Bonus Points: DVD Reviews

Kicking It Old School on the 'Street'

Sesame Street
The gang's all here: The cast of "Sesame Street" circa 1973. (Sesame Workshop)
By Jen Chaney Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 17, 2006; 12:00 AM

"Sesame Street: Old School Volume 1: 1969-1974" (List price: $39.98)
Release Date: Oct. 24

By now, almost everyone knows how to get to "Sesame Street." After debuting on television nearly 40 years ago, the beloved and influential children's program still airs on most PBS stations every weekday morning, continuing to hook young viewers with its mix of Muppet comedy and educational messages.

Given the unique impact that Gen X nostalgia often has on DVD sales, it's no surprise that the earliest episodes of this Children's Television Workshop favorite will become available next week in box set-form. "Sesame Street: Old School Volume 1: 1969-1974" celebrates the days when the show was even younger than its pre-school-aged audience, with three discs containing five full-length season premieres and plentiful highlights from the first five seasons. Like "The Best of the Electric Company" DVD that came before it, this collection will undoubtedly open the floodgates of memory for adults who avidly watched as wide-eyed children. ("I remember Super Grover! And Guy Smiley! And those Muppet martians who always said 'Yep yep yep'!") But the DVDs also remind us how ground-breaking and fresh "Sesame Street" remained throughout those initial, experimental years, an era long before the series spawned coveted toys like the TMX Elmo.

The set's best moments come from the "classic cuts," highlights strung together from each of the first seasons. Here fans will find such gems as Kermit the Frog's strangely touching rendition of "Bein' Green"; Ernie's homage to bathtime, "Rubber Duckie"; and several celebrity appearances, including Lou Rawls performing a funky version of "The ABC Song," a young James Earl Jones counting compellingly to 10 and the great Johnny Cash dueting with Oscar the Grouch on "Nasty Dan." Of course, the full-length episodes, including the premiere installment of "Sesame Street," are filled with significant moments as well, like the first encounter between Big Bird and the ever-elusive Snuffleupagus. (Is it just me, or do the Sesame Street residents -- all of whom dismiss Big Bird's references to Snuffleupagus as a hallucination -- basically treat our feathered friend like the crazy town drunk? I smell a television studies thesis topic.)

Sadly, anyone in search of plentiful bonus features will wind up disappointed. The only extras are the aforementioned classic cuts, a mildly amusing sales pitch reel and a colorful commemorative booklet that includes some fun activities for kids. Among other things, this DVD clearly cries out for a making-of documentary that shares vital information, like how Sesame Street neighbors Bob, Gordon and Susan were cast, or how long Jim Henson and his crew spent creating all those fuzzy Muppet creatures. Maybe that will come in a subsequent volume. Until then, this flashback to sunny '70s days on "Sesame Street" should keep nostalgic parents and their now wide-eyed children in a state of Big-Bird-induced bliss.

Most Antiquated Bonus Point: During the pitch reel, filmed in the late '60s, Sesame Workshop co-founder Joan Ganz Cooney explains why the program will be a success, noting that it will air during the mid-morning hours "when older brothers and sisters have gone off to school, mothers are doing housework and there's very little on television to compete for the preschool child's interest." Uh, things have changed just a teeny bit since then, no?

Oddest DVD Moment: The first disc opens with an animated introduction which notes that these DVDs are intended for adults and "may not suit the needs of today's preschool children." Since the booklet encourages parents and tots to watch together, it's unclear why this disclaimer is necessary. Could the Sesame Workshop leaders be concerned that today's kids might realize Cookie Monster wasn't always the healthy eater he's now become?

Best Ernie and Bert DVD Moment: Many a joke has been made about what's really going on between roommates Ernie and Bert. After watching the show's premiere, it's pretty clear why. In their very first scene together, Ernie asks Bert to bring him a bar of soap while he's taking a bath. A few minutes later, he stands next to Bert with nothing more than a towel wrapped around his waist. An innocent child would think nothing of this. But a jaded adult can be forgiven for interpreting this a little, um, differently.

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