Season 4 (November 13, 1972 – May 11, 1973)
Last week, Joe Hennes wrote about the many new human characters introduced in season 3 of Sesame Street. Season 4 features an even more radical change – a completely new Gordon. That’s right, our old friend Gordon has taken on a new form, moving from the larval Matt Robinson stage to the pupal Hal Miller stage.
In a couple more years, of course, Gordon will emerge from his cocoon as a beautiful, shiny-headed Roscoe Orman. In fifty seasons of Sesame Street, only one other major human character has ever been recast (see you in 17 years, Mr. Handford!). But it happened to Gordon twice, and today we’re going to look at what that says about Gordon.
We know *why* Gordon was recast, at least this first time. Matt Robinson decided to leave the show to focus on other screenwriting projects. So why didn’t Gordon just disappear? Susan, of course! Unlike Rafael, Molly, and other characters who vanished without mention, Gordon was happily married. Loretta Long wasn’t planning to leave the show, so they had to find a new Gordon.
It makes for some of the oddest viewing of any Sesame Street era. I’m sure Hal Miller is a perfectly nice fellow, and he’s a fine actor (he was quite good on several Law & Order episodes years later) but he just doesn’t seem like Gordon. Partially this is due to his run being so short (just two seasons), but also there’s a very real continuity between the Gordons on either side of him.
Even though Matt Robinson and Roscoe Orman don’t look very much alike, it’s easy to accept them as the same character. They have the same gentle nature with kids, the same charismatic delivery to the camera, and the same confidence when interacting with the other adult cast members. Gordon is absolutely a leader of the community, and you know it as soon as you see either of those actors. Gordon may have started shaving his head, but he’s recognizably the same person.
Hal Miller, frankly, isn’t. Suddenly Susan has a new husband, and he seems a lot more irritable than the old one. This Gordon doesn’t seem like the strong-yet-gentle Gordon we’ve come to know. When he shares a scene with Oscar in the season premiere, he seems kind of nervous about having to talk to the Grouch. In general, his speech is peppered with more “uh”s and “ah”s then the other Gordons, which makes him seems less confident.
Not all people need to confident and caring, of course, but Gordon does. He was the one who ushered us onto Sesame Street three years ago, and he’ll be our surrogate dad for decades to come. As viewers, we need to know that Gordon will always be there to guide us through whatever troubles come our way. Hal Miller’s version doesn’t seem to have much interest in doing that, which is why he couldn’t last.
But we’ll always have season 4, from that alternate universe where Gordon wasn’t our dad. He was just some guy we knew.
Notable Character Debut: The season premiere makes a big deal about introducing SAM the Robot (aka Super Automated Machine the Robot), but it also contains the first appearance of another Jerry Nelson character who lasted a whole lot longer – Count Von Count, seen here putting a hex on Bert.
Notable Character Departure: This season also saw the first, last, and only appearances of Kate, a middle-aged folk singer.
MVM (Most Valuable Muppet): It’s gotta be Oscar, who dominates the street stories this year. Among other antics, he envies a giant trash can, builds a hat rack, and imagines what Sesame Street would be like with no people on it.
MVH (Most Valuable Human): Susan, who does an admirable job of pretending she’s still married to Gordon.
MVE (Most Valuable Episode): Episode 0519, in which “Big Bird tries to fit a big bag of birdseed in a small bucket.” I’m certain that Big Bird learns a valuable lesson about volume.
Other Notable Episodes: The Theater of the Deaf performs a story about animals, Grover is afraid of Sam the Robot, and Luis buys a new hat. Maybe he can hang it on Oscar’s hat rack!
Classic Sketch Debut: Herry and John-John count to 20! The cutest!
Classic Song Debut: This season also saw the debut of Roosevelt Franklin Elementary School, which means we get to hear that amazing theme song for the first time.
Curriculum Focus: Muppet Wiki says “Season 4’s curriculum continues its introduction to Spanish language and culture from last season and attempt to teach youngsters positive social attitudes like kindness and generosity.” The latter goal might explain why they did so many Oscar stories. He needs to learn all that stuff!
Musical Highlight: Stevie Wonder hangs out for an entire episode, including performances of “Superstition” and his arrangement of the Sesame theme song. Forget “this season,” this is one of the musical highlights of the entire series.
Best Celebrity Moment: STEVIE WONDER. HANGS OUT. FOR AN ENTIRE EPISODE.
WTF Moment: Snuffy apparently drinks soapy water from a bucket. Why would he do that?!
One More Thing: 21-year-old Richard Hunt joins the cast as a performer this season. He doesn’t have any regular characters yet, but what a thrill to know that a legend has arrived.
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