STUDIO: Jim Henson Company
MSRP: $14.98
RATED: Not Rated
RUNNING TIME: 48 minutes
Zero special features, ah, ah ah!

The Pitch

Let’s bring together some human and non-human cast members from Sesame Street for a celebration of the first 20 years… and let’s have TV megastar Bill Cosby host it, since he will be eternally relevant and hilarious!

The Humans

Bill Cosby, Jim Henson, Ray Charles, Plácido Domingo, Frank Oz, Carroll Spinney, Richard Hunt,

Fig A: Cliff Hux-Double

The Nutshell

An affable retrospective of the first 20 years of Sesame Street is emceed by the man who erroneously enumerated the first Leonard as Part Six. I is for Irony.

The Lowdown

Obviously, I am no longer the target audience for Sesame Street (though I certainly know of plenty of my contemporaries who could benefit from viewing an episode or two), but this special is a pleasantly surprising visit back to the ‘hood. Oh yes, there are appearances from the requisite short-form earworms. The psychedelic pinball machine makes its appearance, as does the King of Eights puppetoon, which I had, until this viewing, successfully suppressed from my memory (I hope to be cleansed of it again by 2015). Since this show is only an hour, not all MVP’s are present. Those hoping for llamacentric dental visits or autistic red and blue aliens may be left wanting, however.

“Puerto Ricans… do tha Humpty Hump, c’mon a-do tha Humpty Hump”

Tonally, this is aimed primarily at adults but is children-friendly without condescension. I have a hard time imagining a child sitting through Ray Charles’ heartfelt performance of It’s Not Easy Being Green but I found myself strangely riveted, and anyone not at least mildly affected by the legion of Muppets in a chorus of Sing dedicated to Joe Raposo is probably someone you should stop being friends with (yes, even if that person is you). Less successful is Plácido Domingo, whose duet with Placido Flamingo (see what they did there?) seems substantially more sloppy and paychecky.

Cosby is… Cosby.

“n tha numbers wif tha street n tha thing n tha mwaaaaaaaah…”

It helps that the double layer of meta (this is an approximately 20-year-old special about a show that debuted 20 years before) is fascinating to examine. You get to see Bill Cosby say, “mentally-retarded children” as a genuine clinical term, before it was a vernacular boogeyman. During a montage of foreign-produced Sesame Streets, you will also see what Sesame Street looked like in Kuwait in 1989, back before most people knew what the hell a Kuwait was. Some former child actors show up, which should help you cross find out whatever happened to John John* off your bucket list. Jim Henson opens the show, filmed roughly a year before his death. And wait until you hear Sesame Street creator Joan Ganz Cooney’s plans for the Middle East (SPOILER: she perhaps was aiming a bit high). 

“Mama, word on the street is that there is a spy among us sent by Don Porcupano”

It’s become fashionable to be cynical about children’s programming, and Sesame Street in recent years has painted itself as an easy target. The celebrity appearances increasingly seem to be calculated publicity stunts, and you don’t have to suffer from golden age syndrome to think that Elmo drove the cuteness and marketability quotients to shark-jumpingly dangerous levels. That said, this time capsule contains some genuine infotainment for most Sesame Street alumnus and enough color and fun to keep the young ones sitting still. 

Remember when this type of thing… letting a 6-year-old stand up
in the back of your drunk uncle’s rusty pickup while he hurtled down
the poorly maintained mountain road… was no big deal?

The Package

Crisp and bright (with the exception of some archival footage), the show is indistinguishable from standard-def material produced recently, with the possible exceptions of the mall-clothes, Cosby sweaters, and non-Jamie-Foxx Ray Charleses. The menu animations are trippy and fluid. Physically, you get a well-executed and colorful design over an Ecolite case that is a shade of green that I’ve yet to encounter in my 34 years on the planet, though a hipper friend said, “Hey, that looks like an X-Box game!”. If you have children too simple to follow the narrative of the feature, staring at the packaging makes for a viable alternate distraction! 

Some children are beyond help; for the rest, try Sesame Street.

*and what is the strategic value of nicknaming a child named John “John John”?

6.5 out of 10