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!
Back in the 1970s (and in recent installments of this series), Sesame Street Muppets loved to run for President. But now it’s 1981, and one Muppet is looking to enter politics a little bit closer to home. In episode 1562, Oscar the Grouch decides to run for Mayor. Will he win the election? Or is it a bad idea for a selfish grouch to run for political office? Let’s find out!
When we first see Oscar, he’s busy angrily writing a letter to the city. He’s mad because trash pickup is so early that he didn’t get to enjoy that day’s yucky trash before it was hauled off. He wants to send this letter “Right to the top! To the big enchilada!” but he has no idea who that is.
Gordon asks a group of kids who’s in charge of the city, and they all say “The Mayor!” without hesitation. Every single kid knows more than Oscar does, so Gordon explains to him that “the Mayor runs everything – the trash pickup, the police department, fire department, subways, buses, everything.”
Enraged by this, Oscar yells “So it’s his fault! Who put him in charge, anyway?!” Gordon and the kids explain what voting is, using the example of “Do you want to stay here with Oscar or go to Hooper’s and get some apples?” Getting apples wins 5-2, because of course most kids would rather have an apple than hang out with Oscar.
But this gives Oscar an idea. Having discovered that the Mayor exists, Oscar decides that he could do a better job. (Note: This is exactly what happened when the host of TV’s The Apprentice found out about the presidency in the mid-2010s.) He asks aloud, “If I could get enough people to vote for me instead of that turkey who picked up my trash, I could be Mayor?”
Oscar continues his gleeful exclamation: “Then I’m running for Mayor starting now! When I’m Mayor, I’ll see to it that the trash isn’t picked up at all, ever! The streets will be a mess! New York’ll be my kinda town! I can hardly wait!” He excitedly crumples up his letter and throws it on the ground, adding “Now I’m doing my part! It’s a beginning! Isn’t that beautiful? Hey! Oscar for Mayor!”
I made a joke about Trump earlier, but it really is remarkable how much Oscar feels like our current President here. He decides to become Mayor only to serve his own selfish needs, and to stroke his own grouchy ego. The parallels are impossible to miss, in a way that becomes even clearer later.
Back to the story: Oscar hires Telly as his campaign manager, and Telly advises him that he needs to be nice. This scene has a really funny moment where Oscar tells Mr. Macintosh “I want to be Mayor, and you better vote for me OR ELSE.” Mr. Macintosh says “That’ll be the day. The nerve!”
So Telly offers to teach Oscar how to be nice. Oscar is horrified by the idea, but reluctantly agrees. He tries it out on Gordon, and his delivery is so dripping with sarcasm, he can’t even finish the statement. He tries it out again on David, and David says “Oscar, are you okay? Got a fever or something?” Then he tries to kiss Linda’s baby niece. He’s trying so hard to prove that he’s a nice guy and a man of the people, even though he hates all of them and hates interacting with them. It’s not quite an insincere photo op holding a Bible, but man, it isn’t far off.
Next, a grouch comes by and Oscar is nice to her. She is horrified. She screeches “You gotta be kiddin’! What kind of grouch are you, actin’ so nicey-nice! I’m not votin’ for you! Get lost!” That’s right, Oscar alienates his actual base by trying to behave like a civil person. After that, he takes the gloves off, declaring “I’m gonna start acting like myself! Win or lose, loveable old Oscar!” He then insults Willy’s beard, and Willy does this incredible take to the camera:
Next we see Oscar’s staggering TV ad, featuring Oscar’s narration “Yes, this city is a mess. But it’s not enough of a mess. Vote for me and the Big Apple will become the Rotten Apple. A vote for Oscar is a vote for trash. Paid for by the Vote for Oscar or Else Committee.” Meanwhile, he plays a series of pranks on Sesame Street residents. Oscar isn’t shy about his intention to bully and belittle his constituents. He puts it right out there for everyone to see.
As he shuts off the TV, David says “That commercial is incredible.” He can’t even process that this campaign is really happening.
Next, we see Oscar driving his Sloppy Jalopy around yelling things like “Throw your vote away on Oscar! Vote for trash!” Gordon asks the kids what the city would be like if Oscar were Mayor. The kids say things like no A/C on the buses, garbage in the seats, and the city would be “just one big pile of trash.” One hero, named Jessica simply says “It would be dumb.”
Yes it would, Jessica. Yes it would.
Gordon asks who would vote for Oscar, and no one raises their hand because the children truly are our future. The adults are less steadfast, as we see at Oscar’s rally. Former Never Oscarers like Willy and Mr. Macintosh are holding signs at the rally, which is genuinely startling to me. Meanwhile, Oscar and some other grouches sing “O is for Oscar” to the tune of “C is for Cookie.”
While Oscar is out campaigning, his Mayoral dream comes crashing to an end. David points out that “When you become Mayor, you’re gonna have to ride around in a big shiny limousine. You’re not gonna be able to live in a trash can. You’ll have to meet, greet, and speak to hundreds of people every day.”
That’s enough to drive Oscar away. He continues driving his car, now yelling “Do not vote for Oscar! He does not want to be Mayor! Don’t vote for Oscar!” He clearly has no interest in the job, so he decides not to run for it. No ego boost is worth having to do the actual job of governing.
Donald Trump didn’t learn that lesson, of course. He’s still out there making a big mess of the country to benefit only himself. But what a wild ride it’s been to go back and watch these three episodes of Classic Sesame Street that all have the same lesson: “If you’re going to be selfish, you shouldn’t be a leader.”
It seems so obvious when Sesame Street says it.
Click here to yell “Oh what a mess we’re making! What a campaign!” at your Oscar for Mayor rally on the Tough Pigs Forum.
by Anthony Strand