My Week with Elmo

January 21-25, 2002

My Week Contents

 

Monday           Tuesday           Wednesday           Thursday           Friday

 

Let's face it. Muppet Fans are not like normal human beings. For one thing, we can't hear the word "Phenomenon" without singing, and we probably have stronger opinions about pre-school programming than is strictly good for us.

 

   But the most striking difference between Muppet Fans and the rest of humanity is Elmo. Muppet Fans, on the whole, hate Elmo. And everybody else loves Elmo. Wait, let me do a recount on that. Nope, I was right. Everybody in the whole entire world loves Elmo, except for the hardcore Muppet Fans.  

 

   Personally, I became the self-appointed leader of the Elmo Pep Squad in August, when I watched Elmo's World for the first time and wrote My Week with Sesame Street. I thought Elmo was the perfect expression of what Sesame Street ought to be -- funny, cute, and passionate about learning. But, strangely, that opinion just isn't popular in the Muppet Fan community, where people are more likely to refer to Elmo as The Red Menace. It just don't add up.

 

   So let's break this down. For Muppet Fans, the two main issues with Elmo are as follows. Issue Number One: Elmo's taken all the focus away from the other Sesame Street characters, who Muppet Fans have a lot of affection for. According to Muppet Fans, all we see these days is Elmo, instead of other favorites like Grover or Cookie Monster. Issue Number Two: Elmo's always happy and cheerful. Other Sesame characters get to be vulnerable, lonely, frustrated or grouchy, but Elmo is just a one-note tickle machine, and that's boring.

 

   Well, I think it's time someone actually tested this, to see if these charges actually hold water. This week, I'm going to watch five Elmo specials produced over the last five years, and I'll report on my findings. Don't try to stop me! This is something I have to do. Not just for me... not just for Elmo... but for all of us.

 

 

Monday           Tuesday           Wednesday           Thursday           Friday

 

     

Monday, Jan 21:  

Elmo as a Force for Destruction

 

   Buckle your seatbelts, and hang up that mistletoe. We're starting with Elmo Saves Christmas, the 1996 special released the same year that the Tickle Me Elmo doll dominated the Christmas shopping season. Elmo had been around since the mid-80's, but 1996 was the year that Elmo became synonymous with Sesame Street

 

   And on Sesame Street, if we're talking Christmas, then we're talking Maya Angelou. I kid you not. Zoe, Telly and Baby Bear appear to be spending Christmas Eve with Dr. Angelou, as naturally they would be. I guess it's traditional to have Maya Angelou over for the holidays. Actually, if I can be allowed a moment's sidebar -- I think the holidays are getting a little too commercial, Maya Angelou-wise. It's like Halloween is hardly over, and Maya Angelou starts hanging out in your living room. And isn't it sad in the first couple weeks of January, when everyone puts out their old, worn-out Maya Angelous in the driveway for the trash pickup?

 

   Anyway, it's Christmas, and Telly asks Maya Angelou wouldn't it be great if it could be Christmas every day. Maya Angelou tells him to step off, girl, and stop being all up in her business. No, she doesn't really -- but wouldn't that be fun? Instead, she tells him the story of when Elmo found out that you can't have Christmas every day.

 

   The story goes like this: There's Elmo, it's Christmas Eve. Everyone is preparing for the holiday, and for some reason 24 Carat Soul is singing at everyone about how much fun it all is. Cookie Monster's baking cookies, Grover's selling Christmas trees, Big Bird is saying goodbye as his friend Snuffy heads to his granny's for Christmas. Elmo waits up for Santa Claus, and actually catches Santa when he's stuck in Elmo's chimney. Elmo pulls Santa free, and meets Santa's newest young reindeer, Lightning. A grateful Santa gives Elmo a magic snowglobe that grants three wishes.

