Can you tell me how to get…how to get to Sesame Street?
I think you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone in this world who can’t tell you where on dial (okay, even if there are no dials anymore) to find that famous neighborhood where sunny days sweep the clouds away.
I personally have a hard time thinking of any other children’s television program that has consistency come into the homes of families as long as Sesame Street has, talking directly to their audience and guiding them through the essentials of childhood learning, from ABCs and 123s, colors and patterns, and just plain being good people.
The show has left five decades worth of legacy behind as of this writing. Five decades. It is incredible to stop and think about how many childhoods that encompasses, that have been touched and impacted by this product of the Children’s Television Workshop, now known as Sesame Workshop.
So it was with great joy that our family gathered around the television a few weeks back to watch Sesame Street’s 50th Anniversary Special on PBS Kids. For us, it was a family event. I even made popcorn.
The look-back celebration didn’t disappoint. With songs and clips from throughout the shows storied history, it was a trip down nostalgia lane with Muppets last seen long ago reappearing in various cameos (looking at you, Amazing Mumford, Roosevelt Franklin, Sherlock Hemlock, Harvey Kneeslapper, and Guy Smiley, among so many others).
Even the Baker who famously dropped his plate of whatever it would be at the time, re-emerged, most of his face cleverly hidden by pies, but his voice still provided thanks to a recording from the late, great Jim Henson. “Ten…banana cream…pies!!!!” **tumble** **crash**
And much to my delight, even Kermit the Frog re-emerged for a visit back to Sesame Street, as let’s not forget Kermit was once a regular on the Street back in the day.
And the humans. Sigh. It just wouldn’t have been a Sesame Street anniversary without a check-in of the human cast members from days gone by. Maria, Gordon, Susan, Luis, Bob, even Linda were all back to join in the fun with a few lines and songs that would make even the most curmudgeonly viewers feel like a kid again. I beamed.
All that in itself would have been enough, but they did even better by having a few performers on the special’s back end to talk about what the show meant to them personally. I was especially touched by the words of Jason Schwartzman, who talked about what the introduction of the character Julia meant to his family.
I can’t think of Sesame Street without thinking of the episode that stayed with me my entire life. Sure, there were songs, and characters and skits that were memorable. And yes, long before I had been working in the world of journalism as a reporter, toddler-aged me used to sit in our apartment using a paper lunch bag to make a trench coat for my stuffed Kermit the Frog so he could be “Kermit the Frog, reporting live from Sesame Street.”
But what struck me the most throughout the years, no matter how old I got, was the episode that dealt with the death of actor Will Lee, who played Mr. Hooper. The episode first aired in 1982, and my memory can’t distinguish if I had seen it then (I would have been 2 at the time) or as a rerun a year or so after that. But it’s the one that I’ll never forget. It was my first understanding of death, just like Big Bird, and an emotional impact that stays with me to this day.
Five decades of teaching. Five decades of helping. Five decades of giving kids from all backgrounds and all walks of life a chance to say “hey, that’s like me.” It’s what makes Sesame Street so darn special to so many people and has for so many years.
It’s part of why we all wish we could live on a street like Sesame.
I think about Russi Taylor a lot.
I know that’s a weird sentence to start a piece with, but it’s true.
It’s said that when she was a little girl, Russi was at Disneyland with her mother and brother when she spotted Walt Disney sitting on a bench in the park at night. They started up a conversation and when Walt asked her what she wanted to do when she grew up, the young Russi replied, “Work for you!” And she did.
In 1986 she beat out 200 others auditioning for the role of the famous female mouse and she has voiced her ever since.
She was no one-trick pony either. Her career included voice-overs for countless other characters across television and film, including Martin Prince on The Simpsons and Huey, Dewey and Louie in the original DuckTales. And those who work with her say she was just as sweet as the Minnie she portrayed.
She passed away in July at the age of 75, but her work…well, like so many others, it’s around me every single day.
With three kids at home, we watch a lot of Mickey and Minnie Mouse cartoons. From Mickey’s Clubhouse and Minnie’s Bow-tique to Roadster Racers and Mixed Up Adventures, Minnie’s with us every there. And that means that Russi Taylor’s Minnie is a constant presence. Throw in any Minnie Mouse doll, toy car, toy phone or anything else that talks in-character, and well, she’s heard about as much as any family member.
That’s a little strange, right? This person whom I’ve never met in my life but felt sadness for upon hearing of her passing. I didn’t know Russi Taylor. But like so many who experience characters that have become such a part of our lives, you don’t need to know them personally for them to mean something to you. She gave voice and life for more than 30 years to a beloved character that’s been a part of multiple childhoods.
