Sesame Street Ep #536

Ernie is a loud snacker.

Ernie is a loud snacker.

–The next significant bit is one of a series of Ernie and Bert sketches in which the two go to the movies, all of which I loved to bits as a kid and my favorite of which premiered later in Season 5. In this one, Bert is staring at the screen, absolutely enraptured by the fascinating film unfolding before him when Ernie decides it’s time for a snack. But each one he attempts to eat ends up making noise, bothering the people around him.

At first, he has a candy bar whose loud, crackly wrapper bothers everybody, then extremely crunchy peanuts, and finally a particularly slurpy soda. Throughout, Bert had been maintaining his composure, but that proves to be the particularly slurpy straw that breaks this particular camel’s back, and finally he erupts at Ernie, bellowing at him to keep it down and let everyone watch the movie in quiet.

Naturally, that’s the exact moment the usher arrives to extricate the person who had been making noise, and he assumes it to be Bert, dragging him out of the theatre, while Ernie lets his old buddy, Bert, know that he’ll tell him how the film turns out. Poor Bert. But, as with many of these situations, Ernie didn’t actually have any ill or even mischievous intent here. While he could have corrected the usher at the end, this is more of a case of the world generally working out better for Ernie than his friend rather than Ernie deliberately messing with Bert.

–Next, we have another classic Sesame Street moment, in which the legendary Lena Horne helps Grover overcome his shyness via a lovely Joe Raposo song, “How Do You Do?”:



Although I acknowledge this as a great scene for numerous reasons, from Horne’s appearance and gorgeous vocal and acting performance to her sweet chemistry with Grover to the song’s beautiful melody and the idea behind it, I actually have a few qualms about this scene, rewatching today. For one, of all of the Sesame Street Muppets, Grover is one of the most outgoing, making his shyness here seem like an odd fit. At the same time, however, I acknowledge that one specific Muppet canon doesn’t exist and that the characters often display different traits at different moments and while this may not exactly be how Grover usually is, it at least fits into his sweet persona, and again, it is a really lovely moment for him.

But also, while the song and its message are certainly well-meaning, I’m not sure exactly how helpful they are. People seem to understand the intricacies of shyness, social anxiety, and introversion better today, particularly that they are all their own distinct things, despite their overlap in symptoms, so to speak.

This song basically says that if you’re shy, you should take a chance and put yourself out there, because you’re otherwise missing out on the chance to make a new friend, which is sweet in theory, but for some people, “shyness” is due to crippling anxiety. For some, the very act of saying “How do you do?” is what terrifies them. This song is written from the perspective of someone who has excellent social skills and not from that of someone genuinely struggling in this area. Speaking as someone who is generally extroverted today but was painfully shy as a child, I can say that everything this song suggests just made me more fearful as a kid, and so in some ways, I find it one of Sesame Street‘s rare lesson misfires.

At the same time, in the fictional context of the scene and song, it’s hard to deny that it’s a wonderful scene, beautifully done, Horne, Oz, and the music are all impeccable, and I can see that there’s a rewarding idea behind it. But getting most kids over that shyness hump isn’t quite as simple as it is for Grover here.

Big Bird presents Grovers' chin-ups!

Big Bird presents Grovers’ chin-ups!

–Further underlining my Grover-is-slightly-out-of-character-here contention, we see him shortly afterwards in another scene, in which he’s once more entirely his regular self, offering to help Big Bird demonstrate the number 2 for the kids at home by doing 2 chin-ups for them, dangling from the metal bar of a fire escape. Which he does, despite great difficulty. But although he assumes he’s done, Big Bird suggests that he do it again, which he reluctantly agrees to (granted, this really means he’s done 4, but we’re not dealing with math of that level of complexity yet!), barely making it this time around. And that’s when the now-extremely-unreasonable Big Bird asks him to do it just one more time. “It really wouldn’t hurt,” Big Bird says and Grover responds, “Big Bird, it would hurt very much!”

But he somehow manages to pull through and accomplish this insurmountable feat a third and final time! At which point Big Bird announces that next, Grover will demonstrate the number 18, and at just the thought of it, our poor, furry, blue monster loses his grip and crashes to the ground beneath. When Big Bird asks if he’s all right, he responds that he’s fine and just wants to lie there for a little while. A very funny sketch that is the perfect combination of bright-eyed Big Bird and overachieving Grover, culminating in the similarly classic exhausted-post-pushing-himself-too-hard Grover. Although, to be fair, he was the victim of peer pressure this time around, albeit peer pressure of a non-malicious variety.

–This episode also introduces yet another classic Guy Smiley game show, Beat the Time, in which contestants have to finish a task before the ticking clock ran down a minute. This time around, Cookie Monster is that contestant, and his goal is to find 3 things that rhyme with the word, “rain,” picking up the “rhyming” theme from the earlier “Fat Cat”. His prize? A single cookie. As soon as the clock starts ticking, he frantically runs off-stage, returning an instant later with a cane, then quickly rushing off again. While he’s away, an old man wanders onto the stage, asking for the cane back, the comedic conceit being that these aren’t just objects lying around in the back, Cookie is apparently actually going out of the studio and grabbing objects from people! The guy even asks, “Are you Guy Smiley? Is this Beat the Time?!”

Cookie beats the time!

Cookie beats the time!

Next, Cookie brings out a chain…which happens to be attached to a fanged orange monster known as a Frazzle (not to be confused with Frackle or Fraggle!)! Now, however, he has very little time left and isn’t sure what to do before finally being struck by last-minute inspiration. He runs off into the other direction and an instant later crashes through the wall of the studio, driving a train! What might be the cleverest thing about the sketch is how it sneaks in the subtle “counting 3″ lesson under the rhyming lesson. Additionally, the lengths he goes to in order to procure the items just for the chance to have one cookie are hilarious, reminiscent of the “What would you do for a Klondike bar?” ads.

And the whole thing collapses into classic Muppet madness at the end (much like the end of the Rapunzel sketch), when the train’s actual conductor comes out and starts scolding Cookie for taking the train, then yelling “all aboard” for other passengers as the old man returns for an autograph and the Frazzle rushes back on-stage and Guy is desperately yelling over them in order to sign off, with typically Smiley-ish fervor.


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