No, seriously. Can you believe Sesame Street has been around for 40 years? Why, it seems like just yesterday that we were saying, “No, seriously. Can you believe Sesame Street has been around for 35 years?”
That was in 2004, when the anniversary special The Street We Live On aired on PBS. This one is a different animal… It’s really just an episode of the show that happens to be all about the show itself. I’m not sure why they did it this way. Maybe none of the broadcast networks were interested in yet another Sesame birthday party, or maybe the producers just wanted to be meta. So we ended up with this, and that’s fine, ’cause I never meta Sesame special I didn’t like.
Now here’s Grover, and — oh, right. Here’s one thing that’s changed since the Elmopalooza. Frank Oz’s characters are now performed more often than not by Eric Jacobson (Grover and Bert) and David Rudman (Cookie Monster). It’s a great decision… The increased presence of those three characters has really made Sesame feel more like itself since the dawn of the 2000s.
In 2004, the once and future Fix-It Shop was in its Mail-It Shop phase, and Maria and Luis have hired Grover to deliver an important package to Oscar. This seems like a really inefficient way to do business considering Oscar lives about twelve steps away… and anyway, isn’t Grover pretty bad at every job he attempts? No wonder the Mail-It Shop didn’t last.
On his epic journey to the other end of the block, Grover passes by pretty much every major character, Muppet and human, plus three chickens. I love when they do stuff like this — I think it usually happens in the season premieres, when they do a big street scene with everyone as an introduction/re-introduction to all the folks who populate the street. Plus three chickens.
When he finally arrives at the can (Oscar’s can, not the bathroom), Grover gives Oscar the parcel, and hey, it’s from Elmo (whom Oscar refers to as “the little red menace”). It’s a drawing of Dorothy with spaghetti spilled on it. Mmm, that sounds tasteful. Ha. And with that, we transition to Elmo’s World, where the?¢‚Ç¨‚Äù
Whoa! Hit the brakes there, buddy! Are they really doing this? A show celebrating the past 35 years of Sesame history, and five minutes in they toss us into Elmo’s World, without any kind of warning?
Answer: Yep. Before we know what hit us, we’re off the street and hanging with Elmo and Dorothy. But hey, today Elmo is thinking about Sesame Street (“You know… Sesame Street!”) so all the usual parts of the Elmo’s World formula are related to the show. The question for Mr. Noodle is “How does Cookie Monster eat a cookie?” (Answer: By crumbling it all over the place without ever really eating it.) When Elmo asks a baby, that baby is big, blue and furry: It’s Cookie Monster himself in a “clever disguise.”
The remains of the cookie remind Cookie of the letter C, and now we have a few letter C inserts, some older and some newer. And later, Elmo and the Count count monsters to determine the Number of the Day. (It’s 10, in case you were wondering.)
So all the familiar Sesame elements are here, as are all the Elmo’s World elements. I’m not convinced this was the absolute best way to go about it, but it very well may have been the most effective way to simultaneously get kids high on learning and shoot their parents up with nostalgia. Or, how about this: If you think of a normal episode as a peanut M&M, with the peanut of Elmo’s World inside the candy-covered milk chocolate of Sesame Street, then The Street We Live On is like a reverse M&M. The milk chocolate is all there, but it’s inside the peanut. Come to think of it, that’s some damn skilled candy-making on the part of the Sesame producers.
After Elmo does some other stuff, Grover shows up and takes him on a magical taxi ride (What would an anniversary special be without Grover driving?) to witness scenes of Sesame Street… before he was born! Elmo gets to see Mr. Hooper, and baby Miles, and Maria’s wedding, and… Hey, wait a minute! Isn’t that Elmo as the ring-bearer at that wedding?
After his trip through the space-time continuum, Elmo runs out to the street and demands that everyone gather on the stoop, and they immediately drop what they’re doing to do his bidding. They all sing a song that I’m guessing is called “The Street We Live On,” which is nice enough, although it’s a bit adult contemporary for my tastes. My aunt would probably like it. Everyone gets to sing a line (including Dorothy! And… a CGI tree?!), and when Miles gets his turn he gives a hilariously melismatic performance. Don’t wish your neighborhood had regular sing-alongs where everyone magically knew the words?
And so we come to the end of The Street We Live On, an hour that honors the show’s legacy and embodies the fact that it’s still going strong as it reaches today’s youngsters. The end of the song is the end of the special, and everyone says bye-bye… but we’ll be back. After all, we live there too.
Other things about this special:
•Status update on Oscar’s grouchiness this time in 2004: I am happy to report that Oscar yells “Get lost!” at various characters about three times, with no provocation whatsoever. I know, I know, it’s far from the the most blatantly dickish thing he’s ever done, but it’s still pretty darn grouchy.
•In the lead-in to “Journey to Ernie,” Bert finds himself in Elmo’s World, at which point he asks, “How do I get out of Elmo’s World?” thus echoing the sentiment of millions of parents watching at home.
•Were the writers worried kids watching this show might get bored with vintage clips and such? There are four different moments here where the kids are instructed to get up and do a dance along with the characters. One of these is led by Snuffy, and is a popular Snuffleupagus dance called “The Snuffleupagus.” Isn’t that a weird name for a Snuffleupagus dance? You don’t see us doing a dance called “The Homo Sapien.”
•There’s an extended version of the song “Dance Myself to Sleep” that features celebrities dancing. Julianne Moore is adorable, while Larry King doesn’t even bother to get up from his desk:
Believe it or not, there was also a direct-to-DVD special billed as a 35th anniversary celebration. It’s really similar to A Musical Celebration ten years earlier, with Big Bird, Super Grover, and Elmo searching for a song that everyone can sing, interspersed with cool Sesame Street songs. It’s perhaps most notable for the fact that, after 31 years, the cast finally determines that “What’s the Name of That Song?” is the name of that song.
Naturally, this special ends with a big group musical number, and it’s another groovy medley. (In which Bob comes in with his arm around Gina. Could she be his rebound gal after Linda left the show?). Yay, everyone can sing together, and yay, Sesame Street has a lot of good songs, and yay, we love it.
Whew! That was a lot of anniversaries. If this were a less interesting television program — like say, Fishing with Roland Martin, or Senate Judiciary Committee in Session on C-SPAN, or Friends — I would pretty sick of it by now, but this is Sesame Street, so I want more. Lucky for me, then, that new episodes of the show start on Tuesday, November 10 when the 40th season hits PBS. Tune in, and then come back here to see what we thought of it!
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