Like millions of other families, the Strand family sat down to watch Sesame Street: Elmo’s Playdate last night. Let me start with the positive: I had a whole lot of fun watching my kids watch it, because they adored it.

My two kids are pretty much on opposite ends of Sesame Street’s target audience. Miles just turned 2, and is still working on pronouncing his own first name. Iris is 5 ½, and will be going to kindergarten in the fall if schools are open. They both love the show in its current form. Season 50 episodes keep them both engaged, which is no small feat. 

But man, it’s a much smaller feat than “Entertain the whole family.”

Elmo’s Playdate aired on six (6) (SIX!) TV networks last night. This was beloved TV institution Sesame Street stepping up to provide an Exciting New Special for this peculiar moment in history. It’s a chance for the show we all love to proudly stand up and say “Hey world, we’re still here. You can still trust us.” They could have put their best foot forward, and reminded us all why we loved it in the first place.

But they decided to put in minimal effort instead. Everything here is geared towards little kids. When we hear a honking sound, Elmo encourages us to do a silly dance. Elmo and Tracee Ellis Ross play “Elmo Says.” Elmo and Anne Hathaway lead us in a round of “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes.” Grover plays with the filters on his phone for a while, which is exactly what Iris does anytime we’re on video calls. My kids loved all that stuff.

I realize that Sesame Street is a show for small children, so I should be okay with this. And again, this is an impromptu special cobbled together from video calls. It was never going to be Don’t Eat the Pictures

To be fair to the performers, they give it their all. The celebrity guests seem happy to be there, and the Muppet performers appear to be having fun messing around together after all this time apart. In particular, there’s one scene of Abby and Rosita counting to ten in Spanish that’s fun, and it’s entirely due to the liveliness of Leslie Carrara-Rudolph and Carmen Osbahr.

The performers make the best of a tough situation, but the pandemic doesn’t affect the writing stage, and that’s where the special falls flat. There’s just nothing here. No jokes, no memorable character moments, no real charm. It’s just Muppets you probably recognize, churning out content for 25 minutes.

Here’s an example of how bland this thing is: One of the guests is Lin-Manuel Miranda, who seems ideal. He’s a brilliant and funny guy who has a long history with Sesame Street. He’s been on the show, he’s written songs for the show. He’s also a veteran Online Guy, someone who’s been doing videos for his Twitter and Instagram for years. His inherent charm always comes through in that format. When I heard he was going to be in this special, I was excited to see what he would do here.

Well, he just sings one verse of “Old McDonald Had a Farm” with Elmo and then logs off immediately. 

The whole thing is like that. No one will remember it in a week.

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by Anthony Strand

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