Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Can you tell me how to get to Sesame Street?

Sesame Street was a part of my daily life from my earliest memories up until around the second grade. Grover, Big Bird, Cookie Monster, Bert, Ernie, and Oscar were all as real to me as my Mom and Dad and little sister. I have vivid memories of learning about vowels and numbers and punctuation from the likes of The Count and "real" people like Bob, Gordon, and Maria.

However, my love of Sesame Street was severely tested by one particular segment. It was a short segment which would run occasionally during the show. It was an animated story of the Fox and the Crow, which is an old Aesop's Fable. To say that it freaked me out would be an understatement. I would start crying and shaking and my heart would race uncontrollably. My poor Mom thought I was going to have a heart attack at the ripe old age of 5. There was no rhyme or reason to its inclusion in an episode. It wouldn't air for months, lulling me into a false sense of security...and then BAM!!! There was that creepy fox and crow back to give me nightmares. Thanks to the wonders of YouTube you can view this short video for yourself.

See? Isn't that creepy? I think today I find it even more terrifying. Anyway, I've gone off on a tangent here...

So as I was saying, I loved Sesame Street with a passion (minus The Fox and the Crow) until I was 6 or 7, and then I slowly began to grow out of it and moved on to other things. I would still see it occasionally as my younger sister continued to watch it, but after she got older and stopped watching I pretty much lost track of it.

When I was in high school I rediscovered the Muppets thanks to the release of The Muppet Christmas Carol. I started collecting all of the Muppet movies and shows (first on VHS, later on DVD), and occasionally a Sesame Street character would make an appearance in those movies or TV episodes and it would briefly remind me that I loved them as a kid. And of course the Elmo craze of the 1990's reminded me that Sesame Street was still on the air, and this new guy Elmo was the new king of the block apparently. Remember the Christmas frenzy for Tickle Me Elmo?

Anyway...fast forward 10 years. SpongeBob and Mickey Mouse Clubhouse are my daughter Hanna's favorite shows. She loves them. One morning after those shows are done, we are flipping through the channels and....wait! Hey! That's Big Bird! And he looks and sounds exactly the same as I remember him. Hanna was transfixed. We continued to watch the episode and she loved it. And I found that I really enjoyed it as well. Bob, Gordon, and Maria are all still there (and Gordon looks amazingly the same as he did when I was a kid). For the past few months we have been recording the show and watching it together in the evenings. There are of course new characters and cast members. But all of the old faces are still there as well. Some of the characters sound a little different now. Jim Henson passed away in 1990, and his Ernie and Kermit are missed (however Steve Whitmire does a perfectly fine job in the roles). The great Frank Oz retired from Muppeteering in 2000, so Eric Jacobson now provides the voices of Cookie Monster, Grover, and Bert. And remember how I said Big Bird sounded the same as he did when I was little? Well that's because Muppeteer Caroll Spinney has voiced and performed Big Bird (not to mention Oscar the Grouch) since 1969!

Sprinkled throughout the new episodes are segments from older shows that still have Henson performing Kermit and Ernie and Frank Oz performing his characters. I think it's great that they are still showing these older clips mixed in with the new stuff.

Sesame Street has been on TV continuously since 1969 and after 4800 episodes it is one of the longest running television programs in history. I get great satisfaction in seeing Hanna enjoy it as much as I did. With all of the terrible kids programming that has come and gone since I've been a youngster, there is something reassuring and comforting in the fact that Sesame Street is still the most popular children's show. I'm happy to say that after about 30 years Sesame Street is once again part of my daily routine.

But they better not bring back The Fox and the Crow.

Me, Bert, and Ernie back in the 1970's. Hanna and Elmo today.