Season 22 (November 12, 1990 to May 10, 1991)
Opinions vary wildly on when the classic era of Sesame Street ended. People will often cite the end of the 1970s, the death of Mr. Hooper, or the reveal of Snuffy. Jim Henson’s death at the end of season 21 is another one. So in season 22, it’s the 1990s and Jim Henson is gone. What does Sesame Street look like in 1990?
The best way to learn that is to watch Sesame Street! With 130 episodes every season, it’s impossible to watch them all for this series. But this week, I decided to get as close as I could. I searched YouTube for every season 22 street story, and I found 44 of them.
These days, we have an invaluable resource in Muppet Wiki’s Sesame Street episode guide. You can look up every single sketch for over 1800 episodes (and more all the time!). But that doesn’t replace the experience of actually sitting down to watch Sesame Street. This is especially true in the case of the street stories, which aren’t repeated as often as the songs and sketches, so they’re more surprising when we do watch them. So here are some notes on a large sampling of season 22, focusing on details that jumped out at me and are (mostly) not on Muppet Wiki.
Without further ado, Tough Pigs presents 88 Lines About 44 Episodes from Season 22:
1) Telly puts Gordon into the category of “science teachers with no hair” and Gina thinks that’s hilarious.
2) After counting 357 dents in the Sloppy Jalopy, the Count tells Oscar “Oscar! I dig your wheels the most!”
3) Snuffy’s mom has an extremely festive party hat.
4) Big Bird calls Maria “Mrs. Rodriguez” when he’s mad at her.
5) When Little Bird inquires about living with Oscar, Oscar’s elephants trumpet throughout the entire scene. Nice to hear those guys!
6) Bob says the statement “A bird cannot live on a Snuffleupagus, right? We all know that!”
7) The first scene is Dan the musician talking to the camera about how he’s new to Sesame Street. It feels like an intro for a new regular, but we never saw him again.
8) Big Bird drops Baby Natasha off at Hooper’s so Gina can babysit her. Why is Big Bird Natasha’s guardian?!
9) After Uncle Wally’s first haircut, three different random adults stop to compliment him from the sidewalk outside.
10) This episode features the only appearance of floppy-haired Poochie-ish monster named Spike who loves his new haircut. He’s played by David Rudman, and I want to see the reality where this guy became the #1 breakout star of the 1990s instead of Elmo.
11) Oscar sinks into his trashcan and reemerges in the laundromat, which means he has a secret passage.
12) Maria says the statement “I’m sorry, Oscar. We just got carried away. We just love clean clothes, especially when it’s folded.” She wiggles her eyebrows on the word “especially.” It’s great. Maria’s a gem.
13) Elmo is pretty enthusiastic about his imaginary ice cream burger for lunch, but he draws the line at spaghetti with ice cream sauce for dinner.
14) Snuffy’s great-grandma had an unbelievably gigantic head.
15) Bob is very confused about being Placido Flamingo’s “Little Assistant.”
16) On the other hand, he’s delighted when Gladys the Cow asks him to pose for a portrait.
17) Snuffy tells the joke “Why did the Snuffleupagus cross the road? To get to the other side.” He and Big Bird laugh about it for the next 22 seconds of screentime.
18) Maria gives herself a drumroll before opening an envelope containing the number of the day
19) Oscar refers to Madison Square Garden as “that big place where they’re holding the basketball game.”
20) We learn that Madison Square Garden is on Sesame Street. This is HUGE!
21) David Rudman’s Grouch newsboy has exactly the same voice as Miss Poogy.
22) Grouch Lit has its own section in the Sesame Street Library. It’s so great to see them catering to all of their patrons, not just the nice ones.
24) Oscar gives Telly some air as a present, and Telly is so excited because “It’ll give me something to talk about at birthday parties!”
25) Unplanned toddler moment: When Maria asks Gabi if she wants to be an Elmo’s Ranger, Gabi quietly says “No” and Maria rolls with it and says “Maybe she will later.”
26) Elmo deputizes an Elmo’s Ranger named Robert to place a hat on Telly’s head, and it’s adorable.
27) Oscar calls Oscar Says “a great, angry, grouchy game” but he never gets angry about it! Real missed opportunity.
28) Telly says that if Oscar would have a snack with him, it would be the happiest day of his life. Fella has really low expectations in life.
29) While assuring Oscar that his new phone line is working out, Lily Tomlin gives him a friendly fist to the chin. Made me laugh!
30) Elmo tries to imitate the Count, but he says “ze Count.” The Count doesn’t even talk like that. Get it together, Elmo!
31) Bob yells “Hi, Mrs. Macintosh! I hope your lumbago’s better!” to a random passerby.
32) One of the Grouchytowners only eats sandwiches with salamander jelly, which might be the grossest thing I’ve ever heard a grouch say.
33) Oscar leaves Gina some Grouch books to read to his niece Irvine. Hopefully he checked them out of the public library!
