Through all of 2019, ToughPigs celebrated Sesame Street‘s 50th anniversary with “50 in 50”, an epic year-long project in which we reviewed every season of the show. We had a blast diving deep into Sesame’s history – both distant and recent – and we decided that we really like the idea of writing about Sesame Street every week, so why not keep the party going?
Unfortunately, there aren’t 50 more seasons to discuss, but there are over 4,500 episodes out there, many of which are primarily lost to the fans. So we decided to review a few of the best, strangest, and rarest episodes out there in our new Sesame Rewind series! We covertly began the series back in June with our two-part review of the lost “Out to Lunch” special, featuring the crossover casts of Sesame Street and The Electric Company. It doesn’t get much more rare than that, with a few exceptions, notably the holy grail of Sesame Street.
The Wicked Witch episode.
Episode #0847 is infamous for having aired once in 1976, and then immediately put into the vault never to be seen again. Angry parents wrote letters claiming that the episode frightened their children to tears. The terrifying nature of an evil villain on Sesame Street was too much for a preschool series. Wiccans rightfully complained about the perpetuation of the negative stereotype of witches. But throughout it all, a mystery was formed and Muppet fans everywhere hoped that one day they’d be able to see it for themselves.
I’m pleased to report that we have seen the Wicked Witch episode in its entirety. It exists, and it is insane. Unfortunately, we have been sworn to keep the video to ourselves. (I suspect several of you will be writing to ask for a copy of the video, and I’m telling you now: I can’t help you.) But we are able to tell you what we saw, complete with photos. As much as I love seeing these rare Muppet productions for myself, it’s rarely worth it if I’m not able to share with my fellow Muppet fans, and I plan to share as much as I’m able.
The episode begins during a blustery day on Sesame Street. David comes out from Hooper’s Store to… look at the wind, I guess? “Something must be going on up there with the weather,” he observes astutely. He admits there’s something spooky about it. And then he notices that something is falling from the sky, and it’s coming fast.
David ducks and (in a legitimately impressive move by Northern Calloway) catches a falling broomstick with one hand. The wind immediately stops, and David claims “Never look a gift broom in the mouth,” as he uses it to start sweeping up the garbage in front of the store.
Suddenly, a few electric guitar chords play as the Wicked Witch of the West appears from behind Hooper’s Store. She recounts that the wind blew the broom out from under her, and now she’s not in Oz anymore – she must be over the rainbow! She sees David with her broom and she marches over to demand it back from him.
David and the Witch begin bickering – David tells her to be more careful with it, and that it almost knocked him over. The Witch doesn’t care and just wants her property back. David refuses to give her the broom until she shows him a little respect. The Witch grabs it from him, and there’s a disturbing (and, in modern terms, cheap-looking) video effect that makes it seem like the Witch is being electrocuted. It seems that she forgot the arbitrary rule that she can’t touch the broom while someone else is holding on to it. Curses! With a twirl of her cape, the Witch promises sweet, sweet vengeance until she gets her broom back, and promptly disappears.
David returns to Hooper’s Store and recounts the story of meeting the Witch to Maria and a couple kids. And he 100% sounds like a crazy person. Maria reacts condescendingly as the Wicked Witch teleports in with a puff of smoke, proving him right. Despite being spooked by the Witch and already having seen her use magic twice, David still refuses to give her the broom until she shows him some respect. Maria suggests ignoring her and asks David for a glass of water. The Witch takes this cue to give Maria exactly what she asks for, and makes it rain inside Hooper’s Store, but not before disappearing once again.
Of course, if you’ve seen The Wizard of Oz, you’d recognize how baffling it is that the Witch might invoke the one thing that could kill her: water. Maybe her sister – The Wicked Witch of the East – was the smart one.
As David and Maria leave Hooper’s Store to get dry, Big Bird shows up to get a warning that there’s a Witch on Sesame Street. “You have a very strong imagination,” Big Bird tells David ironically, not remembering all those times David didn’t believe there was a Snuffleupagus. David suggests that Big Bird stay in his nest to avoid the Witch, but Big Bird is a brave bird, and he wants to help. If he’s going to fight a witch, he’ll need a weapon, like a stick. Maybe like the stick David is holding! Big Bird grabs the broom, and the Wicked Witch reappears. Big Bird nonchalantly tells David that he has a customer.
The Witch demands that Big Bird hand the broom over, but David and Maria warn him not to do it. The Witch tries to grab it again, and once again gets electrocuted. She then begins her threats. She says that Hooper’s Store will be more than just wet when she’s through with it, insinuating that I guess she’ll raze it to the ground? And she’ll use her magic to turn David into a basketball (I guess Oz has its own NBA team?).
