Season 44 (September 16, 2013 – March 20, 2014)

Most long-running TV shows peak early. The Golden Age of The Simpsons was the 1990s. Every subsequent Saturday Night Live cast has trouble living up to the original. The Today Show has been going downhill since they dropped the chimpanzee. That’s just how it works for most TV shows. They establish their legacy and then spend decades living in its shadow.

But not Sesame Street. Sesame Street reaches its peak right here in season 44, in an episode 4414, called “The Wild Brunch.” It’s the most perfect example of Sesame Street ever made. Here’s what happens:

When Chris calls in sick, Alan just straight-up asks Snuffy to work at Hooper’s Store that day. A zookeeper played by Audra McDonald brings her animals to the store for brunch. Snuffy takes their orders, but he keeps forgetting them, so he develops a strategy to remember what each animal gets for brunch. 

All of that sounds like a typical 2010s-era street story. But this strategy is absolutely bonkers. Let’s look at it in depth.

  1. The tiger orders bacon and eggs. Snuffy calls this “Beggon” because the tiger has stripes, and bacon has stripes, and also the tiger wanted eggs.
  2. The monkey orders raspberry pancakes. Snuffy calls this “Red Flips” because pancakes are flipped and monkeys do flips too, and also raspberries are red.
  3. The penguin orders blueberry oatmeal. Snuffy calls this “Bert” because Bert likes oatmeal and Bert starts with B, and also B is for blueberry.

This strategy works *perfectly.* Snuffy wanders away muttering “Beggon, Red Flips, and Bert” and then comes back with everything exactly right. It teaches kids the greatest lesson of all – when you need to remember something, associate it with some impenetrable nonsense. It’s a brilliant lesson, and the show’s presentation has never been more audacious.

Audra McDonald has won six Tony Awards, but she should have won a 7th for this episode (which was shot on a stage in New York City, so I say it counts). She gets to display a rollercoaster of emotions. She excitedly identifies Snuffy as a Snuffleupagus, and she gleefully explains that she loves taking the animals on outings. But when the orders don’t come right away, she frantically tries to get the animals to calm down. She leads them in zoo songs, and she nearly breaks down reminding them to be patient. I don’t use the word “tour de force” often, but that’s what her performance is.

When I first saw this episode, my wife Rosalynn and I were expecting our first child. I proclaimed at the time that “Beggon, Red Flips, and Bert” would be the first sound she ever heard, because I love this episode so much. I also knew that season 44 would hold a special place in our hearts forever, so we had to commemorate it permanently.

So we got the official Season 44 crew football jersey, and we both wear it every single day. Our lives are a testament to this episode, the best thing ever to air on Sesame Street and also the best thing ever to happen on Earth.

Notable Character Debut: Mando, an enthusiastic young writer played by Ismael Crúz Cordova. He’s treated like the new human star this season, but don’t get used to him.

Notable Departures: This season features Jerry Nelson’s final work on Sesame Street. He had died in July 2012, more than a year before this season aired. But here’s the Count, hanging out with a parrot and singing a terrible song with the band Train. What a joy to see these last performances. Rest in Peace Mr. Nelson, a pro to the end. We also see Kevin Clash’s last work as Elmo and Steve Whitmire’s last work as Ernie.

MVM (Most Valuable Muppet): Elmo, but not for the reasons you might think. Ryan Dillon takes over from Kevin Clash, and it’s the most seamless recast in Muppet history. Elmo acts and sounds exactly the same as he did for the previous 25 years. It’s astonishing!

MVH (Most Valuable Human): If it’s between seasons 39 and 45, the most valuable human is Leela. That’s just objectively true.

MVE (Most Valuable Episode): Truly the most valuable of all life experiences, Episode 4414.

Other Notable Episodes: In addition to the Jerry Nelson/Count tribute episode, we have a lovely visit from Rosita’s abuela. Also Zoe’s pet rock gets married.

Best Celebrity Moment: Word of the Day highlights include Buffy Summers herself and Lorelai Gilmore herself, Sarah Michelle Gellar and Lauren Graham. What a delight to see those icons on Sesame Street!

Classic Sketch Debut: Cookie’s Crumby Pictures, which are a shameless attempt at clickbait but are also extremely entertaining. They can be two things!

Curriculum Focus: The main focus of this season was “self-regulation and executive functioning skills.” Sure! Why not?

Musical Highlight: Australian pop singer (and star of the excellent movie The Sapphires) Jessica Mauboy stops by to perform the insanely catchy “Five Kangaroos.”

One More Thing: As Muppet Wiki explains: “Beginning this season, the episodes are numbered in a seasonal order rather than the chronological, numerical fashion employed since the show began. For example, Episode 4401 is actually the 4328th episode overall.” That’s bugged me ever since, and it will probably never stop bugging me. It was so nice that we always knew at a glance how many episodes of Sesame Street there were!

Okay, One More Thing: I’m a grown man, I should get over it.

Click here to order Beggon, Red Flips, and Bert on the Tough Pigs Forum!

by Anthony Strand

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