So, I read in the New York Post about HBO’s launch of the new, improved Sesame Street. (Yes, I am a proud Post reader. Where else would I get my
celebrity gossip cheesy Anthony Weiner headlines news?)
I was never fond of Sesame Street, even as a kid. Always a fan of snark, I preferred Statler and Waldorf hurling insults on The Muppet Show to Bert and Ernie’s griping. Cookie Monster was grammar-challenged and his cookie-scarfing schtick grew old, fast. Snuffleupagus was a downer. But the worst was Big Bird: whiny, ungainly, and with those disturbing bug-eyes that screamed “undiagnosed anxiety disorder.”
But as an adult with children of my own, I decided to give Sesame Street a second shot. It was a no-go. My kids were no fonder of the program than I was, and I failed to see how featuring a “Letter of the Day” or having The Count count to ten in Spanish qualified as “educational.” We opted, instead, for Sponge Bob: no more “educational” than Sesame Street, but wicked funny and blessedly free of Sonia Sotomayor going full-Voldemort on the dreams of four-year-old girls by telling them they can’t be princesses.
Still, even though Sesame Street never caught on in our house, I could appreciate the show’s slower pace and simple, charming sketches. In comparison, a lot of children’s programming today is so frenetic it seems designed to bring on an epileptic fit. If we never cottoned to Sesame Street’s characters, it was laudable for its lack of CGI, quick edits, and non-stop sound effects. A kid had to have at least a modicum of attention to watch it.
So I was disappointed to hear the HBO Sesame Street episodes have not only been reduced from 60 to 30 minutes, but that it’s faster-paced and contains CGI. In other words, it’s more like a video game. From the Washington Post:
… even moving beyond the physicality of puppets, the episodes make generous use of digital imagery in a seamless abstract integration.
Bottom line: The easygoing pace in the neighborhood of old seems to have fallen prey to a newly revved-up virtual world. A dazzling new opening is set (for the first time) on Sesame Street itself, but in the action that follows, this precious urban retreat is more a state of mind than on-screen real estate.
Other changes in the program are afoot. Since it is now appears on HBO, Sesame Street now features graphic puppet orgies. Kidding! But seriously: Oscar the Grouch now emerges from a recycling bin instead of a trash can. I suppose that’s to be expected, since years back cookies became a “sometimes food” for the monster whose very name and selfhood is predicated on eating cookies. Talk about an identity crisis!
Where recent series focused on STEM skills and childhood obesity — most notably, with Michelle Obama joining Big Bird in the White House kitchen in 2013 — new shows will focus on lofty goals like teaching kids “self-regulation” and “executive function”; in other words, handling challenges without having a meltdown.
“Executive function”? Yeah, that’s a new buzzword in childhood development. When my son was in preschool, his teachers told me he had issues with “executive function” because he got upset when he had to leave the Lego table. In fact, the teachers pegged nearly all the boys in his class as having “executive function” issues, pretty much because they had a hard time sitting still and keeping quiet.
Teaching “self-regulation” and “executive function” to kids who are new to wearing underpants? I’m not sure I like where this is going, Sesame Street. I can see it now: “Today’s letters of the day are A-D-D! Elmo looooooves you . . . and his Ritalin!” And isn’t it a tad, well, ironic for Sesame Street to work the little tykes up with “revved-up” pacing and action while pushing “self-regulation”?
Maybe Romney was right. Maybe it is time to kill Big Bird. Snuffleupagus can shed a tear for me.