The following article is written by Muppet expert and ToughPigs pal Cameron Garrity. Thanks for all your hard work, Cam!
Growing up as a young Muppet fan, Sesame Street was always where I spent the majority of my time. Sure, I loved venturing into the Muppet Theater for some vaudeville, songs, and silliness at The Muppet Show. Muppet Babies was an exciting foray into imaginative playtime and ~classic cinema~. And, if only for two seasons, Muppets Tonight felt like a journey into how to make a TV show. …at least how I thought you make a TV show. I was 5 years old and Clifford seemed to know what he was doing.
But ‘The Street’ was the place I always returned to. The characters were vibrant and friendly, the comedic moments were funny and relatable, the air was sweet and only a magic carpet ride away. In all seriousness – I think, looking back, I was most enthralled by the community you’d find every episode. There were always new people to meet; be it Muppet, human, celebrity, or fellow-kid. You would really feel like you were welcomed to be a participant in all of the songs, games, and memorable moments.
In preparing to review season 48, I was nervous that I wouldn’t feel those feelings as I revisited that familiar boulevard. Setting aside the notion of “This-wasn’t-made-for-you-Cam”, I genuinely wasn’t sure if the content and vibe of the program was going to be a different viewing experience than my oh-so-fond memories. Color me delighted to feel right at home from the very first episode.
I love how many characters are in each episode. There’s such a strong ensemble at play, with different Muppets teaming up all the time. I guess I was expecting a lot of classic pairings: Elmo-and-Abby, Big Bird-and-Snuffy, or Bert-and-Ernie. But almost every Street story took time to carefully feature a slew of denizens – showing off their unique traits, while serving the larger story as well. Plus Honkers, AMs, and butterflies adding to the environment and realism of the location. To borrow from the take-away of season 40’s opening episode, Sesame Street is a habitat unto itself – and everyone has their place there.
A stand-out moment to me was episode 4815 when Galli Galli Sim Sim’s Chamki flies from India to Sesame Street to visit Big Bird. In a Frasier-esque series of confusion and misunderstandings, Elmo, Rosita, Cookie, and Grover think that Big Bird is expecting a bird to visit from India. Chamki arrives, but the furry-four don’t think to let Bird know (she’s not a bird, after all). A Big Bird-sized bird feeder is involved, all leading up to a Bollywood style dance finale. There’s something for everyone and someone from everywhere!
The days are still sunny on Sesame Street.
Notable Character Debut: From what I can tell, there aren’t any new Muppets this season, but there are Muppets who are new to our domestic Sesame Street. The Furchester Hotel’s Gonger joins the cast for Cookie Monster’s Foodie Truck (more on that below). He is so wonderfully performed by Warrick Brownlow-Pike and is a great partner to Cookie. I really love how animation effects are added to his movements when he cooks that make him almost a living cartoon – multiple hands appearing from a puff of smoke. Very Loony Tunes-y!
We also are visited by some international characters: Chamki, Lily from China’s Zhima Jie: Da Niao Kan Shijie, and Zuzu from South Africa’s Takalani Sesame. It’s hard to know whether or not kids will understand that these characters are actually imports from global co-productions or one-off characters a la the Anything Muppet of the day. But as a viewer in-the-know, it’s really exciting to see the proto-show demonstrate that Sesame really is the longest street in the world.
Notable Character Departure: Behind the scenes, this was the last season for Muppet performer Billy Barkhurst – best known for playing Ernie. I really enjoyed the work Barkhurst was doing with Ernie throughout season 48; the character was getting a lot more screen time and I really think he took advantage of those moments to capture Jim’s spirit and humor. While I think Peter Linz has done a phenomenal job these last two seasons, Barkhurst had really come into his own with the legendary character.
Most Valuable Muppet: It’s probably cheating to say “all of them,” but I really think we’re seeing the cast work effectively as an ensemble. A team of Muppets is always stronger than the sum of its parts – and that gets demonstrated in nearly episode.
