Thursday, April 2, 2009

These were the people in my neighbourhood

Recently while scouring YouTube, I was inspired to look up an old classic television show called Electric Company. If you've never seen this show I pity you. Electric Company was an educational children's programme from the 70s which was well known for its fun, funky and inspired children's programme. They won Emmys, broke records and overall overshadowed the world of children's programming. For me, one of the main indications of its quality is that it was created by the good people of Sesame Workshop (formerly known as the Children's Television Workshop (CTW). Never heard of them you say? I guarantee you though that most of you are familiar with their work, and perhaps like me, you feel that you owe them a debt for shaping your least if you don't, you should.

A glance at this Wikipedia article should enlighten you on the work of CTW. They created the masterpiece of children's programming known as Sesame Street. Folks from Trinidad may also have seen their 3-2-1 Contact and Square One. As far as I recall, Electric Company was never shown here which was very unfortunate. It was one of the most fun educational shows I've ever seen. At an educational level above Sesame Street, it taught more about the fundamentals of reading like adverbs, punctuation and tenses. Who would notice though while mesmerized by the songs, the cartoons, the witty sketches... Like Sesame Street, the show drew an impressive roster of multi-ethnic talent like Rita Moreno, Bill Cosby, Richard Pryor, and a pre-superstar Morgan Freeman as a funky bibliophile aptly called "The Easy Reader". He had several of the same traits of Electric Company : cool, innovative, fun though not particularly well known.

Electric Company did not have the enduring popularity of Street which celebrated its 39th anniversary recently. In Trinidad especially, it seems to have transcended limits in its fan group. EVERYONE likes Sesame Street. Sing a few songs, mention a sketch or two (Remember the time Ernie couldn't sleep and started singing about it with his sheep backup dancers) and you'll get joyous responses which would probably devolve into a long, endless reminiscing session. I repeat EVERYONE loves Sesame Street. What's not to like? The songs were wonderfully done, and some of the older ones were just beautiful. The characters were vivid, adorable and sometimes unexpected. I love Grover's advanced vocabulary in his silliness (I once heard him say "cornucopia"). Ernie's is cute, but he's also a fun conman that you just have to love, since there's no malice in him and he has an infectious laugh. Bert's coolness is apparent in his commitment to just being himself. He doesn't really care what anyone thinks and enjoys his oatmeal, his boring stories, the number 6 and Mr. Rogers. In its early days the show was sometimes scary which was excellent. I firmly believe that some of the greatest work done for children needs to have some scariness in it. I think I miss that most of all: the days when The Count was almost vampiric, when martians could come right through the walls and pigs could crash your birthday party. (You're a true fan if you can get all these references.) It could be poignant too. Sometimes something was sad, and you just didn't know why, just that something pulled at you deep inside. A few times it was more evident. Many people remember the episode when Mr. Hooper passed away. Big Bird's grief was very real, and his trouble touched the hearts of all of us. It helped to see that he was surrounded by the familiar, mixed family we've come to expect on the Street. Who wouldn't want to live in a place where everyone was a friend, everyone was family. You could turn to anyone and be safe.

Goodbye Mr. Hooper

Creepy Count

I haven't watched a new episode of SS for years. Old fans are fond of talking about how the show isn't the way it used to, that it's just full of Elmo and other nonsense. I don't know how much of this is objective critique and how much is nostalgia. Elmo's no Cookie Monster, but if he is the new favourite of the present generation, they have to come first. For me, I'm just glad to know that SS still on the map, hopefully still cleverly educating dozens of little ones and hopefully still appealing to their parents at some level. The thought gives me great comfort. It's just nice to know that no matter how far away from home we go, we can still find our way back to Sesame Street.

More examples of the genius of Sesame Street

It taught you about being proud of yourself. It could also be poignant and beautiful.

It was often very funny.

The music was just so darn catchy.

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