Sesame St S5: Highlights

The "tall hat lady" blocks Ernie at the movies.

The “tall hat lady” blocks Ernie at the movies.

Today, we proceed with our first day of highlights from Season 5 of Sesame StreetAs per usual, I watched the first set on the Sesame Street: Old School Volume 1 DVD set.


We begin with a classic Bert and Ernie at the Movies sketch, which also happens to be the one I remember best from childhood, in which a lady with an insanely tall, colorful hat with frills and feathers practically brushing the ceiling sits down right in front of Ernie, blocking him completely. Ernie tries various methods of looking around her, none of which work, and at one point even attempts to sit in a very frustrated Bert’s lap. Finally, Bert asks Ernie what’s wrong, he tells him the problem, and Bert suggests he kindly ask her to remove her hat. Ernie follows Bert’s advice, and the woman very graciously agrees to do so…and instead places her hat in the seat to her right, which so happens to be right in front of Bert!


What’s nice about this one is that it’s another in which Ernie isn’t seeking to “get” Bert. Further, he doesn’t even do anything wrong! It’s just, once again, the world conspiring against our old buddy Bert, which is sad for him but doesn’t give Ernie any negative points for thoughtlessness, which, admittedly, he sometimes is. And our next clip is a very fun appearance by Johnny Cash, singing a very Johnny-Cash-sounding ditty called “Nasty Dan” that was actually written for his appearance by Sesame Street‘s Jeff Moss:



It’s a terrific scene for numerous reasons. In some of the musical guest appearances, you don’t get this level of excellent interaction between Muppet and celebrity. Sometimes, the star just sings their own music, such as Stevie Wonder, and it’s perfectly nice, but it’s missing that element of this-could-only-happen-on-this-show. And, okay, Stevie Wonder may not be the best example because he’s singing a song about Sesame Street and has a later scene with Grover, but during the number itself, he’s just singing with his band.


Here, however, not only is Johnny Cash singing to Oscar, but Oscar is reacting very positively as well, because he finds himself relating to the “Nasty Dan” of the title. “Good for him!” he chimes in after he learns that the man “never took a bath”! He also reacts well to hearing about Nasty Dan’s horrible girlfriend, Nasty Pearl, who foreshadows Oscar’s girlfriend, Grundgetta, who first appeared in 1980. And you gotta love the moment that he calls him “Johnny Trash” and Johnny tells him to “have a rotten day!”


And next we have the first instance of what would be yet another series of recurring Sesame Street sketches, namely Prairie Dawn’s pageants, which the earnest little girl would painstakingly put together–write, direct, orchestrate, play the piano–and which would usually go off with…well, a few hitches due to the quirks of the various Muppets she roped into starring in her latest magnum opus.


As I believe I’ve mentioned before, throughout most of her life, Prairie Dawn was performed by Fran Brill, who became the first female Muppet performer to actually use her own voice (Jane Henson only ever just operated the puppets, lip syncing to records or to Jim’s voice), and she was hired as the result of concern from feminists regarding the male-dominated Muppet troupe. Prairie Dawn is arguably her best-known character other than Zoe, who debuted in 1993, 22 years after Prairie. And although Prairie started her life on Sesame Street in 1971, it wasn’t until the pageants, beginning with this one, “A Flower Grows,” in Season 5, that she began to become truly memorable and more recognizably defined as a character:



Everything you need to know about Prairie Dawn comes across perfectly in this sketch, from those tiny moments where you can tell that she’s extremely frustrated but she swallows it down while at the same time maintaining as optimistic an attitude as possible while also making a few little mistakes herself on the piano. She’s a tightly wound bundle of nerves held together by an overly enthusiastic facade, which is what makes her so much fun to watch, rather than just being a blandly adorable little girl.


And the pageant itself features various Sesame Street characters depicting how a tiny seed grows into a beautiful flower. Ernie plays the farmer, Herry the sun, a stage-fright-struck Cookie a rain cloud, and Bert the flower who finally emerges from the pot in the end. I particularly love how, after being terrified to come on stage, Cookie ultimately just dumps his entire bucket of water into the flower pot to illustrate rain coming down, rather than sprinkling it gently. It all closes off in typically Muppety fashion, with just the slightest bit of chaos. After Cookie and Herry learn that Bert’s costume is made of actual lettuce, the two begin to devour it, but, hey, you at least have to give Cookie credit for eating healthily for once! And this was long before the “cookies are a sometimes food” debacle of the early ’00s!


Next, we have one of the earliest Twiddlebug sketches. The Twiddlebugs are a family of 4 funny little insects–a mother, father, son, and daughter, who live a tiny house made out of a milk carton that rests in the window box outside of Ernie and Bert’s apartment (despite the fact that, the way it’s depicted doesn’t really match up with how the exterior of their place looks in the street scenes, and futhermore, that sort of window box wouldn’t really work in a basement apartment, but anyhoo…), and most of their sketches revolve around them attempting to perform a simple task that humans do all the time but needing to confer with one another as to how to accomplish it due to their being very silly and tiny.


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