originally published October 23, 2013
There are some aspects of life that should probably remain unexamined. For example, a number of the rusty cogs of childhood that prop up our very being – do we need to look too deeply into these things? When I learned about Freud’s theory of the anal phase in infantile sexuality I thought, “Really? Is this helping anybody? Do I need to think about the ‘erotogenic zone’ that my 3-year-old discovered ‘when the faeces are let go’?” The answer, I believe, is an emphatic “fuck no.”
But then there are little dollops of trivia that splatter across my table and drive me to curiosity. Like the stories of Mr. Rogers’ off-screen work for children, which merely confirmed my belief that he is one of the most absolutely awesome human beings to ever slip into a cozy cardigan.
Then there’s Sesame Street. It was my first childhood TV addiction, and I was happy to be a stay-at-home dad when my daughter became a fan. Except there were new creatures milling about the street, some of whom I didn’t trust when I couldn’t see them. With that thread between my mental fingertips, it’s time to tug a little and see what comes rolling out of the alleys.
For starters there’s Mr. Snuffleupagus. When I was a kid, this was Big Bird’s imaginary friend. No one else saw Snuffy (whose first name is Aloysius – let that one simmer for a while in your cerebral saucepan), leading to the same comical frustration we all felt when Wile E. Coyote failed to fool the Roadrunner with a painted-on tunnel.
At some point between my childhood years and my daughter’s, Snuffy became everybody’s friend. This actually went down in 1985, once I had reached the age of watching Card Sharks and The Price Is Right on my mornings off instead of kids’ shows. November 18, 1985 to be exact. It was the first episode of the seventeenth season, and the powers that govern the Street felt it was time for Snuffy to be outed.
Why did they do this? Well, in part it’s tied in with the reason they changed Snuffy’s appearance from the early episodes.
As Big Bird’s imaginary friend, Snuffleupagus was supposed to be something that was deemed relatable to the kids watching. But in the mid-80’s, shows like 60 Minutes and 20/20 were airing segments about pedophilia and child abuse. The writers felt that by keeping Snuffy as a secret – specifically one that adults refused to believe when Big Bird would insist he was real – they might be frightening children viewers into believing their parents would dismiss any stories of abuse they might bring forward.
As a semi-interesting aside, Richard Hunt, one of the original puppeteers who worked in Snuffy’s innards, was a good friend of Mark Hamill. So that’s basically my entire childhood bottled into a single thought right there.
Also tweaking the chemistry of Sesame Street between my family’s generations was the sudden appearance of this fuzzy little red twerp. Elmo had been kicking around in the background of group scenes as an extra since the early 70’s. It wasn’t until Kevin Clash stepped up in 1984 and gave the character a distinct falsetto voice and energetic personality that he became a series regular. Elmo never really bugged me – it was more the fact that his presence meant there was less Bert & Ernie, less Grover, less Count and less Oscar. Some Sesame Street purists (yes, they exist) call him the Little Red Menace.
My daughter was more annoyed by Mr. Noodle, Elmo’s bumbling silent human friend from the “Elmo’s World” segments that now end every show. “He was an idiot,” she informed me this week, and she has a point. His only purpose was to screw everything up so that Elmo could swoop in and advise him.
That said, Mr. Noodle was played by Bill Irwin, his brother (also Mr. Noodle) by Michael Jeter, his sister (Ms. Noodle) by Kristen Chenoweth, and his other sister (Miss Noodle) by Sarah Jones. All four actors have won Tony Awards, suggesting the Noodle role may be more challenging that it appears.
Apparently Telly Monster first showed up in 1979, when he was a swirl-eyed beast obsessed with his television. I have no memory of this character, though that might be because he was perceived as detrimental to kids, given his unbreakable addiction. Maybe he got through to me subconsciously, thus propelling me into a lifetime of manic television viewing. I wonder if I have a lawsuit here…
Anyhow, by the time my daughter became a regular visitor to the Street, Telly had evolved into a whining, neurotic, even paranoid pain in the ass. Sure, it’s somewhat amusing when he hops around on his pogo stick causing mayhem and destruction. But he is the one Muppet I’d like to hit in the face with a hammer.
And what’s up with the damn triangles? This creature needs a hobby.
Grover appears to be on the show a lot less now that these other more obnoxious furry Muppets have moved in. I always enjoyed Grover – his exploits as a waiter taught me to always be cruel to bald people with mustaches. This explains my ongoing feud with actor Gerald McRaney.
Grover’s first appearance on TV was as a greenish-brown creature named Gleep on an episode of The Ed Sullivan Show in 1967. He became a regular on season 2 of Sesame Street, and for his lack of obnoxious traits I feel he deserves a bigger chunk of the on-screen pie.
For whatever reason, Grover’s name changes when you travel to the different Sesame Streets around the globe. In Afghanistan he goes by Kajkoal, which literally means ‘bowl’ in reference to his mouth. No, I don’t get it either. In Portugal he’s Gualter (Walter), and in Spain he’s Coco, which translates to ‘coconut’ and again refers to the shape of his head. In Turkey they call him Açikgöz, which means ‘leery’. In Israel he’s Kruvi, which is a play on the Hebrew word for cabbage.
I don’t want to become one of those Sesame-Hipsters who swear the show was better when they were kids – something tells me a conversation with one of those would be a painful ordeal. I prefer the way it was back then, but then I was also in the target demographic at the time. My daughter loved the show when she was 3-6 years old so I suppose they’re still hitting it out of the park.
Even with Elmo shrieking and Telly bitching about everything, it’s still a much better use of time than Barney.