Sesame Street Ep #131

Guy Smiley hosts "What's My Part?"

Guy Smiley hosts “What’s My Part?”

Up next is a cartoon about a gorilla seeking employment, until the potential boss lets him know he’s a gorilla, to which he responds that he has to “go learn how to run around the jungle and eat bananas”! Then, we cut to Carol Burnett on the set of her show. It doesn’t feel any less random than her split-second appearances in Season 1, although at least here, instead of simply having a quick reaction to something on screen, she gives a brief lesson about what a nose is, and what it does.


And that perfectly segues to one of the famous Sesame Street game show sketches, What’s My Part?, which is, of course, hosted by one of the Muppetiest of all Muppet characters, the one and only Guy Smiley, who was apparently one of Jim’s favorite characters to play, because it allowed him to be so over-the-top and almost desperately positive in the broadest way imaginable. This isn’t necessarily the most classic of Guy Smiley sketches, but I do love the subtle joke that his hair is very prominently parted for What’s My Part?


The game is basically a riff on the 1950s game show, What’s My Line?, with a panel of blindfolded guests trying to guess the mystery guest, which here is a disembodied body part, specifically the nose. And the best bit is when one of the panelists, Cookie Monster, guesses that it’s a mouth, because of course that’s what he’d be focused on. In the end, not only do none of them guess correctly–no one noseKnows, nose…get it?!–but none of them knows what a nose is, either. And the game ends with them just as confused. Guy never explains it to them, and no one else does, which I just love. Sesame Street trusts the kids watching to either know what a nose is or to have retained Carol Burnett’s words from the earlier scene, which makes them feel “in the know” and smarter than the “silly” guests.


Then, we’re back on the street, where Bob gets a call at Mr. Hooper’s from Oscar’s grandmother, Granny Grouch, letting her grandson know she’s visiting, so he goes over to Oscar and informs him of the happy, I mean, rotten news. And then she arrives, and what ensues is one of those scenes that doesn’t necessarily live up to its full potential, largely because it seems to be inconsistent about when Granny Grouch uses positive words a regular granny would use and when she uses grouchy words. When Bob tells her, it’s “nice” to meet her, she doesn’t complain. And then after he corrects himself and says he means, “rotten,” she compliments him on “good” manners. Shouldn’t she be cheerfully complimenting his rotten manners? At the same time, she does get an evil delight in driving Oscar batty with a “big juicy kiss”.


Granny Grouch visits Oscar.

Granny Grouch visits Oscar.

It’s also another example of an on-the-street sketch that would’ve worked much better as a fleshed-out, episode-spanning plot, rather than just a quick, underdeveloped scene, but it’s notable that they’re continuing to expand the show and the characters’ world. This is likely the first of Oscar’s grouch relatives who shows up. Later, we’ll meet his girlfriend, Grundgetta, brother, Earnest, sister, Bunny, and more. The fact that she’s also basically just an Oscar puppet in an old lady nightgown and bonnet is also very funny.


Then, we get a bunch of Bonanza actors, including Michael Landon, counting to 20, and a terrific Grover sketch that does an even better job of capturing his character than the first. Here, our brave but fearful little friend is wandering through a dark and scary forest, and singing Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Whistle A Happy Tune” to himself in order to stay strong. As he goes along, first he gets terrified by Little Bird, then a butterfly, and then he almost jumps upon running into Cookie, hilariously declaring, “WHAT IS THAT AWFUL THING?…Cookie! Oh, it is only a monster!” Then the two of them join in song, finally dashing off the screen in actual horror when they run into a terrifying…little boy! I love that it again takes the fear out of the concept of monsters for kids while also showing that things you think of as big and scary might be more scared of you than you are of them. But in a much more fun way than the idiom itself.


And the next sketch introduces one of my favorite Jerry-Nelson-performed characters, Sherlock Hemlock, the self-professed “world’s greatest detective,” and probably the first place I ever heard the name “Sherlock” and connected it with a man in a deerstalker hat who solves crimes. But the joke with this Sherlock is that usually not only does he not figure out the clues, but he often ends up being unmasked as the actual (albeit forgetful) culprit! Here, Ernie finds that half of his chicken salad sandwich has been eaten, and then Sherlock arrives on the scene. Over the course of said scene, Ernie hears him declare that he loves chicken salad and that he finds crusts “yucky” (when Ernie discovers the crusts that someone had left behind), and then finds a loose button that exactly matches a gap where Sherlock’s coat is missing one. And so Ernie puts the clues together and realizes that Sherlock did it, which Sherlock then remembers, oh, yes, he did do it! And then proceeds to take credit for finding the criminal. And requests the other half of the sandwich as a reward.


The best thing about the sketch and the character, though, is probably that he’s a significant refinement of the cause-and-effect sketches we saw in Season 1 with Bert and Ernie playing games like “What Happens Next?”, and in Kermit’s lecture about putting clues together, because it’s not as obvious a lesson. Here kids can join in the investigation themselves and the smarter ones might even reach the same conclusion as Ernie before he does instead of more passively watching the relatively boring drawings or even, god forbid, having Gordon then explain each one to them afterwards, one by one, as he did after the first “What Happens Next?”. Because yawn.


Sherlock Hemlock on the case!

Sherlock Hemlock on the case!

And speaking of lecturey Gordon, the last real sketch of the episode involves Big Bird crossing the street in the middle of the road without looking, and then Gordon yelling his head off at him for not crossing at the light. I can understand why a real parent might do this sort of thing in a panic, but, sheesh, Gordon, you need to dial it down a few notches. Particularly when Big Bird says, “I’ll remember next time” and Gordon responds, “There may not be a next time!” Yikes. Tough love on Sesame Street! Maybe we shouldn’t be trying to terrifying the children quite so much?


Immediately afterwards, we get a film about traffic lights that I also recall from my childhood, particularly the bit where they show black-and-white silent film footage of how chaotic streets would be without traffic lights, which is a much better way to get the message across than having original Gordon screaming at you.


And, on that disquieting note, everyone says goodbye really abruptly, and we’re done! And on Monday, I take a look at a bunch of the most famous highlights from Season 2!


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