Sesame Street Ep #131

Gordon gives Cookie a J.

Gordon gives Cookie a J.

The much improved energy, helped by much improved segues, continues with Big Bird’s J accident cutting to a cartoon about a jumping J, and then various people on the street tossing Big Bird’s J amongst each other. Bob throws it to Mr. Hooper, who throws it to Susan, who, being a woman, screams a little when she catches it and then hands it to her hubby, Gordon (the show still has a way to go till it gets better about gender representation), who gives it to Cookie (another Muppet on the street!). “D!” Cookie says. Gordon corrects him saying, “J”. “D,” Cookie repeats, before gulping it down and finishing, “Licious!” Wocka wocka!


That takes us to a now-unfortunate sequence that I might have accidentally fast-forwarded through, of not one but two Bill Cosbys (dear god) reciting the alphabet. And speaking of things that were once cool but now are really uncomfortable, next up we get a film of animals in the zoo, including a lion and tiger who are pacing back and forth in their tiny cages. Now, it’s actually a beautifully filmed sequence, particularly with how the camera follows the animals back and forth, as chaotic music underscores their restlessness, but viewed today, it’s heartbreaking to see these gorgeous, extremely bored animals confined in these tiny prisons vs. the zoos today that give animals more space to roam in naturalistic habitats, so I had trouble sitting still through this one.


Next up, a brief cartoon I also vividly recall in which one man shows a “q” to another, hanging his hat on the end of it, and trying to explain what it is, while the other one drives him crazy by continuing to ask, “What’s that funny-looking thing?” And then Arte Johnson is back in a really weird and I feel poorly designed sketch in which he calls “Q” a lazy letter, because it can’t work without a “U” after it. It’s not that this isn’t an interesting thing to teach children. It’s just that he never explains himself or gives an example. He just basically says that a Q needs a U, and that’s it. Um, okay, strange German man? And, oddly for Sesame Street, the next sketch doesn’t reference this at all, either. In fact, it doesn’t come up again in the entire hour, so I’m not sure what happened there. There is a cute cartoon, though, of someone trying to teach “U” words to a dog, finally asking him what he thinks of it. “Not very much,” he responds, and when the man asks him why, he replies, “I can’t read. I’m a dog!”


And then we get our first taste of the new human comedy team, Larry and Phyllis, who were Buddy and Jim‘s season 2 replacements. The best I can say for them is that they’re not Buddy and Jim, which is already hugely in their favor. And, ok, they’re famous actor Alan Arkin and his wife Barbara Dana, which is also pretty cool, and their sketch of the two of them trying to sing but instead realizing he can only make honking noises and she can only make beeping noises is cute, but, really, I had trouble caring. Maybe if I’d grown up with these sketches, I’d feel awash in the warm, rosy glow of nostalgia, but instead, my reaction is, “Why are these people intruding on my Sesame Street?!”


Redesigned Grover helps Susan play "One of These Things..."

Redesigned Grover helps Susan play “One of These Things…”

Luckily, they’re immediately followed up by a comedic pair I do care about: Bert and Ernie!! In this sketch, Ernie claims to be the “world’s greatest counter of numbers” and plans to demonstrate by counting to 10. However, every time Bert accidentally interrupts him, Ernie starts all over again, claiming he lost his place, which drives Bert to distraction, particularly when one time was due to a sneeze he couldn’t control. Once Ernie is finally, finally done, he heaves a hugh sigh of relief. And then Ernie begins to recite the alphabet, similarly starting over again at each interruption, and Bert runs off, screaming.


Like the Ernie/mailman sketch in Season 1, this one is all about comedic repetition, and repetition that even gets a bit irritating as it goes along. While watching, we are Bert! At the same time, you can imagine kids who were watching along yelling the numbers at the screen, letting him know that they know what’s next. So definitely one that’s less fun for adults but was likely really fun for kids, encouraging them to show off their knowledge.


Then, Susan and Bob play “One of These Things…” with Grover, comparing three large circles, and one small one. And although this iteration of this game doesn’t stand out in particular, it does bring us to another Season 2 evolution, in the form of Grover, who went from being a generic monster in Season 1 to the sweet, adventurous, fun-loving kid he is today. Rather than the green, shaggy monster we first met, now he’s blue with wide, friendly eyes, and well-maintained fur. Brian Jay Jones, author of Jim Henson: The Biography, puts it beautifully when he says that while Big Bird is the 6-year-old audience surrogate, Grover is the young audience’s “devoted best friend,” going on to quote Frank Oz who pointed to the “purity in Grover. He wants to please.” And you see both that intelligence and that desire to please here in spades. During the song, he says, “I am getting there…almost!” And announces “I am so proud” when he comes up with the answer. This scene also contains a funny flub in which Bob, in describing one of the circles as being “different” accidentally calls our blue friend “Different,” rather than “Grover,” apologizing before moving on.


From one blue monster to a pair of blue monsters, we then get Cookie and Herry Monster singing a song about circles, naturally ending on cookies, and this shows a good example of an “evolution” that didn’t work out so well. In this scene, you can see that Herry’s been redesigned from his season 1 look so that his nose, instead of being the oval purple it was before is now more of a sharp beak, completely covered by his fur, which has the unfortunate side effect of being completely invisible when viewed head-on and uncomfortably…well…phallic when he turns his head. Online research tells me that this was fixed by 1971. Good call, Henson people!


Nude-nosed Herry and Cookie sing about circles.

Nude-nosed Herry and Cookie sing about circles.

Next we have a sketch I remember well, of kids spontaneously directing an off-camera artist on how to draw a certain mystery letter or object, this time the letter M. It’s cute to hear them all so naturally laughing and reacting when he’s “wrong,” particularly because it seems completely unscripted, which I’m assuming it was, although I don’t know how they accomplished this. Maybe they had someone drawing it out on a dry-erase board, exactly as they described it, and then later animated to the background audio?


This is followed by a fireman video/song, another Arte Johnson clip that I found even more head-scratching than the first two, a cartoon about a polar bear learning the word, “exit,” and then what would become a classic Bert and Ernie nighttime sketch of Bert having trouble sleeping due to a dripping faucet, and so Ernie promising to take care of it…and doing so by turning the radio up as loud as it can go so Bert can’t hear the water anymore. Naturally, Bert then complains about the radio, and Ernie responds by turning on the vacuum cleaner! The whole scenario is very reminiscent of the one where the two were arguing and turning on various machines competitively, only this time it’s all one-sided and doesn’t culminate in a blackout but Bert going to turn everything off himself. The easy-going Ernie, however, has already fallen asleep, and is now snoring so loudly that Bert now can’t fall asleep because of that noise! “Why me?” he moans.


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