34) The Grouch who finds the genie’s lamp has a mesmerizing stare.
35) Elmo, a disgusting person, packs milk in his backpack for his mountain climbing trip.
36) Telly gets to say “Wow, triangle music! I love it!”
37) This is easily accessible on the Wiki, but it’s so bizarre and fun that I have to highlight it anyway – Martin P. Robinson’s other two characters both dress as Telly in this.
38) Snuffy doesn’t attempt a Telly voice though, which is too bad.
39) As far as I can tell, Snuffy knocks over a bunch of cans of the actual product Crunch ‘N Munch.
40) Maria shakes her head vigorously to tell Luis not to let Big Bird and Snuffy push the shopping cart, but the naive fool lets them anyway.
41) One of Snuffy’s G items is a “golf hat” which is actually called a tam. Why on Earth didn’t they use a golf club, which is the actual name of an item?
42) Bob has a hard time talking to Snuffy’s puppet Gus instead of Snuffy, which is impressive because Bob is one of TV’s all-time greats at talking to puppets.
43) Oscar sneeringly calls Bob and Linda “High Tonsils and Loud Fingers.”
44) Hiroshi describes his video equipment by telling Big Bird “You see this camera? It’s like television. And you see this tape? It’s like film for television.” I’m always impressed by how often Sesame Street can do simple, succinct explanations for kids like that.
45) This episode makes living on Sesame Street seem like a nightmare. Gordon has a headache and Muppets keep showing up to “help.” Here’s his face when he hears Big Bird singing:
46) While helping a sick Gordon into bed, Susan says “Let’s dump these shoes.” Yeah! Get out of our lives, shoes!
47) Maria mentions that Biff & Sully are on a coffee break. Are Biff & Sully in a union? What kind of health benefits do you think they get?
48) When Big Bird is mad at Luis, he uses Radar as an intermediary so he doesn’t have to talk to Luis. Radar is not very helpful.
49) Telly is so excited that Hooper’s Store is reopening that he asks Mr. Handford to give him five. Mr. Handford grabs Telly’s hand in solidarity.
50) Mr. Handford does a crossword puzzle to unwind on the night before the grand reopening. Nice to see that he has hobbies!
51) This story is about Telly trying to “do everything Bob does,” to the point where he crawls into Bob’s bed and locks Bob out of his own apartment. Telly’s Bob fandom is intense.
52) Bob tells Telly “There are a few things in life that I like to do alone, and taking a shower is one of them.” Telly says “Oh no! This is terrible!” All of that happened on Sesame Street.
53) Oscar’s mom is thrown violently from the Grouch Express.
54) Oscar’s mom criticizes his can for having “the cleanest rust I’ve ever seen.” Oscar insists “I can’t help it! It’s these modern metals!”
55) Lillian says “We can make a nice rainbow. A little heavy on the fleshtones, maybe, but a rainbow.”
56) One of the friends in the Sesame Street rainbow is a green monster named Anna. She doesn’t say anything and she doesn’t have a page on the Wiki. I want to know more about Anna!
57) Hoots the Owl greets the audience by saying “Hey! You’re early, but scoot on in!” I love how he can make that kind of stuff seem natural.
58) Hoots calls his duet with Forrest Wimledon (Branford Marsalis) “a conversation between the saxophones.”
59) Polly Darton sings a song to let everyone know it’s time to clean up the lot, and everyone on Sesame Street can hear her. It’s like a magic street-wide PA system.
60) Great moments in Maria: When Polly Darton sings “stop your work and stop your play,” Maria tosses a screwdriver over her shoulder and does this take to the camera:
61) Gordon is so excited about the new trashbins for the community garden that he yells “THE BINS ARE HERE! THE BINS ARE HERE!”
62) Audrey Pigeon is so sad that Gordon brought bins instead of buns that she falls off the fence.
63) This episode features another new-to-me recurring teen character, Jelani. The huge cast during this era really makes Sesame Street feel like a real street, unlike the recent seasons where only three humans live there.
64) When Big Bird imagines that he’s the Mayor, he has a hilarious gray mustache.
65) Lisa believes that Alex holding out his arms to become a human basketball hoop will make her a great basketball player.
66) Also, Lisa’s jeans are 100% radical.
67) Gabi seems genuinely delighted by her mom reading “Little Red Riding Hood” in Spanish.
68) Maria tries to explain the importance of different languages to Elmo, who reveals that he has to go to the bathroom. It’s very rare that we see Maria make a mistake like this with one of the Muppets.
69) Oscar and Elmo do an Abbott & Costello routine about Elmo trying to read the word “NO!” for a full 22 seconds. This is the second time in season 22 that a bit has lasted for exactly 22 seconds. Coincidence? Probably!
70) While jumping on Oscar’s trampoline 17 times, Elmo hits the side of the can between jumps 8 and 9. Kevin Clash just rolls with it and has him yell “Whoa!”
