After forty-nine weeks and forty-nine seasons of Sesame Street, we’ve finally made it to the present day and season 50. We’ve seen the gang head for New Mexico and Hawaii, say goodbye to Mr. Hooper, watch Luis and Maria get married and have a child, take a trip to Telly’s Town, and saw Slimey head to space in the series’ final episode (but not really). We’ve even seen the show respond to the events of September 11th, 2001, create the genius of “beggon, red flips, and Bert,” and get special visits from cultural icons like Fred Rogers and Joe Hennes. (Would now be a good time to ask for a raise?)
So to mark the final season in the 50 in 50 project, I watched every episode aired in season 50 to date, sitting through a mind-numbing total of four episodes. (Tough, I know, but you folks are worth it.) And while I went through my mini-binge viewing, I asked myself the same question I asked all the way back in January when I reviewed season 1: What has made Sesame Street so endearing that it’s still going strong after all this time? Little did I know the show would hand me an answer as simple as 1-2-3.
First, it’s the characters. The world has fallen in love with Big Bird, Oscar the Grouch, Cookie Monster, Elmo, Abby Cadabby, Grover, Bert, Ernie, Rosita, and the rest. We’ll follow them on whatever journey they’re on. It’s the quality of the performers that make them so believable. The public outpouring of grief that came after the passing of Caroll Spinney is a testament to that. We fell in love with that bird and that Grouch because they were, at their core, very human characters. It helps drive the lessons home when kids have characters they can identify with.
Second, it’s the format. Having all these different segments allow kids to see different approaches to the same concept. Kids are not one size fits all, kids who learn in different ways can find an approach that suits them. It’s allowed for songs, spoofs, animations, short films, and more. No matter the attention span, there’s something they can latch onto. And while the structure may be more regimented and repetitive than it has been in the past, the roots we’ve seen in fifty seasons are still very visible.
And third, and most fittingly for season 50, is that it keeps on trying. The theme of this season is “Embracing the Power of Possibility.” The characters face everyday challenges, like baking a cake or getting dressed, and they make mistakes. They may want to give up, but they eventually re-focus and continue to try until they reach their goal. And in a way, Sesame Street has too. There have been changes big and small to the show over the years, but they still keep trying to find ways that reach new generations of children. Their research staff and writers keep re-inventing the show to keep it fresh and current, and that’s why the show has endured for half a century and is still going strong. And as long as change and effort remain a constant, Sesame Street will continue to endure for decades to come.
Notable Character Debut: While she isn’t set to appear on the show until February, Charlie will be the first new regular kid on the street in over twenty years. And let’s be honest, Sesame Street is nothing without kids. I’m hoping she sticks around for a good long while.
Notable Character Departure: As we learned last year, season 50 marks Caroll Spinney’s final vocal performances as Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch, and with his passing, it ensures that these will be his final appearances on the show. And having binged the four episodes on Sunday night, I literally started tearing up when I heard Oscar in the intro to episode 5003, because it sounded like Caroll’s voice. I’m going to miss him dearly, but I’m also grateful we still have a little more of his work to discover.
MVM (Most Valuable Muppet): It’s hard to gauge the value when we’re only four episodes into the season, but so far, Elmo’s really been the most valuable one so far. He may not always be the star, but thanks to Ryan Dillon, Elmo always has a strong performance. A background character that grew into one of the show’s biggest stars? That sounds like a perfect Muppet to close this honor out with.
MVH (Most Valuable Human): From offering to drive Big Bird cross-country in the season premiere to suddenly showing up back on Sesame Street in the second episode to celebrate her birthday, Nina may have proven she has superpowers… or just taught Big Bird how to drive and tossed him the keys to the truck. Either way, she has taken a very interesting turn in season 50.
MVE (Most Valuable Episode): While Charlie’s debut may ultimately overshadow this, the season premiere, episode 5001, sees Big Bird decide to head out on a cross-country trip to California to visit Little Bird, in the character’s triumphant return to the series. It may be a little while until we see Big Bird hanging around Hooper’s Store again, but he seems to be having a good time.
Other Notable Episodes: Well, let’s run them down so far. Episode 5002 sees Saturday Night Live’s Michael Che host a bake-off between Cookie Monster and Gonger against Alan and Grover. Episode 5003 has Grover, Rosita, and Cookie Monster fill in for the Three Little Pigs as they build a doghouse for Chris (to give as a gift for a dog, not a new residence for him), and episode 5004 centers on Elmo as he struggles to get dressed for some wintertime fun. He literally leaves his house in his underwear and is embarrassed. Meanwhile, when there’s no snow, he walks around naked all day. Explain that one to me.
Curriculum Focus: Teaching kids how to deal with challenges and how to develop tools to problem-solve, it’s all about “The Power of Possibility” in season 50. And they go after it a lot. It’s the focus of “Abby’s Amazing Adventures” and every street story so far.
Musical Highlight: “Here We Go” is such a great song that I don’t even care that it’s performed twice in the same episode. Here’s the version with ex-Moopet Dave Grohl!
Best Celebrity Moment: So far, it’s only been Grohl and Che, so I guess they split the honor by default!
WTF Moment: Episodes 5002 and 5003 both have “B” as the letter of the day, for “bake” and “build.” Twenty-six letters in the alphabet and you’re going back to “B” so soon?
One More Thing: In episode 5003, one of the Three Little Pigs asks Grover to fill in for the sick pigs, and he responds “Me? A piggy for a day?” And for a hardcore Muppet fan like me, that may be one of the best unintentional inside jokes they’ve ever done. Later in the episode, Cookie Monster takes down a failed doghouse attempt with a karate chop. Maybe it’s not so unintentional after all…
Okay, One More Thing: We did it! Fifty seasons in fifty weeks! Now all that’s left to do is wait for Season Stleventy. Holo-Bob awaits.
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by Matthew Soberman