In its 49th season, is Sesame Street the same show it was when I watched it as a toddler, lo those many years ago? The answer to that question is no. It would be impossible for the show to have stayed on the air this long without evolving with the times. Has some of the focus shifted to newer characters, and have some of my childhood favorites been phased out? The answers to those questions are yes and yes, respectively.
But as much as the show may have changed, when I look at season 49, I’m pleased to discover two things: It’s still funny, and it’s still full of Muppets.
Consider Episode 4903, in which Sesame Street teaches kids all about newspapers, an important dying medium. Abby and Big Bird give their local paper the title HEY! Sesame Street News! and every time they talk about it they shout the title and startle each other. As they assemble the premiere edition, Abby starts speaking in the rat-a-tat cadence of a newspaper reporter from a 1940s screwball comedy. When they ask Cookie Monster to be their reporter, he immediately asks about salary and benefits. And the paper’s front-page story involves Chris losing his belt buckle, which means if he lets go off his pants they’ll fall down.
All of these things made me chuckle. I’m certainly not going to claim that I have the most sophisticated sense of humor in the world, but it’s sure nice to know that after all these years, Sesame Street can still make me chuckle.
If you watch a handful of episodes, it’s also clear to see that the show remains committed to showcasing its large cast of Muppets. In recent years, the producers have commented on how kids can’t keep track of too many characters so they’ve had to reduce the number of core players. And it’s undeniable that Elmo, Abby and Cookie Monster have lots and lots of screentime.
But there’s no indication that they’ve forgotten about the rest of the gang. Bert and Ernie are prominently featured in a few street stories. Baby Bear has one about running a restaurant. Prairie Dawn makes several appearances. Herry, the Two-Headed Monster, Mr. Johnson, and Mrs. Crustworthy are all given moments here and there.
It’s not the same Sesame Street it’s been at various points throughout its history. But it’s really satisfying to see evidence that there are people working for this 49-year-old show who are fans of it, just like we are.
Notable Character Recast: This marks the first season of the TV show to feature Peter Linz performing Ernie. He’s really good at it!
MVM (Most Valuable Muppet): I’ll give it to the Two-Headed Monster. It’s always fun when he shows up.
MVH (Most Valuable Human): Alan remains a welcoming presence behind the counter at Hooper’s Store, and one time in this season a chicken sat on his head.
MVE (Most Valuable Episode): In Episode 4907, it’s New Year’s Eve on Sesame Street! Not to be confused with the Sesame Street New Year’s Eve special from the 1990s. This time, Telly has no fears about the impending calendar change… perhaps because he’s busy trying to keep Elmo awake.
Other Notable Episodes: In 4922, Oscar is forced to hang out in compost and recycling bins when his can goes missing. In 4933, Grover plays camp counselor in an attempt to show Elmo what to expect from summer camp. It includes a welcome callback to the old “Camp Wannagohoma” sketches. When he refers to the sound of bees buzzing as a flower’s cellphone ringing, the other monsters even get to go “NOOO, IT ISN’T!” like in the old sketches.
Notable Segment Debut: In the animated “Abby’s Amazing Adventures,” a talking basket named Basket teleports Abby and Rudy to various locations so they can explore the world and stuff. It’s a pretty trippy premise when you think about it. It’s pleasant enough, although it’s the kind of thing that feels a little more like Nick Jr. than it does traditional Sesame Street. And as a Muppet purist, I have to wonder if they could have done a similar segment using the puppets instead of cartoons of the puppets.
Curriculum Focus: “Learning Through Play.” Basically, the Sesame Muppets are learning about the people in their neighborhood by pretending to be those people, which explains why there are episodes about doctors, choreographers, musicians, mechanics, and photographers. Everything but haberdashers and whaling ship captains, really.
Musical Highlight: The “MacElmo” song from Episode 4904, in which Prairie Dawn directs a music video, is pretty catchy. Get loose like a goose! Do a jig like a pig!
Missed Opportunity: In Episode 4922, the Muppet kids hear a strange noise and become convinced it’s a dinosaur in the laundromat, despite the evidence against it. The punchline is that the noise was caused by Chris’s toy dinosaur rattling around in a dryer. But imagine my disappointment when that wasn’t followed by a Muppet dinosaur coming in to wash his clothes!
Best Celebrity Moment: Chance the Rapper proves he works well with Muppets in a sketch that finds him cast as the title character in a production of The Monster Who Loved Cookies. Also, Questlove has a delightful drum-based sketch with Grover.
WTF Moment: In a “Foodie Truck” segment, a kid asks Cookie Monster and Gonger to make stir-fry brussels sprouts. Come on. No kid wants brussels sprouts.
One More Thing: In Episode 4931, a grocery store employee offers the Count some garlic, and the Count does a take. As a scholar of Count von Count studies, I appreciate this piece of evidence in favor of the Count being a vampire.
Okay, One More Thing: I appreciate that the Muppet performers still bother to add little touches in the background, like butterflies flapping around the garden or an oyster doings its laundry in the laundromat.
Yet One More Additional Thing: When Chris explains newspapers to Abby and Big Bird, he says, “The stories that journalists write are about things that really happened.” Take that, Donald!
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by Ryan Roe – Ryan@ToughPigs.com