And yet, though she is no longer with us, the Disney Legend continues to live on in every character she brought to life and every childhood she touched and brought joy to. The sound of Minnie Mouse surrounds so many of us every day, and because of that, she has become such a large part of so many childhoods, lives, and lives on in some small way in each person whose face she brought a smile to, even if it was remotely, through the wonder of animation and technology.
If you’ve ever watched the holiday classic Miracle on 34th Street, you’re likely familiar with the buzz created when the real-life Santa Claus (mistaken for an actor playing the role) is put into the throne at Macy’s with the intention to push overstocked toys and instead starts telling parents and children alike where to find the items they just can’t seem to find there at Macy’s.
Sending them to other stores?! Gasp! It sends the head of the toy department into a tizzy but strikes Mr. Macy himself as a brilliant marketing ploy of goodwill to make Macy’s the friendly store, the helpful store.
There’s really something to be said for customer service, isn’t there?
You see, the past few years, an annual tradition has developed where on his birthday, I present our son (and last year at her birthday, our oldest daughter as well) with a custom-made comic book based on the super-hero persona he created for himself one Halloween back in preschool. I try to keep notes of the various characters his imagination develops as he played back then or creates in stories or drawings he makes currently, and incorporate them into these breezy little adventures that are all his own. And I try to have extras on hand as additional party favors for anyone at his birthday who may want one.
As in years past, I had ordered via an online printing service that does great work. Only this time, (through no fault of theirs) I made a mistake in the types of books I ordered, paper used. I admit being a bit obsessive about aesthetics at times and realized that these would stick out like a sore thumb amid the ones I’ve given him in the past. But re-ordering for such a small picky thing like that would’ve been too costly and wouldn’t arrive in time for his birthday.
So I started thinking local.
I stepped foot into a local printing and lithograph company that handles a lot of large scale orders in the area, including several magazines. I explained what I was looking to do, but that I only wanted 10, maybe 15 copies of this gift and party favor. They do large projects, but they told me the printer across the parking lot from them would have no problem handling the job well.
They didn’t tell me no and send me packing. They didn’t turn their nose up. They sent me and my business to someone more suited to it.
It was my Miracle on 34th Street moment.
So across the parking lot I hopped into Presto Print, where I was surprisingly greeted by a classmate from high school. An added bonus! I explained the project, what I needed, and she told me ‘no problem.’ To boot, they had it ready the very next day for me.
Thanks to these heroes, I had what I wanted when I needed it, all in time for my little hero.
There’s really something to be said for customer service.
It seemed like an era came to a close on PBS Kids recently, and if you’ve been watching Odd Squad with your kids (or maybe on your own, I do it. It’s okay. It’s a great show no matter how old you are), you know exactly what I’m talking about.
PBS Kids recently aired the Odd Squad special, Odds & Ends, which set out to answer questions that have been looming throughout the show’s entire season of odd-busting, and at the same time, brought one era of the show to a close while leaving the door open for a fresh new start.
Avast, matey! Scroll at your own peril! There be spoilers ahead!!
When the original Odd Squad duo, straight-laced Olive and goofball Otto (Dalila Bela and Filip Geljo), left the show at the end of the first season, audiences were introduced to a brand new dynamic with uber-optimist Olympia and the by-the-book Otis (Anna Cathcart and Isaac Kragten, respectively). From the start of the second season, audiences were told that unlike other Odd Squad cadets, Otis didn’t attend the Odd Squad Academy, leaving the door open to all sorts of questions as to where he came from.
Series mainstay Millie Davis continued to guide agents on their missions and paths as the big boss, Ms O, with Sean Michael Kyer also staying on for several episodes as scientist and resident gadget-maker Oscar, eventually exiting to pass the torch along to his protege, Oona (Olivia Presi).
Over the course of 35 episodes in its second season, Olympia and Otis used math skills to solve a myriad of wacky cases that ranged from houses being covered in jam to a man turned into a spaghetti monster, and continued to rack up Daytime Emmy wins for its cast and crew in the process. And all along the way, they and the roster of changing agents, scientists and others around them, the duo had series mainstay Ms O to guide them.
With this special, the show’s second season came to a close as Otis is put on trial for suspected treason against Odd Squad and on the stand tells the story we’ve been waiting for – just where he came from and how he came to Odd Squad. And in typical Odd Squad fashion, it turns out he was raised by ducks. Villainous ducks that in his heart he knew he had to stop, which brought him to Ms O, and eventually, to joining Odd Squad. Of course, Otis committed no treason and we learn that it’s really been the work of a mastermind under our noses the entire time – Agent Ohm!
