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!
Why should we be kind to our fellow humans? It’s a question philosophers and theologians have pondered for ages. Some suggest it’s a wise idea to be good because it makes us more appealing to potential friends and mates who might bring us happiness. Many religions teach that performing good deeds secures our place in a happy afterlife. There are also those who believe that we have a moral imperative – that doing the right thing is simply the right thing to do.
In Sesame Street Episode 578 from season 5 in 1974, Oscar the Grouch discovers a new reason to do good, a reason never considered by Plato, Immanuel Kant, or the Buddha: To get rid of an ugly nose planted on his face by a vindictive witch.
As the episode opens, Oscar announces to us that he’s going to be rotten today. (What else is new?) When an old lady Muppet wanders by his trash can, he squirts her with a water pistol. Understandably, she reacts with anger, and Oscar says, “Don’t take it personally! I’m just bein’ rotten!”
(Side note: Does that sound familiar? Oscar just predicted all the lazy, unfunny comedians of our time who tell offensive, “shocking” “jokes” and then hide behind the “They’re just jokes!” defense when they’re called out!)
But the old lady’s not letting this go. She reveals herself to be the Wicked Witch of the South Bronx, and she casts an evil spell, which involves her spelling out the word “EVIL,” and I should mention that I just this second got that joke.
There’s a puff of smoke, and when it clears, Oscar has a large human nose on his face! It’s quite a schnoz, a “terrible nose,” as he describes it, and he’s not wrong. Some people pay thousands of dollars for nose jobs, but the results of this procedure are not flattering.
The witch tells Oscar there’s only one way to break the spell and eliminate the nose: He has to do something nice. For your average prankster, this wouldn’t be such a big deal, but for Oscar, this is a HUGE predicament.
Surely he can bring himself to do one nice thing, right? After some inserts, we get our first clue as to the answer: Oscar has invited two kids over to his trash can to play “Here Are Some Things.” But he yells for the music to stop as soon as it starts, and tells the kids they can’t figure out the game anyway so forget it.
Fortunately, the game isn’t a complete bust, because Gordon witnesses this travesty and swoops in to play the game the correct way. (The answer, for the record, is that a dish of ice cream belongs with the other three desserts, because you can eat it, and you can’t eat a teddy bear). If Gordon had been cursed with an extraneous body part, he would have no problem getting rid of it.
In this scenario, we see Oscar trying to emulate the kind of friendly act he observes his neighbors doing. The concept of being nice is so foreign to him that he can only try to recreate something he thinks nice people do. He fails.
Later, Oscar offers to help SAM the Robot by oiling his moving parts. That seems like a nice thing to do! Then Oscar notices that SAM’s brakes are exposed, and realizes that it would be funny to oil the brakes so SAM can’t stop. SAM crashes offscreen, and Oscar notes that he’s going to have to keep the nose for a while… but it’s worth it!
This guy is incorrigible. In this scenario, Oscar is faced with the perfect opportunity to do something nice, but instead he goes out of his way to do something mean, even though he knows he’ll still have to carry his burden. He fails again. This episode should definitely be taught in philosophy classes. The nose is clearly a metaphor for the conscience, or guilt, or the judgment of others. That’s pretty heavy for an episode of television that also teaches that H is the first letter in the word “hello.”
Oscar gets a little closer to breaking the spell in the next scene. Maria is annoyed because she just bought a new record and it’s scratched. A vinyl record? Such a hipster, that Maria. Oscar has a bright idea: When Maria steps away, he rubs sandpaper on the record to get the scratch out. And it works! He successfully removes the scratch… and the grooves… and the label. His attempt at LP repair renders the record unreturnable, and Maria and David yell at him a lot. David is especially emphatic: “That’s TERRIBLE! You better STRAIGHTEN UP, man!” The nose remains.
In this scenario, Oscar genuinely thought he was doing something that would be perceived as nice. And yet, not only does it not free him of the nose, it makes him the recipient of anger and scolding. He fails once again. This scene might be the key to why Oscar continued to be rotten after this episode. He’s getting no evidence that being nice is rewarding.
By the time Susan comes home from work, Gordon, David, and Maria have been clued in on the origins of the nose. When Susan, exhausted from her long day, wishes somebody would be nice enough to ask her how she’s feeling, her friends bring her to the trash can, where David repeats her sentiment, loud enough for Oscar to hear (and possibly to deafen Susan).
Oscar pops out and sweetly asks Susan how she’s feeling. And poof, his nose is gone! He’s relieved, but he doesn’t spend much time celebrating. He’s right back to complaining: “It wasn’t easy being nice! It was awful! It was terrible! Yuck! From now on, I’m gonna be rotten! And I’m gonna start this way!” He sprays the humans with his water pistol. And poof, his nose comes back!
In the final scene, Oscar laments that he looks like the boxer Primo Carnera, a reference I didn’t understand, and which I assume 0% of the children at home in 1974 understood, which is excellent. Oscar is running out of time to do something nice, so he tries saying goodbye to the audience. Unfortunately, he can’t bring himself to read the sponsors in a nice way, so as we head into the “funky chimes” song, he remains stuck with the nose. Presumably he found a way to get rid of the offending protuberance between this episode and the next one he appears in, but I can’t imagine how. Being nice on purpose is nearly impossible for him.
Among the many philosophical questions raised by this episode is that of intent. Oscar wants to do something nice, but not because he really wants to do something nice. He’s only doing something nice because he has to. Does it really count as “doing something nice?” It may be that the witch hoped the experience would put Oscar on the path to appreciating the pleasure of doing good deeds – in which case, she doesn’t know Oscar very well.
I also have questions about the nose itself. Is it purely a physical attachment to Oscar’s face, or is it functional? Presumably he has his own olfactory sensors somewhere under all that grimy fur. Is the magic nose now an extension of his “real nose?” Can he smell through it? Can he sneeze through it? Most importantly, could he flare those nostrils? Sadly, the Sesame Street writers leave us hanging, so the answer to all these questions is simply: Nobody nose.
Say, all this talk about Oscar trying to be nice reminds me of another pressing question. Keep an eye on this website later this week for more on that!
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by Ryan Roe – Ryan@ToughPigs.com