Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Brought to You by the Number 40

40 years of Sesame Street.

When I was a little guy back in the mid-late 70's, Sesame Street was a major part of the day. In fact, here in Canada, we got a double dose of it - I remember you could watch it on CBC and it had some animated sketches in French... then change the channel over to PBS when it was done, and you'd get the original American version (sometimes the same episode, sometimes a different one) with some animation voiceovers in Spanish instead.

Aside from those early second/third language lessons (which were a heck of a lot more entertaining and did a better job of sticking with me than that annoying and vaguely grotesque live action show with the hobo clown that TV Ontario used to run as a means of inflicting French on us little Anglophones), I'll credit to Sesame Street for helping to teach me (or at least positively reinforce) my letters and numbers and various factoids.

Over the years, the show's taken a lot of heat from people claiming that its short sketches have created a couple of generations of kids with the attention spans of fruit flies. But anyone who's ever watched a child become utterly absorbed in something they love or that's new knows this theory is bullshit. I wasn't effected by Sesame Street in this way in the least during my formative years, nor were any of the other kids I grew up with. The flashiness and rapid-fire pace of Sesame Street was offset by more sedate programs like Mr Dressup and Mr Rogers' Neighbourhood, not to mention life in general beyond the tube which included books. If there's a finger to be pointed for an alleged generational short attention span, it should be pointed squarely at parents who didn't make time to give their kids a little more variety in terms of viewing material or life experiences, or who didn't take time to bring home a couple of Richard Scarry or Doctor Seuss books from the library.

But getting back to the magic of Sesame Street, part of the attraction was the assortment of weird and colourful characters. My favourites were Kermit the Frog and Oscar the Grouch. Kermit had the personality, and as for Oscar, sure he was a bitch, but my imagination exploded whenever that green monster was doing a sketch as I tried to figure out what his secret home within the garbage can looked like. Mr Snuffleupagus was okay too, but I was always trying to figure out if he was some kind of freaky wooly mammoth with a tail, and any enjoyment I got at watching him heave his bulk around while wearing a top hat and singing was subdued a bit by the annoyance factor of Big Bird.

I'll tip my hat to the show's creators for their selection of human characters too. Sesame Street presented a neighbourhood full of people of different ethnic backgrounds and walks of life. I enjoyed watching Mr Hooper and Gordon and Maria interacting with the muppet characters. Others, like Bob (and I'll give him credit for being the frontman for the Children's Charity Lottery here in BC) were okay, but for some reason don't stand out in my memory as well.

And, of course, there were the special guests who would join certain episodes. Again, many of these are a blur (it's been a while since the 70's) but I do remember Buffy Sainte-Marie coming to the Sesame Street neighbourhood once, and appearing in the episode where they went to Hawaii.

I have to admit though, it wasn't the full episodes that really made a big impression on me so much as some of the individual sketches or songs. "C" is for "Cookie" by Cookie Monster is, of course a classic. Anything with Kermit was cool. I still remember the Ladybugs 12 song very distinctly. And an obscure one that has always stayed with me, especially because of its SF element, was The Lonely n Song.

Ultimately, the biggest role of Sesame Street, in my opinion, was that it laid much of the groundwork (in addition to the sketches on SNL that caught the eye of the adult audience) for Jim Henson to launch his work of genius, The Muppet Show. But November 10th is about Sesame Street, so rather than getting off track, I'll stick to giving the original program its due.

Happy 40th Anniversary, Sesame Street!

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