Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Hidden Wit of Sesame Street

I came into the world at around the same time that Sesame Street did, so it is definitely one of the television shows I remember most strongly from my childhood. I remember Big Bird and Oscar and Grover and Telly and Herry Monster and the Count and Snuffelufagus and Gordon and Maria and Luis and Susan and Bob and Mr. Hooper. There was no Elmo or Zoe or Abby or Prairie Dawn or Murray and his little lamb. There was no Chris or Alan or Leela or Mr. Noodle. There were plenty of celebrity guest appearances, and that has certainly not changed. I suspect there were spoofs of current adult TV shows as well, but I didn’t notice them back then. But then, there are a lot of things I notice and appreciate now that I didn’t back then.

The TV show spoofs are brilliant in that they are educational for kids but absolutely hilarious for adults. For example, the other day they spoofed the HBO series, “True Blood” in a sketch called “True Mud”. A broody-looking muppet with dark hair flopping over his eyes slinks into a diner and tells the blond waitress he wants some “True Mud”. The other diners gasp and wonder aloud if he’s a…Grouch. Because only a Grouch would want true mud. Sookie (the waitress) defends him and brings him a baked potato. He pushes it away and she realizes it’s not true mud, it’s a “true spud”. A cow wanders in and offers him some of her “true cud”; a farmer gives him a broken watch, calling it a “true dud”; finally, Sookie brings out a bathtub and announces that she mixed together some dirt and water and made him a whole bunch of true mud. He jumps in, followed by Sookie and the cow. Kids love the repeated rhymes, not to mention the image of a fully clothed man – er, muppet – jumping into a tub full of mud with a cow. But adults can laugh at the sketch on a whole different level. I won’t even get into the levels of adult hilarity in a spoof like “Dancing with Triangles”, complete with muppet versions of Tom, Carrie-Ann, Len, and Bruno.

Similarly, the celebrities who appear on the show are just ordinary people to the kids. Only an adult who recognizes Ryan Reynolds as People Magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive 2010 can appreciate the humor of seeing him wearing a large blue letter A costume and declaring in his best announcer/superhero voice that words that begin with the letter A can answer any question and solve any problem. Likewise, to kids, Savion Glover is just some guy teaching the words “forward” and “backward” by dancing back and forth; to adults he’s an amazing tap dancer who could probably also teach the kids “wall” and “ceiling” by dancing on those, too. Little cameos by people like Jennifer Garner teaching the word “galoshes” or Alton Brown explaining that a recipe is a list of the steps of how to make something or Yo-Yo Ma demonstrating how to play the cello are fun for kids but appreciated in a completely different way by those of us who know who they are.

It’s no surprise that Sesame Street has earned dozens of Emmy Awards over the years. It’s a brilliantly creative show that kids can enjoy as well as learn from, and parents can enjoy watching with their kids. And now that I’m a parent, I can understand even more why parents find it so enjoyable! It’s even worth putting up with an overdose of Elmo.

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