Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Bemoaning Sesame Street

Last night I turned on a DVR'ed episode of Sesame Street while Jacob and I played. I've been keeping a few episodes on the DVR as backup for times I need something for Jacob to watch. It doesn't happen often, but when he gets in his "Elmocize" rut or I can't take another minute of the MLB Network, it comes in handy. Of all the kids' programming out there, it's tough to argue with a classic. My tolerance for kids' TV isn't very high, so I guess it's a good thing I work all day and Jacob doesn't have the opportunity to watch the full slate of programming on Nick Jr. or the Disney Channel or any of the other stations out there. I'm sure there is redeeming programming on them, but most of it I can't stomach long enough to find out.

Before I had Jacob, I think I said that my child would be able to watch Sesame Street and Blue's Clues. For some reason Blue's Clues never bothered me. I've seen bits and pieces of other shows in the meantime. I can take small does of Wonder Pets, and Jacob really likes Chuggington when we happen to catch it. Yo Gabba Gabba intrigues me, but I can't get past the creepiness of DJ Lance or the character that looks like a big, red, one-eyed, bumpy penis. I think the one full episode I did see had some life lesson about not biting your friends, so perhaps we should be watching it because Jacob has been attempting to do that lately. No idea why. Anyway, I also can't argue with classics like Clifford the Big Red Dog or Curious George, but beyond that I start getting concerned. It's hard to tell what is utter crap, and what will actually teach him something.

I don't think I can ever count Sesame Street out because I literally grew up on that program and learned a lot from it. I could have watched Sesame Street and Reading Rainbow all day, every day, for much longer than was age appropriate. And yes, I get that Sesame Street has had to change a bit over the years. Kids have gotten savvier and the old school shorts with primitive animation and grainy film footage probably wouldn't do it in this age of HDTV and fancy computer graphics everywhere they look. And of course, some of the characters have aged or left, and some (ummm, Elmo) have become increasingly popular over the years. I understand that they have to work around those changes and still keep a solid program that will hold kids' attention and continue to teach them at whatever level they're at. But right now, I can't say I love the show.

Until last fall, I hadn't really seen it much in the past, oh, 15 years at least. And apparently when the current season started, they changed things up significantly. The show now has four main segments--a live action segment to start, a CGI segement called "Abby's Flying Fairy School", starring newer character Abby Cadabby, "Murray had a Little Lamb", starring a new monster named Murray (who also sort of hosts the show in between segments), where Murray and his Hispanic lamb friend visit different schools with human children, and finally "Elmo's World", a half puppet/half animated segment starring Elmo. Some of these segments do have little things interspersed that are much like the shorts from years past, but it's just not the same. I find the segments far too long, for example. If it's not holding my attention, what does that say for the short-attention-spanned child who should be watching? The beauty of the old format was that everything was short, sweet and generally catchy. Short bit of live action, a series of shorts, more live action, etc. There was far more attention given to the letter and number of the day, which are really just covered in single segments now, and those themes were carried on often throughout the show. Now there's a word of the day that comes up quite a bit, but I just don't think it has the same impact for really little kids. I learned how to count and learned my letters, and now I guess kids already know that stuff early on so they're focusing more on complete storylines and quirky jokes that adults might appreciate more than the kids. It's rare to see characters other than Elmo, Abby, Rosita, Baby Bear, Telly, and maybe Grover (often in Super Grover form). I can probably count on one hand the number of times I've seen Oscar, Big Bird, Snuffy, and the Count combined. Even Bert and Ernie aren't nearly as prominent as they used to be. Half the time they use a CGI version of them. It's just weird.

And truly, other than a couple of particularly interesting storylines (Mr. Hooper dying, Luis & Maria getting married, and everyone finally realizing that Snuffy wasn't just Big Bird's imaginary friend), the stuff I remember most was the shorts. Perhaps it was repetition, perhaps it was the catchy music and eye-catching graphics. But some of them were downright fascinating. I liked seeing how crayons were made, or watching a girl walk her llama down the streets of New York to the dentist, or watching a tiny red ball speed along a metal track. I liked the pinball machine that counted (1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10...11, 12...doo doo doo doo doo) and the creepy guy who painted numbers on random things like slices of bread and office doors. I loved Teeny Little Superguy and the baker who always fell down the stairs. I liked that stuff so much that I remember it all these years later. My freshman year of college, my roommate Mary and I were up until about 2am one night just recalling our favorites. And thanks to technology, we can relive them now thanks to YouTube.

I'm not an education expert, and I'm sure there are many that have contributed to the changes in Sesame Street's format, so I'm probably wrong here. But it's just not the same show that had me riveted from the time I could watch TV. The segments are too long, not exciting or eye-catching, and with the same four segments each show, there's just not enough variety. I feel bad for all the monsters who no longer get their screen time. Bummer...for them and for us. Hopefully someday they'll see the error of their ways and not only go back to the old format, but redo some of the old classics to make them modern! I can dream...

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