Season 41 (September 27, 2010 – December 7, 2010)
By season 41, the Sesame Street writers had perfected the craft of running the whole street story up front, after years of the old method of spacing it out over the course of an hour. One great example of this is episode 4225, “A Team,” which packs a lot of silliness into its run time.
It’s often said that Sesame Street was designed to be fast-paced, but while classic-era Sesame went briskly from street scene to cartoon to Muppet sketch, the street scenes themselves tended to be paced fairly leisurely for the first few decades of the show. That’s assuredly not the case with “A Team.” This episode moves, and it’s one of the best of the modern era.
Within moments of the show’s opening, Elmo, Abby, and Telly meet Big A, played by Ryan Reynolds in a big blue letter A costume. He recruits them for his A Team, a benevolent vigilante group dedicated to solving people’s problems using a-words. If it seems surprising that the show would do a parody of a TV series that had been off the air for 22 years (and/or a recent movie that wasn’t exactly a smash hit), well, it’s not really a parody of The A-Team. There’s the logo and the expository narration, and Telly wears some Mr. T-style chains, but there are no shootouts or car chases, and Dirk Benedict never shows up. It’s all just an excuse to throw the characters into some wacky situations involving A-words.
All of it is enhanced by Ryan Reynolds’s completely straight-faced performance as Big A. This is a man (or a letter?) absolutely devoted to helping honest citizens using the letter A, and his deadpan demeanor contrasts nicely with all the weird A-related goings-on… and with his ridiculous costume.
It’s educational, too, of course! The letter A is always around, with the A Team’s solutions to their first two cases centering on an astronaut doing aerobics while saying the alphabet, and animals with allergies caused by apricots on their ankles. Christine Ferraro, who wrote this script, must have had an awful lot of fun coming up with these antics. A more boring educational preschool show might simply have a character say “Alligator starts with A,” but on Sesame Street we get Alan in an Afro being chased by an alligator! It’s awesome.
And that’s not even the highlight of the show! The A Team comes to the aid of Oscar, who is annoyed by two pigs playing a never-ending game of “Rock Paper Scissors” next to his trash can. (These are the same pigs, and this is the same hilarious joke – rod-hand pig puppets will always throw “paper” – from a previous episode three seasons ago!)
Big A is certain he has the answer: They must distract the pigs! Using an ape… dressed as an angel… singing about acorns.
The first time I saw this, I had to pause the episode because I couldn’t stop laughing. It’s not that this is any more outlandish than any of the previous A-word gags. There’s just something about the combination of the naturalistic design of the ape, the juxtaposition of the ape with the angel costume, the ape’s breathy, cracking falsetto voice, and the way the ape stares straight ahead, barely moving while sharing his gift of song. I believe I’ve heard at some point that the ape was performed by Matt Vogel, but whoever it was, they are a true artist.
It’s one of my all-time favorite things ever on Sesame Street. It’s amazing.
At this point, it doesn’t matter what else happens in the episode, although if you’re curious I’ll tell you that Abby figures out they can ask the pigs to stop, and then there’s a shootout and a car chase. Or maybe that was the other A-Team.
Notable Character Debut: Segi! Although she doesn’t have that name quite yet, her musical declaration of self-acceptance “I Love My Hair” brought some great attention to the show, including millions of YouTube views. How cool is it that a non-parody Sesame Street bit with none of the familiar Muppet characters was so enthusiastically embraced? If only that could happen more often.
Notable Segment Debut: “Super Grover 2.0,” in which our favorite furry superhero helps citizens in need using his super powers, which now correspond to the STEM curriculum. At the time, I thought it was odd that they gave this segment the somewhat unwieldy name “Super Grover 2.0” instead of “Super Grover Returns” or “New Adventures of Super Grover.”
My theories: a) They wanted to make it clear that this version of Super Grover uses scientifically sound methods to come up with solutions, rather than stumbling into them accidentally, or b) They wanted to make sure we fans didn’t get all worked up at seeing Super Grover in a new costume, showing more competence than usual. Not that there was any need to worry. Super Grover is as charmingly knuckleheaded as ever in these segments.
Most Valuable Muppet: Abby Cadabby, who continues to be a reliably sunny presence on the show. She frequently teams up with Elmo and Telly for street stories, and they make a good team.
Most Valuable Human: Chris is all over the street stories this season. He’s a good friend to Muppets and humans alike, facilitating a Rakhi holiday party for Leela and not even getting angry when scientists Rosita, Elmo and Telly barge into his bathroom while he’s in the tub.
Most Valuable Episode: Other than “A Team,” it’s probably 4216’s “Ironing Monster,” which finds Grover becoming the superhero of the laundromat by donning armor that resembles an iron – specifically, an iron with Grover’s eyes and nose on it. Naturally, he fails at everything and Leela has to step in. It’s a fun way to let Grover get up to his usual antics while also cashing in on the recent hit movie Iron Man. I’m still waiting for “Ironing Monster 2.”
Other Notable Episodes: In 4221, our old buddy Bert scours Sesame Street in search of a blue-bar pigeon. In 4231, we meet Chris’s twin sister, and Abby & Zoe try really hard to become twin sisters. And 4232 is a weird one, in which the street’s vegetable population protests their mistreatment – it turns out they’re tired of people not eating them. So Muppet vegetables actually like being devoured, chewed up and swallowed? Crazy.
Musical Highlight: “What I Am,” an ode to self-esteem featuring Will.i.am and a bunch of Muppets, has a good message and it’s easy to dance to. Although I just now noticed that Mr. i.am doesn’t look especially happy to be surrounded by Muppets. Maybe that’s just not what he is.
Classic Song Debut: Beyond “I Love My Hair,” there’s “I Wonder,” a simple, beautiful contemplation of how the world works that feels like it’s from the classic era of the show. Written by Molly Boylan and Adam Schlesinger and sung by Ernie, it’s so good it was nominated for an Emmy.
Best Celebrity Moment: It’s a blast to see This Is Spinal Tap star Michael McKean as a rock star in episode 4234. Oprah Winfrey voices the letter O hosting a talk show in an amusing animated segment. And if an astronaut counts as a celebrity, it’s hard to top Soichi Noguchi’s segments, which were actually recorded in space!
WTF Moment: There was one celebrity we infamously didn’t see this season. Katy Perry and Elmo taped a parody of her song “Hot ‘n Cold,” which was previewed on YouTube before the season aired. This prompted a slew of complaints about Perry’s dress, which many parents felt revealed too much up top. The song ended up getting cut from the show. It was a whole fiasco (which I wrote about at the time!).
One More Thing: Around the time this season was airing, I went on a first date. I soon learned that this woman was a teacher, and that she had fond memories of watching Sesame Street as a kid. On our second date, I brought her a DVD-R of recent Sesame Street episodes so she could see how the show had evolved, and evaluate it from an educator’s perspective. The disc included “A Team” and a few others. She liked the episodes — and long story short, now we’re married. Now, I’m not saying Sesame Street led directly to mine and Staci’s happy marriage… but I do know that “attraction” is an A-word.
Click here to sing about acorns on the Tough Pigs forum!
by Ryan Roe – Ryan@ToughPigs.com