 

   Elmo makes his first wish, and gets a glass of water. Lightning is incredulous: "But you could have had anything!" Elmo: "A diet soda?" I gotta tell ya, kids, we're about ten minutes in, and so far Elmo has been nothing but adorable. Here's Elmo after he makes his second wish, to have Christmas every single day. Santa says you can't have Christmas every day, and Elmo shouts: "YES - YOU - CAN! It's easy! You have Christmas today, and then you have Christmas tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after that... Christmas, Christmas, Christmas, every day!" And he just won't hear another word about it. He's passionate and excitable, but he's also selfish, and it's pretty funny. So far I am all about Elmo.

 

   And it doesn't really look like Elmo is crowding out the other characters. There's a great Kermit scene, where Kermit does a news report on Christmas coming twice. Everybody's suddenly buying more Christmas presents, and a frazzled father runs up and offers to buy Kermit's microphone for fifty bucks. "Certainly not!" Kermit sniffs. "This newsfrog's microphone is not for sale." Father: "How about a hundred?" Kermit: "You want that wrapped?" All the main characters get funny scenes, and Elmo's just the glue that holds the plot together.

 

   Then things take kind of a weird turn. To teach Elmo that you can't have Christmas every day, Santa sends Lightning and Elmo into the future, to witness Christmas in the spring, Christmas on the Fourth of July, and finally Christmas on the next December 25th. 

 

   Now, there isn't a lot of plot suspense at this point for anyone over two and a half. Elmo's got three wishes, and he's made two so far. Hands up if you can figure out what Elmo's going to do with Wish Number Three. So, relieved of the burden of any further plot points, the special goes deep into the freaky spectacle of Sesame Street falling to pieces at Elmo's whim.

 

   Christmas in Springtime goes by without major incident, except for an appearance by Harvey Fierstein as the Easter Bunny, who sings a funny song about giving Easter Eggs for Christmas. As naturally he would. 

 

   But it's Christmas in Summertime that really gets strange. Grover announces a worldwide Christmas tree shortage. Big Bird tries to call Snuffy, who's been spending Christmas at his granny's for four months, and sings into the answering machine. 

 

   Then we see Maria and Luis standing forlornly in front of a pile of broken toasters. They can't work on Christmas, and they miss the days when they used to work in their shop. "But Maria," Elmo says, "Christmas is FUN!" Maria just snaps like a postal worker. "I'm SICK of having fun, Elmo!" she screams. "I want to fix TOASTERS! I'm gonna fix one right NOW!" Luis gently tells her, "That's a waffle iron." Maria snaps, "I KNOW THAT!" Then she slams the waffle iron down and bursts into tears.

 

   And that's not all! Really, if the Elmo Detractors want an example of the Destructive Power of Elmo, they should look no further than Elmo Saves Christmas. Lightning and Elmo travel to December 25th -- the 366th Christmas in a row -- and Sesame Street is a ghost town, boarded up and trashed. Finally, Elmo realizes that this is all his fault, and he decides to wish things back to the way they were. But the magic snowglobe falls out of his hand, and smashes on the ground.

 

   What to do? Elmo realizes that if Lightning can take him into the future, then he can travel back to the past and stop himself from asking Santa for the wishes in the first place. And that's exactly what they do, and Elmo saves Christmas. 

 

   Of course, by changing his own past before he started, he also creates a transtemporal paradox that eventually destroys the entire space-time continuum. But Merry Christmas, everybody!

 

 

Monday           Tuesday           Wednesday           Thursday           Friday

 

     

Tuesday, Jan 22:  

Elmo as The Kermit

 

   Previously, on My Week with Elmo.

 

   All the Elmo Detractors are on one side, hissing and booing and throwing rocks and stuff, saying that Elmo is a one-note tickle-bot who takes the focus away from all the other Sesame characters.

 

   And I'm over on the other side (also known as: the side of truth and light), saying: Um, no. Not really.

 

   There, that's you all caught up.

 

   So our next video is Elmopalooza, Sesame Street's 30th anniversary special from 1998. Now, if there was ever a title to make the Elmo Detractors hiss and boo, that would be it right there. It's Sesame Street's 30th anniversary, and whose name is smack dab at the front of the title? Tchah, say the Elmo Detractors. Pah. Phooey. At this point they throw the video down in disgust and go watch Noggin until they can pull themselves together. 