71) Dissatisfied with the ending of Oscar’s story “Luis Van Winkle,” Telly writes his own version. Telly’s a true pioneer, predating all these angry Game of Thrones and Last Jedi haters by 25 years.
72) Lillian sings a classic Snuffleupagus lullaby, and it goes “Snuffle, Snuffle, you’ve got the cutest Snuffle of any Snuffle baby that I know/Cabbage, cabbage, but you’ve gotta eat your cabbage, ‘cuz that’s how all those little Snuffles grow.”
73) As Telly heads off to the imaginary ocean behind Hooper’s Store, Gina helpfully yells “Don’t forget the imaginary lifeguard, okay?”
74) Snuffy’s snuffle puppet Gus rejects all of Big Bird’s ideas for a puppet show, including “Mom” “Dad” and “You.”
75) Big Bird reads a poem about 1) a friend of his, 2) furry, and 3) small. Turns out it’s his teddy bear Radar, but it’s stone cold of him to read it in front of Snuffy, who’s pretty sure it’s him after clue #2.
76) Radar has more accessories than an American Girl doll.
77) You can tell it’s the 90s because Mike makes Elmo wear a helmet to ride on the back of his bike.
78) In the middle of explaining the Bureau of Lost Bats to Elmo and Mike, the manager (Martin P. Robinson in a star-making role) pats one of the bats on the head and says “You’re a cute one!” I love those kinds of touches.
79) Big Bird is on roller skates throughout this entire story, including when he’s just standing around. Bravo, Caroll Spinney!
80) This kid bravely shows off his new tooth in an intense closeup. Good for him!
81) Linda signs “Stop!” to Barkley, and he does!
82) Savion tries earnestly to give Barkley a tap-dancing lesson, and Barkley enthusiastically knocks him over.
83) Oscar gives Telly a pretend dog whistle to call his pretend dog, which is unusually helpful of him.
84) Telly and his pretend dog are both dressed as clowns at the time. Sesame Street, everybody!
85) The actual plot of this episode is “Elmo fills in for Little Jerry at a high school dance. Why don’t we talk about this all the time?!
86) Mike is not at all pleased about having to announce instead of join the band.
87) Oscar yells “It’s all because of YOU-U-U-U” at Forgetful Jones with the exact cadence that Steve Martin used to yell “EXCU-U-U-U-SE ME!”
88) When Oscar and Grundgetta make up, they sit around growling at each other romantically, and it is adorable.
In a lot of these cases, it was hard to keep it to only two things. Watching all of these was a reminder that Sesame Street is endlessly creative, even once we get past the “classic” era. In its 22nd season, Sesame Street was constantly surprising the audience with good songs, funny jokes, and weird moments. Even the worst episodes are tremendously entertaining. Let’s see if they can keep it up in season 23!
Notable Character Debut: Two new Muppets make their first appearances this season. Benny Rabbit, who would go on to be the Oscar of the 1990s. And Baby Bear, who improbably became a main character for the next few decades.
Notable Character Departure: This is the final season for Gina’s friend Mike, who was kind of unnecessary once the vastly more-charismatic Savion showed up. So long, Mike! We hardly knew ya!
MVH (Most Valuable Human): I have to give it to Gina, whose enthusiasm is the most entertaining part of many of these episodes. She seems so excited to be helping Muppets learn life lessons.
MVM (Most Valuable Muppet): Telly shows off his best side, freaking out about everything from getting his fur cut to the existence of Little Bird.
MVE (Most Valuable Episode): The pledge drive special Big Bird’s Birthday or Let Me Eat Cake, which is the best possible example of what Sesame Street was like in 1991.
Other Notable Episodes: I already listed 44 of them!
Classic Sketch Debut: Monsterpiece Theatre: Twin Beaks, which terrified me as a child. To this day, I’ve never seen Twin Peaks.
Classic Song Debut: “We Are All Earthlings,” a lovely song that is more relevant than ever.
Curriculum Focus: That song is a great example of this year’s theme – race, multiculturalism, and understanding our differences.
Musical Highlight: The segments starring Cecille the singing ball, which I would have assumed were much older.
Best Celebrity Moment: Robin Williams plays baseball with Elmo, which is a hilarious sketch and the source of some even funnier outtakes.
WTF Moment: Rhea Perlman shows up as the Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe. Why is she on Sesame Street? Because her shoe house was blown there by a hurricane. Of course!
One More Thing: In the 44 episodes I watched, I heard twelve versions of “One of These Things.” This season, that’s the only way people communicate.
Okay, One More Thing: NYC Mayor David Dinkins gives Gordon an award for making a community garden, the first time the Mayor has visited Sesame Street (the show or the neighborhood).
Click here to perform a Snuffle Puppet Show on the Tough Pigs forum!
by Anthony Strand