I have fond memories of watching Sesame Street on PBS when I was growing up, and I love sharing that with Aoife as she gets older. We have a couple of Old School Sesame Street DVDs that we rotate through, showing episodes from the 1970s. All three of us here have our favorite bits, quotable moments, and songs that get stuck in our heads. Maybe it’s just nostalgia, but I find these episodes entertaining even as an adult.
When I was younger, I lived in the country outside a very small town, and it was refreshing to see city life — honking taxi cabs, a hot dog cart, sitting down to read on the fire escape. It was a happy, idealized neighborhood but it still felt real.
Which brings us to modern episodes of Sesame Street. Wow, has that place cleaned up. The buildings are bright and shiny, and Big Bird’s alphabet sign actually looked cleaner after experiencing a hurricane than it did in older episodes. There is more of a focus on family life now, whereas the street housed mostly younger adults (Maria was around 21 when she first appeared on Sesame Street; Bob was age 37 when he first appeared; Mr. Hooper was the grandpa figure at age 61) who only went on to start families after they’d been living on the Street for a while. Remember I said that I was entertained by the classic episodes just as much now that I’m an adult? The newer episodes just don’t feel the same. This might be where nostalgia creeps in. Fifteen minutes of Elmo is a little much. I miss the randomness of the clips — you never knew if you were going to get a song, a number sequence, a trip to the crayon factory. The street itself doesn’t feel real anymore; now it feels like a set.
I also feel like in the older episodes, the muppets acted as real children do. I love in a classic episode of Sesame Street when Bob is playing a guessing game to get the kids to name things that everyone does. The kids (and Bert and Ernie) respond with things like talking and walking, and they discuss the fact that not everyone can do everything (Bert mentions wiggling eyebrows, and Ernie doesn’t have eyebrows). Ernie mentions playing with his rubber ducky, but not everyone has one, and Bert firmly states that he does not love that, coming back with the idea that of course everyone loves watching his favorite TV show, The Wonderful World of Pigeons. Ernie, taken aback, responds, “You know what, Bert? I hate that show!” This is such a real response that a child might have to something, but I doubt that it would be considered appropriate on a newer episode.
I do have to admit that I feel like there is something missing when I watch those older shows. I am almost embarrassed to say that it was only a short time ago that I learned that Maria’s real name is not Maria. Gordon is not really Gordon and in fact has been played by a few different actors over the years. I totally thought that Gordon and Susan were really married, and that Maria and Luis really had a baby … no. At least Bob’s real name is Bob. Now when I see these actors in their roles on Sesame Street, I find myself wanting to learn more about the behind the scenes happenings and the making of the show.
If you’re like me and want to learn more, check out the book Street Gang, published in 2008, or Sesame Street Unpaved, from 1998. If you want to lose yourself in video clips, there are many available on YouTube or on the Muppet Wiki.