 

   But we are not like the Elmo Detractors. No, no. We are good and pure of heart, and we're gonna watch this video. 

 

   The premise here is that it's a live, star-studded special from Radio City Music Hall, celebrating 30 years of Sesame Street music. Jon Stewart is supposed to be the host, but Elmo accidentally locks Jon and the entire crew in the dressing room. The Muppets worry that they won't be able to put the show on themselves, but Elmo insists that they try. "Elmo wants to fix his mistakes! Elmo wants the show to be great! And -- most of all -- Elmo wants his own trailer! So who's with Elmo?" Yay! So the Muppets all take their places -- Ernie and Bert in the control room, Big Bird working the cameras, Cookie Monster eating the boom mikes. 

 

   Okay, so yes, granted, Elmo is once again a force of chaos and destruction. But he hasn't actually disrupted space and time or destroyed the global economy yet, so we're still one up on "Elmo Saves Christmas." 

 

   And let's do a little headcount. Kermit opens the show as the newscaster, with a funny Ted Koppel gag. Grover is a limo driver, hired to take Gordon and Susan from Sesame Street to Radio City, by way of Roswell, New Mexico. Prairie Dawn is the producer, impatiently bossing people around like she does with her Sesame pageants. They're about to do a countdown for the show, and the Count pops up: "Please! Allow me! I'm a professional." Oscar, Snuffy, Rosita, the Two-Headed Monster... Title aside, this special isn't 24-7 Elmo at all. In fact, I don't think I've ever seen so many Sesame characters all in one place, all being funny at the same time. 

 

   And if I can step away from the Elmo Politics for a minute, the thing that's really amazing about this video is how tight and funny and well-produced it is. It's a lot like the Sesame gang doing The Muppet Show, actually. There's back-stage chaos, with people trying to hammer the locked door down and rescue Jon Stewart. There's on-stage chaos, with monsters flying around and tap-dancing elephants doing auditions.

 

    And then the musical numbers -- the main "meat" of the show -- are these gorgeous little videos. They've recorded new versions of a bunch of Sesame songs as duets between celebrity singers and Muppets, and then filmed real music videos for them. Gloria Estefan sings "Mambo I, I, I" with Rosita, Luis and Maria. Shawn Colvin does a fantastic, heartbreaking duet of "I Don't Want to Live on the Moon" with Ernie -- and the video is a little film of Shawn and Ernie taking a roadtrip in a convertible, stopping off on the highway and singing the song to each other. En Vogue does a really cool cover of "I Want a Monster To Be My Friend" with Cookie Monster, Zoe -- and Frazzle. For real! Frazzle! When, in my wildest Sesame-Fan dreams, did I ever think that I would see Frazzle in a full-scale modern music video? 

 

   Those silly Elmo Detractors just don't know what they're missing. Look at them over there -- just sitting there, all bitter and upset, muttering to themselves about the Red Menace. Hey, guys! C'mon over here! We've got Frazzle! No? Okay, suit yourselves.

 

   Anyway, here's the point. If "Elmopalooza" is the Sesame version of The Muppet Show, then Elmo is The Kermit. He doesn't really take over the show; he's just the host, tying everything together and introducing all the other acts. He really only has one song in the whole hour-long special. I admit, that number is a duet with Rosie O'Donnell, but go with me on this. If you're gonna do a variety show, you need a Kermit, and that's what Elmo has become. Elmo is The Host -- not just The Host of "Elmopalooza," but The Host of Sesame Street. He's the character that ties things together, the center that things revolve around. But that doesn't mean that the show is all Elmo, any more than The Muppet Show was all Kermit. Elmo's the front man, the Emcee, and you need one of those. When you think about it, it's pretty amazing that Sesame Street managed without one for so long.

 

   So Elmo's doing his big number with Rosie O'Donnell, and everything's going wrong. The sets crash down, the stagehand monsters zoom around on ropes. Elmo says that everything's messed up, and it's all his fault. He goes off and sits on his own -- and I swear, if there was such a song as "It's Not Easy Being Red," he'd be singing it right about now. 