As for Big Bird, she manifests a yellow feather duster and threatens to turn him into one, even though she has a perfectly good one in her hand already.
The Witch pauses in front of Oscar’s trash can to reassess her situation. As she recalls her failed attempts at intimidating David, Maria, and Big Bird, Oscar peers through his can and eavesdrops. He pops out and tells her, “You know something? You have got to be the most beautiful person I have ever seen! I think I’m in love!” The Witch seems to be flattered for a moment, and then formulates a plan.
She intends to disguise herself, and she speaks some magic words: “Days and nights all filled with gloom, I’m not a witch until I get back my broom!” With a puff of smoke, the Witch is gone and in her place is an old woman who looks remarkably like Margaret Hamilton!
Big Bird stands guard in front of Hooper’s Store, armed with a baseball bat in one hand and a hockey stick in the other. I guess his plan is to bash the Witch’s head in?? “No Wicked Witch is gonna get past me! No siree, I’m on guard!” The old woman arrives and Big Bird doesn’t hesitate to let her in. “There’s a nice lady coming in as a customer, David. Now, where’s that Witch? I’ll fix her.”
The old woman sits at the counter, and David and Maria fill her in on the existence of a Witch on Sesame Street. It doesn’t faze them at all to see how unfazed the woman is at this news, which should’ve been a big red flag. When David brings out the broom, the old woman asks if she can hold it, “just to feel what it feels like.” David tries to hand it to her, but she flinches and asks him to put it down on the counter first.
I’m pleased to report that David is not an idiot. He pulls Maria aside and tells her that he suspects the old woman is the Witch. But don’t worry, he has a plan. I mean, it’s not much of a plan, but I guess technically it falls into that category. He tells the woman that the Witch was nasty to him, but the old lady that he knows she wouldn’t be so mean, and if she wanted to hold the broom then she could ask nicely. After an uncomfortably long moment of the woman stammering over her words, she asks if David would please let her hold the broom.
David gladly puts the broom down on the counter as the woman grabs hold of the broom and transforms back into the Witch with a flash. David cowers in fear and asks what she’s going to do, and the Witch reveals that she’s going to fly back to Oz as fast as lightning and never come back to Sesame Street again.
David, Maria, and Big Birdbid farewell to the Witch – David is glad to see her go, but Big Bird thinks it was pretty exciting. Perhaps he liked wielding that baseball bat a little too much?
They watch as the Witch flies off, and we see her riding her broom through the clouds. Ecstatic to be away from Sesame Street, the Witch gets cocky. “Look! No hands!” she says as the broom once again flies out from underneath her.
So the question of the day is: Did this episode deserve to be retired after only one airing? As much as I hate to admit the necessity of a “vault”, yes. The Wicked Witch is pretty scary due to all of her threats, her evil laugh, her dastardly look, and all those electrocutions. I can totally see how kids would see that and think that Sesame Street is on some level unsafe.
But it goes beyond just the spookiness of the Wicked Witch. The episode also doesn’t feel particularly educational, which I guess is important for a preschool series or whatever. It seems that the overall lesson is about respect, and that David wants to be treated like a human being with dignity. I suppose this isn’t the worst lesson for kids to learn, but it gets clouded among the Witch’s villainy. Plus the episode feels the need to recap the plot several times over, which probably means that the show is too complicated for a preschooler to follow, leading to too much wasted screen time.
Okay, so it’s not a particularly successful Sesame Street episode. But was it fun? Heck yeah it was. Sesame doesn’t often get visits from bona fide villains, and it’s bonkers to see how everyone reacts to the alien situation. Big Bird becomes potentially violent, David goes into panic mode, Maria suggests sacrificing dignity to be rid of the Witch, and Oscar falls in love.
On top of that, it’s interesting to see how franchises mix. The show has been visited by Mr. Rogers, the Star Wars droids, and Wayne Campbell (among many others), and every time it’s fascinating to see how their worlds clash or compliment with Sesame Street. Seeing one of the stars of The Wizard of Oz interact with Big Bird in full green makeup and complete dedication to the character is jarring, bizarre, and wholly entertaining.
Sadly, it seems that this episode may remain in the vault for good. We’ll hold out hope that someone may someday find it in their hearts to reintroduce it to the public, but for now the Wicked Witch remains in Oz, and Sesame Street continues to be witch-free. That is, unless a certain broom falls from the sky…
Click here to fall in love with a witch on the ToughPigs forum!
by Joe Hennes – Joe@ToughPigs.com