Sesame Street: 50 in 50 – Season 12

Published: March 22, 2019
Categories: Feature, Reviews

Season 12 (November 24, 1980 – May 22, 1981)

It’s always a treat for geeks like us when characters from two different cinematic universes meet. Who can forget such classic pairings as King Kong vs. Godzilla, Superman vs. The Amazing Spider-Man or Alien vs. Predator? However, there was one rupture in the space-time continuum that will reign supreme when it comes to classic crossover pairings: Mr. Rogers vs. Big Bird! It all happens in Sesame Street Season 12’s finale.

This classic standoff features Big Bird and Mr. Rogers fighting each other with everything they’ve got until they form an uneasy alliance to unite against a common enemy: apathetic public television donors! Will they succeed, or will they perish as their respective television universes are wiped-out due to their series being canceled? Wouldn’t it have been cool if this was actually the hugely inappropriate plot of the episode of Sesame Street I’m currently covering? Well, guess what? It wasn’t. But! This episode ended up being pretty rockin’ anyway and delves into the fact that Big Bird has been gaslit by the rest of the show’s cast for the past decade. Whoopie!

This classic “street scene” opens with Big Bird bursting into Hooper’s Store and asking the patrons inside (who are currently fanning themselves like a bunch of southern belles with “the vapors”) if any of them want to judge his foot race he’s about to have with Mr. Snuffleupagus. Due to a heat wave, none of our humanoid friends want to leave the store, thus preventing them from meeting Snuffy and allowing them to continue to gaslight Big Bird for another few seasons.

Lucky for our big, yellow pal, Mr. Rogers happens to be outside of Hooper’s Store waiting for a friend to pick him up. He never tells us how he got to Sesame Street: totally lost joke opportunity. However, Mr. Rogers does agree to judge Big Bird’s footrace with Snuffy. Due to Snuffy lagging behind Big Bird, Mr. Rogers crowns Big Bird the winner, without actually meeting Mr. Snuffleupagus before he leaves! However, before Mr. Rogers’ off-screen pal picks him up, he and Big Bird have a chat that boils down to lessons for Big Bird and the viewers at home in being a gracious and kind winner. As per usual, Mr. Rogers is spot-on in his lessons, and I wish he were still around so that certain badly-behaved public figures would heed his gentle messages of how to move through the world.

After Freddy (that’s what I call Mr. Rogers sometimes because I’ve had a though-the-TV friendship with him from before I was verbal) splits, Big Bird realizes who he was chatting with. This leads to him getting super-star struck, which takes me to a big question regarding the rules-of-the-world of the episode: is Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood a TV show within the world of Sesame Street? Wouldn’t that mean that all the characters in Mr. Rogers’ Land of Make Believe are just that? Make believe, when it comes to the Sesame Street characters? If that’s the case, then let me ask you THIS, dear Tough Pigs readers: how did Big Bird appear IN the Land of Make Believe in the classic Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood episode 1483, “Mr. Rogers Talks About Competition?” HOW DOES THIS MAKE ANY SENSE?

Broken world-building aside, this sequence also allows for a great button with terrifying implications. When Snuffy comes trotting up right after Mr. Rogers leaves, Big Bird tells Snuffy that it was THE Mr. Rogers who judged their footrace. Snuffy then chuckles and accuses Big Bird of having a big imagination! I can’t believe Snuffy would pull this garbage on Big Bird. Even the giant, furry, trunked being who is always accused of being imaginary by the rest of Sesame Street‘s cast doesn’t believe his best friend when he’s telling him something entirely truthful. “Oh Bird, you have a big imagination,” chuckles the smug Aloysius Snuffalupagus as he trots off to go about his day and in the process shakes Big Bird’s entire concept of what’s real and not to its core.

The next segment featuring Mr. Rogers starts with Fred appearing unannounced at Big Bird’s nest for a chat. After the absolute trauma Big Bird has been subjected to over the course of this episode and the entire series, he is understandably having a difficult time distinguishing imagination from reality, and it takes Mr. Rogers’ grad school degree in Children’s Development and all of his effort to gently but firmly realign Big Bird’s fragile six-year-old psyche. At the end of their beautiful time together, Big Bird proclaims that he likes reality and imagination equally but for different reasons. Amen, you big, yellow ball of neuroses.

All bits aside, the meeting of Big Bird and Mr. Rogers is truly lovely, with both Fred Rogers and Caroll Spinney at the top of their game in their scenes together. It’s surprising that the two had a twenty-minute phone-argument with each other when Big Bird appeared on Mr. Rogers Neighboorhood. Apparently, they were sparring over a segment in which Big Bird’s inner-workings would be revealed for the kids watching at home (Rogers was for, Spinney against). In this Sesame Street appearance, they could not appear to be having more fun together, and this episode represents what is genuinely a golden-age of kid’s TV and one that I am very, very grateful that I grew up during.

Most Valuable Muppet: I’m gonna give it to poor Big Bird here, hasn’t he been through enough?

Most Valuable Episode: Definitely the one that I just covered.

Notable Character Debut: Although the soon-to-be-huge Elmo debuted last season, he’s mentioned as being new for THIS season’s press release! So take that, Season 11!

Best Celebrity Moment: Brilliant string-player Itzhak Perlman jams out with brilliant monster Telly.

Best Musical Moment: The Hello Hello Hello Song is a killer opening number that slaps in the best of Sesame Street traditions. It starts with a solo from Big Bird and ends up featuring so many cast members that Big Bird can’t even count them all (and he’s a great counter, usually!)

One More Thing: That dog who pretends his shadow is an alligator? Remember him? Well, in my opinion, he’s a bit of a jerk, and he and his segment make their debut this season.

Click here to have a wild imagination on the ToughPigs forum!

by Louie Pearlman

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