 

   Your honor, I submit to you that my client is completely innocent on all charges. He's not always happy, and he's not hogging all the time from the other characters. I move that the charges be dropped, and we all go out for ice cream.

 

   Case closed. Boy, that was easy. The rest of this week is gonna be a breeze.

 

 

Monday           Tuesday           Wednesday           Thursday           Friday

 

     

Wednesday, Jan 23:  

Elmo and The Limitations of Unselfish Love

 

   Today, we're watching CinderElmo, another Sesame network special from Christmas 1999. Elmopalooza was pretty much a slam-dunk for our side, so we're in a good mood. We're pumped, we're ready. A Sesame Street fairy tale? Bring it on. 

 

   It's morning in the Kingdom of Sesame, and town crier Grover wakes everyone up with his cries of "Five o'clock and all's well!" Fat Blue opens his window and complains that Grover's shouting before the sun's even up. "I do not do the weather, sir," Grover sniffs. "Only the time." It's a cute opening. We can work with this. 

 

   But then we get to CinderElmo's house, and things take a turn for the shady. Kathy Najimy's the Evil Stepmother, although to be completely honest, she's more like the Slightly Off-Putting Stepmother. She has two sons -- Telly Monster and Baby Bear -- and then she's also got a stepmonster, CinderElmo, who dresses in rags and cleans the house. I'm not entirely sure why Telly and Baby Bear get to be her sons, while Elmo has to be the put-upon stepson. What's the story with this family? They don't elaborate. It gets even more confusing because Zoe is there too, also dressed in rags and looking basically oppressed, but nobody really mentions her or what her deal is. 

 

   The whole setup is kind of vague. The S'Mother orders Elmo to clean the house, which he does... but he seems to enjoy dusting, so it's not clear what the problem is. The S'Mother wants one of her sons to marry the Princess, and they basically say okay, sure. Elmo wants to go to the ball and dance with the Princess, but the S'Mother says no, you're too dirty to go to the ball, so he can't. Zoe can't go to the ball either, but nobody seems to care about that.

 

   Meanwhile, over at the palace, they're preparing for the ball. The Princess is played by Keri Russell, who maintains a tone of distant bemusement through the whole show, like she got cast in the role ten minutes before they started shooting and she can't quite figure out what everyone is talking about. Grover is the King's Prime Monster, which is fine, except he was the Town Crier in the first scene, so whatever. Grover informs the King about a law that says the Princess has to choose a husband before she turns eighteen -- which happens at midnight tonight -- or else the King will lose the Kingdom. To someone. For some reason. This takes them all entirely by surprise. Keri says that she's too young to get married, but there it is in the big dusty law book.

 

   Okay. Is it too much for me to ask that the producers of a TV special figure out what the heck their TV special is about before they turn the cameras on?

 

   I mean, this is all very cute. The sets and costumes look great. There are some good gags. But it's like they filmed the first draft of the script, before they could figure out what anybody's motivation is.

 

   Oliver Platt shows up as Elmo's Fairy Godperson. He's a temp Godperson -- "there's been a tremendous demand for Fairy Godpeople recently" -- and he says that he can't really do a lot of magic. Anyway, "this whole idea that a big Fairy Godperson is gonna fly into your window and just fix your life when things get sticky, I -- I find it very shaky, I really do." He sings a song called "Do Something" about how you should take action instead of sitting around and wishing. It's a funny song, and Oliver Platt can't sing worth beans, so he really has to sell it. It works. I love it. 

 

   But then he goes ahead and casts a spell that gives Elmo a fab new outfit, a big coach, and horses. He even magics up a dress for Zoe and turns their dog into French Stewart. So what was the point of that big song about not expecting other people to magically solve your problems?

