, but he should have. Kids love mysteries!  They did make a figure of him for the fisher price little people Sesame Street playset though.  Yeah!  Take that Elmo!  You don’t have one of those do you?!? I’m sorry.  I said I wasn’t going to talk about him…
  • Franklin Roosevelt. For those of you who don’t remember Franklin, he was the black muppet.  Watching him today he is pretty cringe worthy.  Hilarious, but cringe worthy.
  • Sam the Robot. This thing was just nuts.  He was a malfunctioning robot that demanded “Machines are better than people.  Machines can do anything.”  I’m not sure the message the writers were trying to send with this guy, but he’s obviously where James Cameron got the inspiration for the whole “Terminator” franchise.

3)  Near…..    Far

This spot is mainly a nod to the great Frank Oz.  Frank Oz’s Muppets voice credits are long.  He’s the original voice of the Muppets Fozzie, Animal, and Ms. Piggy as well as the voice of Bert, Cookie Monster and Grover on Sesame Street.  Bert and Cookie are great, but for me Grover is my favorite Sesame Street character.

I put the “Near Far” routine in at number three because it’s probably Grover’s most iconic bit, but you can tell the people making the show knew Grover was great and they had all kinds of little ways to spotlight him.  He’d do the restaurant scenes where he could work against the straight man customer who never gets to eat because waiter Grover is so inept.  They’d do Super Grover, the only super hero who wears a knights helmet.  Can anybody tell me why he had a knights helmet?  I really don’t know…  And then you got the “Grover and a real person talk” scenes.  Him talking to kids is often sweet and hilarious, and one of my favorites is when he sings along with the beautiful Madeline Kahn.  You go find it on You Tube and tell me Frank Oz isn’t feeling her up through the puppet.

But most importantly, he’s really funny.   Lots of times on kid’s shows something is supposed to be funny, but it’s not.  Not at all. If you go back and watch Frank Oz do Grover, not only is it funny to adults, it’s hilarious to kids.  Like side splittingly hilarious to kids.

These days Frank Oz doesn’t do Muppets any more.  He’s a director now and tries to distance himself from puppets.  That didn’t stop Marlon Brando from calling him “Ms. Piggy” when he directed the Score, accusing him of wishing  “I was a puppet so you could stick your hand up my ass and make me do what you want.”  but that’s another story…

2)  Mr. Hooper’s Dies

In 1983 Will Lee, the actor who played Mr. Hooper died at the ripe old age of 74.  The writers included his death into the show to teach kids about death and loss.  The episode involves Big Bird giving out pictures he drew of all the residents on Sesame Street, but he can’t seem to find Mr. Hooper.  Maria has to tell Big Bird that “Mr. Hooper died”.  Big Bird doesn’t understand what that means and he responds ” That’s ok, I’ll give it to him when he comes back.”  We all learn with Big Bird that “When people die, they don’t come back.”

1)  Bein’ Green

The success of Sesame Street had many contributions, but more than anything else it was built on the vision and spirit of Jim Henson. “It’s Not Easy Being Green”  is just a song about a frog feeling sad that he’s so ordinary, but by the end he accepts himself for who he is.  Who could have guessed that such a simple and weird idea could create a message so powerful and universal about melancholy and self acceptance?  Today the Muppets are only on TV to be shills for Disney, but old school Sesame Street reminds us that there was a time you could turn on your TV and get a show that had heart and humor and taught your kids something along the way.

The Essential Seven is a weekly list of seven items that we at believe needs to be identified. Want our opinion on a topic for a future list? Email Lando Da Pimp. Don’t agree with our list? Then leave a comment. We will try not to laugh at your dumb opinion! ;-)

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,
Comments: 12 Comments