If I had to pick though, I’d say Eric Jacobson really hit the ground running as he took over principal performing duties of Oscar the Grouch. He’s a funny, effective instigator who continues to be thoroughly conflicted by “Happy being miserable, but miserable being happy.” He has some really memorable moments, most especially episode 4828 “Oscar the Kind” where he’s afflicted by an illness called “kind-itis” that turns him into a good Samaritan who can’t stop rhyming a plethora of cutesy rhymes.
Most Valuable Human: I’m gonna give this one to Nina. She’s such a good sport when interacting with Sesame’s fuzzy denizens, taking every moment in stride. Major bonus points for being Zoe, Abby and Grover’s karate sensei in episode 4832 – now that’s dedication!
Most Valuable Episode: This season kicks off with everybody celebrating Thanksgiving (episode 4801) and it is totally delightful. Prairie Dawn is hosting a Sesame Street pageant. Rosita is learning to appreciate how her food traditions can find a place at the table. Big Bird is wearing a necktie. Definitely something worth having on the TV this Thanksgiving if you’re not into football or dog shows.
Other Notable Episodes: Sesame Street hosts an international food festival for episode 4816, which sees Rudy learning to try new dishes he wouldn’t otherwise have been exposed to. This is the show that features Chamki, Zuzu, and Lily and some stellar prop food from the Henson workshop. Cookie Monster also gets his fur covered in flan and other street foods, so naturally he’s attacked by a swarm of chickens – hysterical.
Bert and Ernie get into a pretty big fight in episode 4810. When he can’t find any peace and quiet so he can take a nap in the comfort of his own apartment, Bert discovers that he also can’t find peace and quiet in Hooper’s Store, Big Bird’s nest, or the roof of the community center. There’s a fun joke about the melody of Ernie’s trade-mark humming. And it turns out Big Bird may have super strength.
Classic Sketch Debut: Cookie Monster’s Foodie Truck rolled in for season 48. It’s a fun segment that does a really effective job showing off different cultures. When I was the target age for the show, I really loved when Sesame Street introduced us to other kids and their cultures; I was also a fan of Mr. Rogers’ ‘Picture Picture’ where we learned how different products were made. Foodie Truck is able to combine all of that and add a dash of Muppet zaniness; it’s a recipe for success!
Classic Song Debut: John Legend performs “Come Together” with Zoe, Cookie Monster, Grover, Big Bird, Elmo, Bert, Ernie, Rosita, and Abby. For my money, John Legend is one of the best musicians the show has ever had on. The song was also written by In the Height’s Bill Sherman and Hamilton’s Chris Jackson, so it has a lot going for it.
Curriculum Focus: This was Sesame Street’s second season of its kindness curriculum. It may seem redundant that the show that’s always showcased a cast of kind characters would make this a primary focus, but it absolutely works. Each script leans into lessons about mutual respect and understanding, helping kids to recognize similarities and celebrate their differences. Erm… does this show come in adult sizes too?
Musical Highlight: John Legend. John Legend. John Legend. ~swoon~
Best Celebrity Moment: I adored Kate McKinnon’s appearance as Mother Goose in Elmo’s Nursery Rhyme. She can stop by the Street anytime she wants – as Mother Goose or literally any other character. I also really liked Padma Lackshmi hosting a Top Chef parody that pitted Oscar, Prairie Dawn, Cookie Monster, and Elmo against each other – in the end, the audience was the clear winner.
WTF Moment: Bert in a yam sweet potato costume on the Thanksgiving episode. Just ridiculous.
One More Thing: Behind the scenes, this season was the first where Matt Vogel and Stephanie D’Abruzzo hosted Below the Frame, their Facebook Live series introducing fans to Muppet performers in their natural habitat – the Muppet lounge. The show’s first season featured segments like “Ask a Puppeteer About Something About Not Puppets” and “Can You Tell Us How You Got, Got to Sesame Street.” Keep your eyes peeled for an few appearances by ToughPigs’ own Joe Hennes! Such a gift to the fans.
Okay, One More Thing: Oscar’s kind-itis leads to suspect reactions from literally everyone he runs into. Even Chris throws some shade and I am living for it.
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by Cameron Garrity