 

   I'm just gonna jump to the ending, cause that's where the whole thing really just falls to pieces. The Princess sees Elmo dancing, and thinks he's really cute. (Quick sidebar: Elmo's dancing is really cute. So really cute that it's almost worth watching the whole special for it. When they sell the Elmo's Dance Grooves video on late-night TV, I'm buying one. But I digress.) It's midnight, the spell breaks, and the Princess is forced to choose a husband... so she chooses Elmo, despite the fact that Elmo is three and a half years old

 

   She finds the shoe, the shoe fits Elmo, they tell him he has to marry the Princess. Elmo laughs: "Marry? Before kindergarten? Elmo's too young to get married! But Elmo would love to be the Princess' friend. And we could dance together! And play miniature golf!" 

 

   That's cool with the Princess, who didn't really want to get married anyway. But what about the big dusty law book? Doesn't this mean that the King is going to lose the Kingdom? Grover reminds the King that he's the King, and he could just change the law -- so he does, and everyone happily goes to the palace to play, including Telly and Baby Bear, who also didn't really want to get married anyway. The Stepmother seems happy that everybody's playing together, and she cheerfully waves goodbye to them. 

 

   So wait, hold on. Everybody's happy now, and nobody had to get married, and the kingdom wasn't really in danger? And the Evil Stepmother wasn't really that mean after all? Am I getting all this? Cause from where I'm standing, it looks to me like absolutely nothing happened in the whole dang show, and I'm out one hour of my life. What goes on around here?

 

   I hate to say it, but I think the main problem here is Elmo. He's funny, he's cute, he dances well. But he's three and a half, and they're sticking him into a romantic fairy-tale where he just doesn't belong. He couldn't go to the ball because he wants to marry the Princess, because he's three and that would be icky. So they water down his motivation and say that he just wants to dance with her. And that sort of lowers the bar, drama-wise. 

 

   Dramatically, Elmo's a problem. At this point in his career, he's become this paradigm of Unselfish Love. He loves dancing, and he loves the Princess, but he doesn't demand anything in return. He doesn't want to marry her. He just wants to have fun. But because he's so perfectly unselfish, he seems to have fun doing pretty much anything -- even dusting his Stepmother's house. So what's the point? If your main character is going to be cheerful no matter what happens, then you can't really build any conflict around him.  

 

   I'm scoring this one as a point for the Elmo Detractors. This week isn't turning out to be quite the slam-dunk I thought it would be. And what are we watching tomorrow? Elmo's Magic Cookbook? I've got a bad feeling about this...

 

 

Monday           Tuesday           Wednesday           Thursday           Friday

 

    

Thursday, Jan 24:  

The Adventures of Elmo in Cher Land

 

   Here's a little story from my personal childhood. When my family went on vacation, my mother would always work like a demon to keep our traveling spirits up. So whenever anything went wrong -- if we got lost, or it started to rain, or the thing we were trying to see was closed -- she would chirp, "It's an ADVENTURE!" Unfortunately, my brother and I caught on to this trick pretty early, and it just became a joke in my family -- after a while, "ADVENTURE!" became the code word for "really boring and unpleasant." 

 

   This all came back to me while watching Elmo's Magic Cookbook, the 2001 direct-to-video cooking special. Elmo, Telly and a couple of General-Issue Sesame Kids find a magic cookbook in the attic, and Jean the Genie appears to teach them how to cook. "Okay, everyone!" she cries. "Get ready for a scrumptiously succulent, splendidly savory ADVENTURE!"

 

   And then she magically transports them to... a kitchen. "Where ARE we?" Elmo says. You're in the kitchen, Elmo. What does it look like? "Wow, COOL!" Telly says. "A giraffe TEAPOT!" The G.I. Kids admire a big fish decoration on a shelf. "Elmo has never SEEN a kitchen like THIS before!" Elmo says, and the G.I. Kids agree, so obviously their parents don't shop at Bed, Bath and Beyond. 

 

   They all sing a peppy salsa-type song about how great kitchen equipment is. It's a fun song, Jean is a very cute character, and they're all really working their tails off to sell this kitchen thing. But it's a kitchen. I mean, how worked up can I get. 

 

   The song tires Jean out, and she sets an egg-timer to take a nap before going on. They cut to a little animation, and when we come back, Jean is still sleeping, and Elmo and the kids have to yell to wake her up. Attention, TV producers: It's never a good sign when one of the main characters takes a nap on screen in the middle of your show, especially in the first fifteen minutes. It erodes my confidence as a viewer. This is not selling me on the exciting adventure of cooking dinner. 

