Jul 27th, 2007
When Jan and I decided to introduce our daughter to television a couple of months ago, we thought that Sesame Street would be a good choice. But not the Elmo-infested crassly commercial stuff on the airwaves today–we wanted the old stuff. (My hatred for Elmo, a.k.a. the Red Menace, burns hotter than a thousand suns. He’s like Wesley Crusher and Rachel Ray combined. [shudder])
So we went to the video department of our local Barnes and Noble and asked, “Do you have a boxed DVD set of Sesame Street episodes without Elmo?” The clerk looked at us funny, and said, “Gee…I don’t think anyone has ever asked me that before.” He tapped away at his computer (and may I just mention here how incredibly annoying that B&N doesn’t have publicly accessible search terminals in the store, and instead they force you to track down an unfindable employee if you need help with anything?) for a few seconds, then said, “You’re in luck! They recently released something called Sesame Street Old School.”
We were indeed in luck. Sesame Street Old School, Vol. 1 (1969-1974) includes the first episode (in its entirety) from each of the first five seasons, plus several “greatest hits” segments from that period. The gems include songs by Bud Luckey (“The Alligator King,” “Ladybug Picnic,” and “Martian Beauty“), Listen My Brother singing about counting to twenty (with a cowbell!), and Johnny Cash singing about “Nasty Dan” to Oscar. For Jan and me, this DVD set is a real trip down memory lane–“Oh! I totally remember this song!”–and we’ve really enjoyed sharing it with Sylvia.
One of our (all three of us) favorite segments is the one called “Handclapping Number” on the liner notes:
So clever! And creative! And exciting! No one does this sort of thing any more, it seems. The new programming targeted to children these days seems be to all CGI or bad cartoons, with quick editing (I think of it as the seizure-inducing Wang Chung Effect) and aggressive marketing tie-ins. There’s something so pleasant about a conversation or a song or a camera shot that takes its time and really tries to get kids interested in what’s going on rather than lull them into a semicatatonic state.
How many puppeteers do you think are working here? One set of four in three different shots? Jan and I keep trying to figure it out, and we can’t. As a magician, Jan is especially good at looking at physical movement things like this and knowing what’s going on that the viewers can’t see, but even this has him stymied. Now that’s some good puppetry!
I have the “Handclapping Number” on my mind today for two reasons. One is that for the last week it has been Sylvia’s favorite and most-requested (“I want to see the clapping, please!”) scene. The other is that I just came across (via Ze Frank) what struck me as a grown-up version of this number. But with one person. Take a look.