Season 19 (November 16, 1987 – May 13, 1988)

Season 19 of Sesame Street famously ends with Maria and Luis’s wedding on the roof, and that fame is well-deserved. It’s a lovely and touching hour. It opens with a catchy song about how the excitement of waking up on the day of a wedding , and it ends with a gorgeous operetta about the nervous energy of the event itself. It finds time to spotlight not only the happy couple, but the rest of the gang as well. It really is one of the highlights of Sesame Street’s entire run.

But wait, Maria and Luis’s wedding?! Last week in season 18, they weren’t even dating!

Yes, Maria and Luis’s entire courtship takes place over the course of a single season. It’s easy to understand why they did it this way. Telling the whole romance in one season ensured that the audience would be the same kids for the entire arc. While a year seems quick, the story still takes place over a span of 100 episodes (exactly 100 episodes – their first date is in episode #2385, and they get married in #2485.) This gave the show plenty of time to show the development of their relationship in a fairly realistic manner.

I love the wedding episode (indeed, I had the “What a morning/It’s Maria’s wedding day” song in my head on the day of my own actual wedding), but I want to talk about the beginning of their relationship, which doesn’t get talked about nearly as much.

The episode where they realize they’ve fallen in love is a delightful romantic comedy. Big Bird and Snuffy see Maria and Luis holding hands while crossing the street. This confuses them, because they know that adults don’t need to hold another adult’s hand to cross the street.

Big Bird and Snuffy split up, with Big Bird talking to Maria and Snuffy talking to Luis. Over the course of the conversation, they both realize that “the way I feel about [him/her] has changed” and excitedly rush off to declare their love. Finally, we see their confession silently through the window of the Fix-It Shop. Big Bird, Snuffy, and the gathered crowd all swoon, and Luis pulls the curtain down so he and Maria can have some privacy.

All of this is adorable. Emilio Delgado and Sonia Manzano both play the realization of their love with giddy enthusiasm, and they both seem genuinely unsure of how to talk to Big Bird and Snuffy about it. Also, even though the romance is new, the characters’ long history with each other really helps. When they finally get together at the end of the episode, it’s a thrill because it feels like the culmination of sixteen years of chemistry.

When Maria tells Big Bird that she doesn’t know how to answer his questions about her feelings towards Luis, Big Bird says “A grown-up on Sesame Street having trouble with a question? I don’t think I’ve ever seen that before!” He’s right. Romance is a completely new topic for the show. Gordon and Susan were already married, so we never saw their courtship. David and Maria were a couple, but their relationship was never the focus of stories. As for Bob and Linda, well, who knows what their deal actually was?

Over the course of the season, we see an awful lot of Maria and Luis just spending time together. They sit around reading love poems in Spanish. Maria giddily says that she loves watching Luis do tai chi. They try each other’s dishes while eating lunch at Hooper’s. They walk away and start kissing in a corner rather than listen to Big Bird ramble about poison ivy. All of this helps them feel like a real couple. They just love hanging out together.

Manzano and Delgado’s natural chemistry also helps the many scenes where they have to explain romantic relationship to a Muppet standing in for children. Big Bird tries to rush them into marriage. Telly worries that they’re going to break up because they like to do different things. Placido Flamingo assumes that Luis must be mad because Maria is running late to their date at Birdland.

They patiently explain all of these issues, and I’m sure that it helped a ton of kids in real life. It’s entertaining to adults because the writing staff and the performers (humans and Muppet performers alike) all invest in making this feel like a huge event that’s affecting everyone on Sesame Street. The wedding is a landmark, but it wouldn’t have made any impact without an entire year of buildup.

So here’s to season 19, the year of Maria and Luis! What will the future hold for this charming young couple? Find out next week!

Notable Character Departure: After twelve years, Olivia makes her final appearances in season 19. The show would forever suffer for from her absence (and the lack of her gorgeous singing voice.) When Chris joined the show, I always hoped that Alaina Reed would turn up as his mom Olivia. Obviously that never happened, and it’s too late now since she passed away in 2009, but she’ll always be one of the core cast in our hearts.

Notable Character Debut: Gina debuted last season, but she becomes a regular (and starts working at Hooper’s Store) this season. Making her actual debut: Snuffy’s little sister Alice, maybe the cutest Muppet of all-time.

MVM (Most Valuable Muppet): Didn’t you hear what I just said? Alice Snuffleupagus is on the show now! No one is more valuable than Alice!

MVH (Most Valuable Humans): It’s Maria and Luis, of course! I’ll give a special shoutout to Lillian Hurst as Maria’s mom and Jose Ferrer as Luis’s Tio Jose. Their presence really makes the couple’s world feel real, especially the touching scene where Luis asks Maria’s mom (in Spanish) for her permission to propose.

MVE (Most Valuable Episode): It’s Maria and Luis’s wedding, of course!

Other Notable Episodes: The big episodes of Maria and Luis’s courtship, where they develop feelings for each other, fall in love, get engaged, and prepare for the ceremony. Also Maria has to gently rebuff Placido Flamingo’s advances.

Curriculum Focus: With all of this “Maria and Luis’s wedding” talk, it won’t surprise you to learn that the focus is on love and relationships.

Classic Sketch Debut: Bert meets Simon Soundman and enthusiastically tries to make a tuba noise.

Classic Song Debut: Healthy Food, the beginning of Cookie Monster’s most controversial phase.

Musical Highlight: We get some really catchy glimpses into world cultures this year. “African Alphabet” by Kermit and Ladysmith Black Mambazo is one of the best things ever, and “Ookyook Song” helped me learn a wide variety of Inuit words as a small child.

Best Celebrity Moment: Pee-wee Herman took some time out of his busy playday to recite the alphabet. It’s kind of a trip to see Pee-wee’s Playhouse suddenly pop up on Sesame Street.

WTF Moment: Before they help Maria and Luis realize that they’re in love, Big Bird and Snuffy spend the first part of that episode arguing over how many times in a row a cowboy should say “Hee-ah!” Not “Yee-haw!” “Hee-ah!” Big Bird is very clear about this.

One More Thing: In one episode, David explains to Big Bird that Maria is still his (David’s) friend even though she’s dating Luis now. No allusion is made to David and Maria’s past romance, but I love that they went out of their way to tell kids that people in love still have other friends, and that it’s okay for men and women to be friends with each other.

Okay, One More Thing: I couldn’t figure out if it originated this year or not, but one sketch has past NBC star Sid Caesar and future NBC star Tatyana Ali displaying various emotions, and it is delightful.

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by Anthony Strand

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