Yes, Agent Ohm. The goofy, hapless, mucking up every case he touches Ohm, has really been a genius working from the inside to destroy Odd Squad this whole time. And what a delightfully fun turn of character for the young actor who plays Ohm, (Jaiden Cannatelli) to take on, cackling all the way. When all is revealed (and after some wonderful cameo appearances by regular Odd Squad rogues Mr Lightning, Jamie Jam and of course, Joshua Kilimnik’s Odd Todd along with a wham-bang, over the top opening with David Tompa’s delightful villain, Noisemaker) the dust settles, the end of the world is stopped and Otis (along with Ms O) are cleared. With the mystery solved, Ms O moves up the ranks from running one Odd Squad to all of them, and we get a nice farewell hug among the regulars before duty (and battle against giant Laser Chickens) calls.
Our son got a little misty as the special came to a close and I can’t say I blame him. He’s been watching Odd Squad since shortly after it debuted. More than four years later, he’s grown up alongside the characters he’s watched regularly on TV. He wondered what’s going to happen next, but I told him we’ll all have to find out together. I’m sure only show creators Timothy McKeon and Adam Peltzman truly know what oddness the future holds.
I’ve read online that a Season 3 is already in the works.. What that will look like, I have no clue, but it certainly will be a challenge to carry on in a post Ms O world. Young Mille Davis has been with the show since the very beginning and has been nothing short of a delight to watch in every scene she’s in. But then, I wondered how the show would carry on with the loss of Bela and Geljo as Olive and Otto, and went on to find Cathcart and Kragten incredibly charming as successors Olympia and Otis. Hopefully they’ll stick around, regardless of who’s in the boss’ chair, along with Presti, who has found all the comedic quirks over the course of Season 2 that developed her character, Oona, into a wonderful source of awkward comedy moments. So whatever the show’s creators choose to do, it’ll no doubt be fun. And odd.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Odd Squad is the best family show for all ages on TV. Whether it’s our three year old, our six year old, or me, every episode is cleverly written, delightfully acted, and brilliantly put together in a way that delivers action, humor, and some great math lessons along the way. Did I mention that time that ⅗ of the Kids in the Hall appeared in a first season episode spoof of Clue?
So, seriously, tune in to your local PBS or PBS Kids station, download the free PBS Kids app to your television or electronic device and delight in all the oddness and fun. I promise, it’s hard to resist and you might just find yourself watching well after the kids have left the room.
What are you waiting for? Go!
Maybe it’s the calm feeling of the wax being poured into the molds, or the soothing narration as each yellow stick gets stacked, sorted, and place amid a rainbow of color sticks for boxing.
Whatever the timeless appeal is, every day for the past several weeks (no exaggeration. I mean every day), our three year old daughter wakes up, wanders out of her room, the lull of sleep still filling her eyes as they flutter in adjustment to the morning light and her little voice asking us “Can I watch the Mr Rogers where they learn to make crayons?”
Available now on the PBS Kids app for free on your streaming device or mobile device, by the way. Download it if you can…shameless plug from this PBS Kids family.
And so, every morning, for several weeks, mornings have started with that familiar chime of music through the model neighborhood, the friendly greeting of Fred Rogers, who takes some time to show us how to assemble a three legged stool (with leather seat delivered courtesy of Mr McFeeley, of course) and setting himself atop the stool in front of an easel, begins to color away on a large piece of paper. Then comes the piece de resistance! The tour of the crayon factory, the payoff that keeps her 3 year old eyes and mind glued without interruption. And I have to admit, as much as I had a memory of it from my own youth, I never realized how soothing it could be as an adult.
There’s more to the episode beyond the tour of course, such as King Friday’s declaration of a coloring contest in the Neighborhood of Make Believe and Lady Elaine’s insistence that winning is everything and makes people like you. This provides the perfect opportunity, as trolley exits the neighborhood and heads back to Mr Rogers’ home for Fred to use Lady Elaine’s skewed perspective as a wonderful lesson to the viewers at home:
“Lady Elaine has just heard about the contest, and all she’s thinking about is winning. Not doing, but winning. It should be the fun of doing it that’s important.”
From there, as he so often does, Mr Rogers reminds us of our contributions to the world with his wonderful song of “You are Special” and lets us know as he exits that “You make each day a special day. You know how, by just your being you.”
She never seems to tire of hearing it, every single morning. And you know what? Neither do I.
Maybe in this crazy world, in the stress and hectic days of adulthood…maybe we could all stand to start our day out with a little lesson and a little affirmation from Mr. Rogers.