There are over 4,500 episodes of Sesame Street, many of which are primarily lost to the fans. We’re reviewing some of the best, strangest, and rarest episodes out there in our series Sesame Rewind!
There are several moments people point to as one of the “scariest” Sesame Street moments. Bert and Ernie visiting the pyramid. The “Crack Monster“. The Wicked Witch of the West. But there’s one you likely haven’t seen that blows them all out of the water.
Back in 2011, Muppet and Sesame writer Joe Bailey released his book “Memoirs of a Muppet Writer“. (If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it. It’s fascinating and entertaining and it’s all about Muppets. You can’t lose.) In the book, he recalls writing a segment featuring Frank Oz as a police officer. Not a Muppet performed by Frank Oz, but Frank himself in a rare on-screen role. For years we wondered about this “Officer Krupky” character, and recently we were able to see it.
And we were completely unprepared for what the next three minutes would hold.
The scene (from season 5’s episode #581) begins as Frank Oz, clad in a policeman’s uniform strolls onto Sesame Street. He stops in front of Hooper’s Store and asks Mr. Hooper to step outside for a moment. Mr. Hooper has a cordial smile on his face as Frank – in a very serious voice – says he’s here on official business.
He reaches into his jacket and pulls out a photo of Maria. The photo is in black and white, and Maria has a stern look on her face. It almost looks like a mug shot.
The officer says, “I’m looking for a dark Puerto Rican girl. Dark eyes, black curly hair. Have you seen this individual?”
Yes, that is verbatim how he describes her.
Mr. Hooper identifies the woman in the picture as Maria and confirms that she lives in the neighborhood, cooperating fully with the police force to the best of his ability. “Anything wrong, officer?,” he asks. Frank replies, “Official business. Can’t talk about it.” And he walks away.
There is no levity in this scene. No underlying music to lighten the mood. All we know is that this police officer is targeting a Puerto Rican woman and he refuses to explain why to the kindly old man who is doing everything he can to cooperate with the investigation. Already, the scene is full of tension.
Officer Frank continues walking down Sesame Street and pauses at the stoop of 123. Gordon is exiting, and Frank asks if he can ask him a few questions, “In the line of duty”. “I’m looking for a girl who lives around the neighborhood. Got black curly hair and dark eyes. She’s Puerto Rican. Her name’s Maria.” Gordon responds that he knows her and asks “What about it?” Frank ignores the question and asks in response, “She lives around here, then?”
Gordon seems to be getting a little irritated. He’s helping this police officer, but getting no information in return. He confirms that Maria lives at 123 Sesame Street and asks point blank what the problem is. Officer Frank counters it with a deadpan, “I can’t discuss that. It’s official business. Thank you.”
Gordon walks away exasperated (he practically rolls his eyes) as Maria exits down the stairs of 123, humming to herself. Her good mood is about to be ruined, as the police officer asks her to wait. He holds the photo next to Maria’s face and notes, “Black curly hair. Same mouth. Same nose. Dark eyes.”
Maria’s patience has already worn thin. She crosses her arms and asks, “Can I help you with something?” After a long pause, Frank asks, “Your name Maria?” Maria confirms. “You Puerto Rican?” Maria confirms again. “Good. I’ve been looking for you.” And he reaches into his jacket pocket.
I can honestly say, this is the most unsettling moment I’ve ever witnessed in Sesame Street history. The tension is thick, and this police officer seems to be targeting a young woman of color for reasons he refuses to reveal.
The tension doesn’t last much longer. Frank says, “I’m on official business. The guys down at the precinct house told me to come up here and find you to ask what this word means.” He then reveals a card with the Spanish word “BESO” written on it.
Maria laughs, and breathes a sigh of relief. She decides that it’s easier to show him what “BESO” means rather than tell him. She stands on the stoop, removes the police officer’s hat, grabs him by the tie, and plants a kiss on Frank Oz’s balding head, leaving a red lipstick mark. “Beso means kiss.” Off to the side, Mr. Hooper and Gordon laugh hysterically at the scene.
Frank then looks directly into the camera and says, “Why do I always get the mushy assignments?”
And that’s it. One quick joke, and all the tension built over the last few minutes is gone. And it feels like whiplash.
I have no idea how this scene might’ve gone over in 1974. Maybe it was so commonplace that a police officer might be asking questions about a person with a specific heritage or skin color that it didn’t raise any flags. But in this era, 46 years later, the whole thing is beyond unsettling. Racial profiling, abuse of power, potential threats, and the possibility of unwanted sexual advances are all on display, and it’s impossible to see this scene with any other lens in this day and age.
Thankfully, we’re treated to a moment at the end of the episode that shows that there are no hard feelings after the officer’s threatening appearance. While the sponsors are being read, Officer Frank walks through the courtyard watching the children play. He pushes one of them on the tire swing and greets Mr. Hooper. In a surprising move, he buys a newspaper and actually pays Mr. Hooper – a rarity for anyone shopping at Hooper’s Store!
I’m sure glad Maria is safe and secure in the end, and I hope that the local police department has found better tactics for those “mushy assignments”.
Click here to kiss a cop on the ToughPigs forum!
by Joe Hennes – Joe@ToughPigs.com