This morning, as I was perusing the New York Times in preparation for another challenging day at Mount Kapakalow Day camp, I learned of Sesame Street’s being moved to HBO for its next five seasons. I dropped my Scooby Doo spoon right into my Chex and got cereal milk all over my tiny little ascot. As I was swapping my soiled silk scarf for another, I began to reflect on how this would change the show I’ve watched and loved for seven seasons – I think it can only mean great things.
While I’ve enjoyed Sesame Street’s earnest attempts at teaching me about numbers, letters and sharing, I’ve always felt the show was lacking depth. I realize when I say this that I’m laying a pretty heavy critique on what many consider an institution and, what’s more, what most of my third grade compatriots would call “Yay!! Sesame Street!!” And, of course, I do say yay when I watch Sesame Street, but no one episode really stays with me. This move to HBO will hopefully bring some rich character development, complex storylines that can evolve over several seasons, and a more honest portrayal of the real Sesame Street. This view may make me unpopular, but let’s face it: I’m a 7 year-old boy who wears an ascot and regularly quotes Thomas Friedman at the playground – I’m already very, very unpopular.
For example, the notion that Cookie Monster’s cookie consumption constitutes anything but addiction has always struck me as naive. This is a guy – okay this is a monster – who cannot control himself when he’s around this substance and, as a result, he’s less intelligible than my baby sister, who poops herself. It would be wonderful to see some of Cookie Monster’s life off-camera, when he’s sweatily trolling Sesame Street for cookie crumbs, offering to let someone ejaculate in his mangey blue fur in exchange for a chocolate chip. That’s the sort of thing I would eat up all my vegetables to watch.
If HBO really wants to address some of the darker sides of Sesame Street, why not explore the rampant illiteracy rates, homelessness and poverty in this world? Oscar the Grouch, while an institution on Sesame Street, is treated as a grouch of his own making by his own community. The cold, self-interested characters who walk by his garbage can home color Sesame Street more than the purple and yellow chalk they brandish. Sesame Street has less in common with Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood than it does with West Baltimore.
Big Bird’s frightening obsession with power, Snuffleupagus’s “invisible” immigrant status, Elmo’s homosexuality, Bert and Ernie’s thin veneer of homosexuality to conceal their meth lab. These are some of the stories I and the other children who alarm people by making eye contact and crossing their legs like adults would like to see on HBO’s Sesame Street. Let’s hope this isn’t a wasted opportunity – it would be like not asking for dessert at dessert time, and that would be crazy.