I don’t know what happened. All I remember is wrapping up my interview for the “ToughPigs at 20” podcast, and feeling this strange pain and noticing a dart-shaped object stuck in my neck.and feeling very woozy. Then I woke up in this strange white cube with no windows or doors, with a parade of seemingly random people (and tutu-wearing gorillas) coming through with small vignettes about the very nature of reality and identity… wait, wrong place. I woke up chained to my laptop, which had a tab opened to my HBO Max account and a sticky note on the screen with a message that read:

“Dear Matthew,

Thank you for taking part in your annual Sesame Street special review. You know how we joked about you having to write it? Turns out it came out last month, so you have to write a review… like, now. Right now. Have fun!

Love, Joe, Ryan and Jarrod.”

So, another year, another special from the world of Sesame Street. Overall, it’s been a pretty solid run over the last five years, from an instant holiday classic to a whimsical salute to the many cultures that call New York home to a surprisingly fitting response to the turbulent year of 2020, so I’m honestly excited to see what’s new. And with many families adopting pets during COVID-19 quarantines, it’s probably important to have such a cultural powerhouse like Sesame Street do a fun primer on good ways to care for your pets in Furry Friends Forever: Elmo Gets a Puppy. But I have a small confession to make… I’ve never had a pet, nor have I ever wanted one. I’ve just always been awkward around animals. Mr. Skeffington, I’m not. But before you brand me a monster (and not the cute, furry kind), just know that I have no hatred of my fellow inhabitants of the animal kingdom. I believe that every pet deserves a loving home… just not mine. So if you’re someone who has a pet they adore, you might see this differently than me. But a streak is a streak, and thus, I’m your humble reviewer today.

WARNING: This review contains spoilers. I don’t know if those are good for pets, but I know they’re bad for folks who want to see this completely fresh. Consult your veterinarian before reading further.

As you may have guessed from the title, this animated special is our introduction to Tango, who eventually becomes Elmo’s puppy. But simply adopting this cute creature from the outset would make for a very quick special, wouldn’t it? So instead, Elmo and Grover discover Tango on a playdate (thanks to some reluctant help from Oscar the Grouch), and finding she doesn’t have an owner, set out for a pet adoption fair in the park to find her a new forever home. Along the way, they learn that dogs like doggie treats with Cookie Monster and that they need to be cleaned regularly with Abby Cadabby, where thanks to a mishap with some magic bubbles, we learn that Tango has some basic skills with a magic wand. But when they find they’ve come to the fair too late, the prophecy of the title is fulfilled, and Elmo and Tango are bound together in family.

And who wouldn’t want to adopt Tango? She’s adorable, loves to dance, can understand what monsters are saying, and may be somewhat adept in the magical arts. Tango is the total package! Never mind that Barkley hasn’t had an official home since Linda left Sesame Street, Tango is, as Will Smith once said, “the new hotness.” And with a third performance about a song about home, the special comes to a happy ending, even if Oscar isn’t too thrilled about it.

It’s… not a bad special, especially with a brisk 26-minute runtime, but it does leave me with some questions, the chief one being, “why animated?” I understood how it worked with The Monster at the End of this Story, reflecting the storybook look of the book that inspired it. But there’s really nothing in this special that couldn’t have been done with puppets on the Sesame Street set. Not that the animation’s bad, mind you, it still has a great deal of charm, even if the novelty has worn off, but we already know there’s a Tango puppet for season 52, so the choice to make the special animated comes off as slightly odd. While seeing traditional puppet characters (you know, the thing Sesame Street is known for) rendered in animation isn’t as jarring, seeing Tango go from animation to puppet form just feels off. It’s like these animated specials are a part of Sesame Street, but also separate from it. Perhaps the show is taking a cue from Marvel Studios and entering the multiverse. It could also be that my tranquilizer dart hasn’t completely worn off yet.

I suppose pet lovers will likely enjoy this more than me. To be fair, Tango is a cute dog, and the chemistry Elmo (and to a lesser extent, Grover) has with her is palpable. And if we should see her around Sesame Street, I’m totally fine with that. She’s energetic and fun, and could be involved in a lot of adventures. I just hope Elmo never forgets his first pet love, Dorothy. That fish has traveled between Sesame Street and Elmo’s World for decades, and she deserves a medal. Or a fresh scoop of gravel. Again, I’m not a pet person. Still, this is a pleasant enough introduction, and it is satisfying to see a pair like Elmo and Tango come together, wrapping up with Elmo giving her a tour of the home. (Sadly, we’re left to wonder if that tour includes the late night television studio just behind the kitchen.)

Click here to type “Matthew Soberman likes to kick puppies” on the ToughPigs forum!

by Matthew Soberman – Matthew@ToughPigs.com

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