Sesame St S4: Highlights

Today kicks off Part 1 of my coverage of highlights from Sesame Street‘s fourth season. I watched all of these on the Sesame Street: Old School Volume 1 and the Sesame Street: 40 Years of Sunny Days DVD sets, and most of them I was also able to locate on Sesame Street‘s official YouTube channel, so I’ve embedded those here.


We begin with Old School and what is very possibly my very favorite series of Sesame Street sketches of all time, namely Sesame Street Newsflash, in which Kermit would “interrupt” the show in order to report “breaking news” “live”. Most often, these scenes would involve him being on the scene for moments from various fairy tales, which he would expect to go by the book, so to speak, but which would always end up being twisted and fractured in some crucial way. For example, this clip, in which Kermit reports on Rapunzel, which just so happens to be one of my very favorite Newsflashes (as a kid, I actually had a video compilation of most of these, and I remember this one extremely vividly):



For one, I always loved that Prince Charming looks a great deal like Guy Smiley. In fact, when I was a kid, I always assumed he was Guy Smiley playing a role, as in the various Sesame Street plays and pageants. Now, I know that that’s not exactly the case. He’s simply an Anything Muppet that uses Guy’s basic features. After all, not only is the hair different but Frank Oz rather than Jim does his voice. At the same time, however, I do kind of love the idea of Guy Smiley being the prince, so that basically remains my headcanon.


Further, I love how it instantly undercuts the general fairy tale princess narrative by having Rapunzel not be a lovely, demure ingenue type but instead sport a loud, squawky New Yawk accent, not to mention a significant hearing problem. Meanwhile, Kermit perfectly satirizes the typical reporter-on-the-street in how he shoves a microphone in Prince Charming’s face, annoying the young royal and temporarily interrupting him from his stated quest, but Kermit does it so understatedly that he never comes across as obnoxious as real-world journalists often do in similar situations.


Then, of course, all of these elements conspire to take this classic fairy tale entirely off the rails. Prince Charming calls up to his potential lady love the classic, “Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair!” but she can’t hear him, repeatedly asking/demanding, “CAN YOU TAWK A LITTLE LOUD-AH?!” And when he finally yells his line up to her at the top of his lungs, she finally does what he says, letting all of her hair down, meaning it all slides right off her head and into the Prince’s waiting arms, leaving a very bald princess calling down to him, “WHAT DO I DO NOW?”


Finally, the extremely frustrated Prince realizes she’s more trouble than she’s worth, calling back up to her, “LEAVE IT WITH THE FROG!” before attempting to ride off but for the fact that he’s lost his horse. The scene devolves into utter Muppety chaos as Kermit attempts to sign off as Rapunzel continues to scream in the background about her hair, while the Prince yells back up at her to shut up as he continues to call for his “horsey”.


In some ways, this is actually the first example I’ve seen thus far of a Muppet scene falling apart to such an epic extent–various characters all talking at once as Kermit desperately tries to maintain some semblance of order–foreshadowing many upcoming similar sketch-ending madness on both Sesame Street and The Muppet Show. Meanwhile, the fractured fairy tale format also reminds me a lot of both Wilkins and Wontkin’s micro-skewed tales, as well as the longer-form ones done for Pak-Nit.


Next, another bit I remember from when I was wee little, a cartoon short in which a young girl tries to remember various items that her mom wants her to pick up at the local grocery store:



Numerous things strike me about the clip now, perhaps most notably how strange it is today to see a mother sending her very young daughter alone to the corner store, let alone in a city setting! It’s also another one of those Sesame Street bits that is pretty low-key about its lesson. It seems to be about introducing a few key words and accompanying pictures to identify them–loaf of bread, container of milk, stick of butter–as well as perhaps a memorization technique. Here, when the girl forgets the third thing on her list, she imagines her mother saying it back to her. And when she returns, so proud of herself for having done the task correctly, her mother praises her, reasserting what a great job she did, a good example for children and parents. But, again, it’s very much a lead-by-example situation rather than present-an-obvious-lesson one.


Next up, we have Bert and John-John, who is considered by many to be one of the cutest kids in Sesame Street‘s long history of pairing adorable children with the Muppets:



Of course, it’s not hard to see why. The kid is just so expressive and becomes so wrapped up in his conversation with Bert that you can tell he takes it completely seriously. Bert is 100% a living, breathing person to him, and it’s just magical to see.


Speaking of magical, the next scene on the set is one that I’d completely forgotten existed until I saw it again and then instantly called out, “OH MY GOD! THIS ONE!” as soon as it began. It’s about 3 witches, in the Macbeth vein, each attempting to do a magical spell, but each one failing one by one. One witch calls out “Hubbledy bubbledy flippery fluff, magic fire, do your stuff!” The magic fire doesn’t listen. Another has a magic kettle, over which she calls, “Higgledy piggledy ding dong dell, kettle of water, dig my spell!” Another flop. Ditto for the third’s magic chicken (“Fumbledy crumbledy diddly duck, magic chicken, bring me luck!”) Finally, the three decide that maybe if they cooperate their magic will work. So they bring the fire, kettle, and chicken together, and finally create “magic”…which turns out to be a bowl of chicken soup! “Too bad we don’t know a witch with some noodles,” one laments.


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