 

    First, they learn how to make ice cream. They load all the ingredients into a hand-cranked ice cream maker, and Telly starts cranking. But that's gonna take a while, so he goes off-screen to crank. 

 

   Then Alan appears from Sesame Street, and he's going to teach Elmo how to make snacks. But what should Elmo do first? Wash his hands, of course! "Ohhhh!" Elmo says. "Wash our HANDS! Oh, Elmo knows how to wash his hands! This cooking thing is going to be FUN!"

 

   Okay, I'm starting to see where the Elmo-animosity is coming from. It's not his fault, poor dear, but he's trapped in a boring cooking video, and they're not going to let him loose unless he acts excited about the most mind-numbingly boring things. Washing your hands is NOT fun. It may be hygienic, but it's not fun, and no matter how much Elmo chuckles, it's not getting any more fun. We're getting into deep Tomie dePaola territory here.

 

   Emeril LaGasse shows up to teach Elmo and the G.I. Kids how to make pizzas. Now, I'll grant you that making pizzas is kind of fun. It's more fun when you actually get to EAT the pizzas, rather than just watching other people eat them -- but still, it registers on the fun scale. They start rolling out some dough, and a Muppet-ized glass of water appears and says they should thank him. After all, dough is made from flour, yeast and water. Yay, water! Then they put sauce on the pizza, and a tomato shows up to ask for some applause. Yay, tomato! Then they put on the cheese, and here's a glass of milk, begging for attention. Yay, milk! Then the COW shows up, and says SHE should get thanked for giving the milk! God, I had no idea that food was so high-maintenance. Do we have to cheer for every damn ingredient? No wonder it takes so long to get served in restaurants.

 

   Then Emeril urges us to TAKE IT UP A NOTCH! and make some CRAZY PIZZA! BAM! here's some pepperoni. BAM! some mushrooms. BAM! some olives. To be honest, Crazy Pizza doesn't look that much different from regular ol' pizza, but maybe it has some deep-rooted issues that only come up after years of therapy. Anyway, they can BAM! all they like, but the whole BAM! technique is just taking a handful of pepperoni and throwing it on the pizza in a big lump. It may be fun to throw ingredients around, but those are some shady looking pizzas. 

 

   And hey, by the way? Telly is still mixing the ice cream. We come back to Telly waaay at the end of the show -- about forty minutes later -- and he's actually so tired of mixing that he's falling asleep while he's doing it. They look in the ice cream maker, and... Hey! Ice cream! Just like you could buy at the store for about three bucks! And it only took six dollars worth of fresh cream, sugar and strawberries, and forty minutes of hard manual labor! 

 

   Still, I'm not holding this one against Elmo personally. He's honestly trying to make the best of all this, and it's hardly his fault that he's been sentenced to make dull cooking videos. It's kind of like when Cher hadn't had a hit for a while, and she had to make a Psychic Friends Infomercial to make ends meet until her next big comeback. Elmo's Grouchland movie was a big flop, so now he's trying to pick up a little extra cash. We didn't hold a grudge against Cher, did we? Of course not. Hang in there, Elmo. We believe in life after love.

 

 

Monday           Tuesday           Wednesday           Thursday           Friday

 

     

Friday, Jan 25:

Elmo and the Death of Irony

 

   So let me take a step back at this point and try to define our current Pop Culture Problem.

 

   In the 90's, it finally sunk in for everybody that the Reagan-era "Young Republican - Morning in America - Just Say No - Ketchup is a Vegetable - Very Special Episode of Family Ties" thing was all a horrible lie, that it was a fake smiley face pasted over some really deep-rooted selfishness. 

 

   So in response to that, we spent a while doing post-modern ironic parodies. A lot of self-referential fourth-wall-breaking spoofs. A lot of "air quotes." Jerry Seinfeld, Garry Shandling, Weekly World News kind of stuff. You may have bought a Bart Simpson T-shirt during this period. 

