Sesame Street: 50 in 50 – Season 9

Published: March 1, 2019
Categories: Feature, Reviews

Season 9 (November 28, 1977 – May 26, 1978)

You know dear Tough Pigs, it’s been a while since I’ve watched any old-school Sesame Street. Now, before you judge me super-harshly, stop reading and click through to some news about a Sesame Street fashion show or whatever other modern frivolity is on this site these days, let me tell you that I have remedied this grave situation! I have filled myself to the brim when it comes to 1977-78 Sesame Street and, quite frankly, it has been like coming home.

I chose to write about Season 9 for a reason. 1977 was the bombdiggidyest for culture. Star Wars was released, both Punk and Hip Hop broke as musical genres, and Sesame Street felt particularly relevant and pertinent. The cornerstone of the season is a 5 episode mega-event where our friends go to Hawaii to visit former series regular Buffy St. Marie.

This trip to Hawaii offered a fantastic chance for the show to showcase our beloved characters and the more substantial theme of cultural diversity in a rich and engaging microcosm. These episodes must have been difficult to shoot, on location and in the humid heat of Hawaii. Carol Spinney as Big Bird and Oscar and Jerry Nelson as Mr. Snuffleupagus are real troopers shooting in their giant costumes. They are off on a quest to find a mountain that looks like Sunffy, but do they succeed? Hey, you won’t get any 40-year-old spoilers from me!

I also want to highlight an incredibly refreshing sequence from the Hawaii episodes in which Buffy hangs out with a bunch of kids from the island and asks them where they’re from. We get to hear from kids that are Chinese/American, Hawaiian, Native American and more. It’s such a relaxed yet powerful depiction of the multiculturalism makes America truly great. Modern Sesame Street could benefit from more casual discussions of episodes that feature kids and families from different backgrounds, in the current cultural and political climate, it would be so, so welcomed.

Buffy St. Marie is herself, a marvel. A Canadian/American folk-singer who came up with such luminaries as Joni Mitchell, Lenord Cohen, and Neil Young, she is such a tremendous gift to a show like Sesame Street. Her musical numbers in this season are so wonderfully layered and nuanced but with a lyrical clarity that is perfect for kids. They remind me a lot of Joni Mitchell’s work, who was very inspired by her time with St. Marie. Having her on the show in the late seventies is nothing short of groundbreaking, so groundbreaking that I couldn’t even find a modern example of such a culturally relevant Native American singer that Sesame Street could have on the show in a current context. Maybe for Sesame Street’s next season they could again feature more Native American visibility and cast a regular to amend this.

Finally, I appreciate and miss the casual tone of the early seasons of Sesame Street. The rest of the human cast feels so relaxed with each other like they’re having real semi-improvised conversations. Watching highlights from season 9 reminded me just how great to grow up with these lovely people every morning.

Notable Character Debut: The Two-Headed Monster pops his heads out for the first time. And Alistair Cookie, Cookie Monster’s “Monsterpiece Theater” alter ego begins teaching kids about the classics.

Most Valuable Muppet (MVM): Snuffy, who got airlifted to Hawaii by a helicopter.

MVH (Most Valuable Human): Buffaaaaaaayyyyyyy! Have I written enough about how cool she is yet?

Classic Segment Debut: The Sign Cartoons debuted this season and taught an entire generation how to connect multi-syllabic words! I love bow-tie guy and miss him. Just me? OK!

Curriculum Focus: This season focused on multi-ethnic societies and multi-syllable words. That’s two whole words that start with multi for just one season!

Musical Highlight: “It Feels Good When You Sing A Song.” Bring that late-70’s smooth Sesame Funk David and Olivia. BRING IT!

Best Celebrity Moment: Madeline Kahn was a comedic genius, and we lost her too early in her life tragically to cancer. Here she is with Grover singing “Sing After Me,” one of the best songs from Sesame Street, period. Grover is mad-flirty in this clip, and it only makes it that much more charming.

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by Louie Pearlman

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