Season 35 (April 5, 2004 – May 10, 2004)

Is it possible to reach peak segment?

That’s the question I’m asking myself as I revisit Season 35 of Sesame Street. Months ago, I reviewed Season 27 and I was awash in nostalgia. Even earlier, I reviewed Season 24 and was surprised by the show’s quality messaging.

Now I’m stuck, just wondering about Elmo’s World.

Look, I’m not a retro Sesame Street purist. Sure, I love Roosevelt Franklin more than I love some of my family members, and I’m the one out here stanning Snitch Whistle on Twitter, but I’m not here to say that 21st Century Street is devoid of quality. It’s a different show for a different generation of kids! But Season 35 just feels like the show’s in a holding pattern. More of the same. And the problem is a lot of that more-of-the-same is recurring segments. Elmo’s World, Journey to Ernie, Letter of the Day Cookie, Number of the Day Organ, Global Grover, Global Thingy, Spanish Word of the Day, Trash Gordon… 

Look, folks, it’s hard for me to watch Journey to Ernie, through no fault of Matt Vogel or Steve Whitmire. It somehow manages to have Ernie in it and yet still be a less-charming version of Blue’s Clues. Despite what ToughPigs said last week about Global Grover’s positive aspects, I’m not a huge fan of that segment, which doesn’t feature enough Grover to distract me from the fact that it’s just repurposing the boring live-action Sesame Street segments I used to dislike as a kid, except now they don’t even have weird music on top.

You might argue this isn’t really exclusive to Season 35. In fact, only Trash Gordon began this season, and Season 35 removed two of the previous season’s segments, Monster Clubhouse and Hero Guy. But this season doesn’t really add much, aside from Gordon’s amazing new alter-ego, so you’re just left thinking about how much you’d rather not be watching Journey to Ernie.

All this, of course, can be summed up by the Season 35 premiere, The Street We Live On. ToughPigs reviewed this a decade ago(!), and it’s still a very strange anniversary special in that it takes place almost entirely in Elmo’s World. It’s a 50-minute Elmo’s World segment wherein Elmo thinks about how much he loves Sesame Street. It’s not bad, per se: most of the characters have their moments and I do love Mr. Noodle. But it’s cloying and forgettable and has a lot of weird unnecessary parts, and of course those darn, aforementioned segments.

There are some nice clips, but they’re all repeats. I’m not going to give The Street We Live On credit for showing me “Dance Myself to Sleep” or “C is For Cookie” or “The Song of 10.” Those are from years earlier. Sure, the show takes time to pay homage to where it’s been. Grover takes Elmo on a magic cab ride to see Mr. Hooper, Maria and Luis’s wedding, and the arrivals of Gabby and Miles. The episode ends with an amazing old scat rendition of the Sesame Street theme sung by Roosevelt Franklin, his mom, his classmates, Farley, and proto-versions of Prairie Dawn and Mr. Johnson. I don’t for a moment believe Sesame Street abandoned its past in Season 35. It’s just clear that it was time for it to start thinking about its future.

Notable Character Debuts: As mentioned in the article, this season marked the debut of Trash Gordon, a superpowered space hero who happened to look a lot like our favorite bald, mustachioed science teacher. If you’re being picky and telling me technically Gordon debuted in Season 1, I’ll change my answer to Traction Jackson. He’s a CGI kid in a wheelchair with a really positive attitude and a weird dog. I appreciate him a lot more in concept than in execution, especially when comparing 2004 CGI to 2019 CGI.

Notable Character Departure: As mentioned earlier, let’s all pour one out for Mel, Narf, Googel, and Phoebe, who will no longer be able to launch a salami out of a little salami cannon with the closure of Monster Clubhouse (folks, Monster Clubhouse was a weird segment). They’ll stick around as unnamed background puppets, of course. This is also the last time we’ll see Hero Guy, proving that Baby Bear for some reason never caught on as a breakout character (I always liked him a lot…).

Most Valuable Episode: Let me discuss something extremely positive about this season, and yes, it again involves Rosita, who has quickly become one of my favorite Muppets. That’s episode 4081, in which our favorite Monstrua de las Cuevas gets teased about her accent. She tries and fails to My Fair Lady herself (thanks to a character named Henry Piggins) and eventually decides she’ll just never talk again. Eventually, Gabi, Miles, Big Bird, and “Oscarito” teach her that everyone’s voice is different and important (but in Oscar’s opinion, they’re all annoying). It’s a really critical lesson that I wish the show would revisit more in today’s troubled world.

Best Celebrity Moment: In Episode 4060, Alan goes on vacation and is temporarily replaced by Natalie Portman. Portman is great. She’s always great in everything. Celebrities were a big part of this season, with each episode having a cold open where different stars would discuss their favorite Sesame Street memory. Reuben Studdard! Seth Green! Dennis Franz! The skies of 2004 were dark, because all the stars were on Sesame Street.

Musical Highlight: Speaking of 2004’s greatest stars, Norah Jones appears this season to sing “Don’t Know Y.” It’s a funny parody of a song that admittedly is a lot better than I ever gave it credit for being.

Most Valuable Muppet: Y’know what, Telly doesn’t get enough credit. The dude fell off his pogo stick this season and also helped Baby Bear write fanfic about his family. The least I can do is give him this award.

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by Evan G

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