 

   Then after a while, we got tired of that, so then we moved into the post-postmodern, post-ironic phase. In this phase, which is where we are right now, it's not enough for something to be so bad that it's good. It has to go further than that, and be so bad that it's bad, where everything has to be really gross, or depressing, or offensive, or just flat-out dull. This is the John Kricfalusi, Tim Burton, goth-girl, nipple-piercing phase of pop culture. It's kind of a defensive posture, like people are afraid that other people will make fun of them for being pretentious and self-important, so they self-consciously make themselves ugly to short-circuit any possible mockery.

 

   As far as kid culture goes, this gets expressed in cartoons like Ren and Stimpy, or the Powerpuff Girls, or Spongebob Squarepants -- just really, really bad shows, where the whole point is that it's not funny and that it doesn't make any sense. These shows are the multiple eyebrow piercings of children's television. And the problem, of course, is that they're just hideous and joyless and empty. 

 

   But once you've been ironic, and then post-ironic, then what's next? Is it possible to be post-post-ironic without the whole enterprise just collapsing under its own weight?

 

   So here's where we get back to Elmo, because I think one possible model for how to get out of the irony trap is to go in the direction of Deep Sincerity. Forget about all the defensive "so bad it's good" post-modern posturing, and find something that you actually believe is really, honestly good. 

 

   Which brings us to the new Elmo's World : Wild Wild West video. There's not a single air-quotes post-modern moment in the whole thing. Elmo wants to learn about the Wild Wild West, because the Wild Wild West is just really straight-up interesting. 

 

   For an example of how Deep Sincerity works, take Mr. Noodle, and Mr. Noodle's brother, Mr. Noodle. The Noodles are really, really funny -- not because they're a reference to something else, and not because they're so stupid that they're funny. They're funny because they're played by Bill Irwin and Michael Jeter, who are amazingly talented physical comedians, and they're cheerful and vulnerable and sweet, and they're sitting on a cactus and making funny faces. It's just pure, basic comedy -- and if the idea of Bill Irwin sitting on a cactus and making faces doesn't strike you as funny, then you just need to stop watching The Simpsons for a while until you can pull yourself together. 

 

   Here's another example. Elmo rides a pony in this video -- a real, actual live pony. This happens outside, on a real outdoor location. There's a close-up where he mounts the pony, and then there's a long shot where you can see Elmo, full figure, riding the pony, trying to catch up to the people riding in a group in front of him. Elmo's having a great time, laughing and chuckling, because riding a pony is fun. And it's not fun in the cynical Magic-Cookbook way that washing your hands was "fun." Riding a pony is Really, Truly Fun. Bonus points for earnestness: Elmo's pony is named Cinnamon. And at the end of the video, there's a credit: "Special Thanks: Cinnamon." Now that is a textbook case of Deep Sincerity. It's just not possible to be cynical about that. 

 

   Now, just because we're doing Deep Sincerity doesn't mean that we need to do one of those conservative Return to Traditional Reagan Era Values deals. No no. Just check out Elmo's introduction of a film clip about a kid riding a horse: "Elmo's friend Maria -- who lives out west in the Navajo Nation -- She has her own horse, Strawberry! And she told Elmo all about it!"

 

   You heard that right. Maria lives out west in the Navajo Nation. I mean, how Maya Angelou is that?

 

   So this is why I love Elmo -- especially Elmo in his natural habitat, which is Elmo's World. I'll admit that we don't need Elmo shoehorned into romantic dramas like CinderElmo, and we don't need him pretending that washing his hands is fun in dreary Magic Cookbooks. But in Elmo's World, he's engaging kids, and teaching them critical thinking skills -- research skills, how do we find out more skills -- through the medium of riding ponies and calling people "buckaroo." Not only is that a deeply, profoundly, sincerely Good Thing To Do, but it's also fun to watch. Giddyap, Cinnamon. 

 

 

Monday           Tuesday           Wednesday           Thursday           Friday

 

 

Danny@ToughPigs.com 

 

 

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