So a grand total of two people have emailed me since Thursday’s chat to correctly identify the reference to the classic Sesame Street sketch, “The Ladybug Picnic.” I was referring to the line “They talked about the high price of furniture and rugs/And fire insurance for ladybugs,” which my wife is convinced is a reference to the incredibly cruel nursery rhyme, “Ladybug, Ladybug:”
Fly away home.
Your house is on fire.
And your children all gone.
All except one,
And that’s little Ann,
For she crept under
The frying pan.
Anyway, I have had the song in my head for a few days because I picked up the new Sesame Street DVD, Sesame Street – Old School, Vol. 1 (1969-1974) , ostensibly for my daughter but really for me. The set includes the first episode of each of the first five seasons (meaning that it includes the first ever episode), as well as select sketches from each of those five seasons.
The set is phenomenal. I can’t say that it has every sketch I wanted, but man does it have a lot of great ones. There are several classic Bert & Ernie sketches (Ernie gets bored with counting sheep, so he counts fire engines; Bert & Ernie are at the movies and the lady with the tall hat sits in front of Ernie). Cookie Monster makes lots of appearances, including the Great Cookie Thief (all-time classic), and a sketch with Kermit in the first-ever episode where Cookie doesn’t speak but gradually eats the letter W and eventually goes for Kermit. There are several great songs, including the Ladybug Picnic, the Alligator King (which they still show on occasion), Bert’s “Doing the Pigeon,” and “Bein’ Green.” There’s a Mumford sketch and a couple of Guy Smileys (Beat the Time!); Jesse Jackson leading a group of kids in reciting his poem, “I Am Somebody;” Johnny Trash – I mean, Cash – singing “Nasty Dan” to Oscar; and Bill Cosby in a split-screen with himself reciting the alphabet. Jackie Robinson recites the alphabet in an extra from the first season, less than three years before he died. We get Simon Soundman singing about how his RUFF! RUFF! chased a MEOW up a tree. And best of all, the Martians – whom they never use or show any more – appear in a sketch where they mistake a telephone for an Earthling.
There are a few disappointments. Some of the Muppets are a little weird to see in their earlier forms; Oscar was yellow, Big Bird’s head originally had no tuft around it, and Snuffleupagus is a scary-looking mope who sounds like he’s talking into a tin can. The first episode introduces the “Anything Muppets,” who have no facial features but talk to Gordon as he puts eyes, hair, noses, or mustaches on them; I can imagine that would be a little creepy for a two- or three-year-old. It was also interesting to see that Bob’s problem of never actually talking to the Muppets dates back almost forty years; Susan wasn’t all that much better.
And I suppose a few things are missing that ought to be here. There’s no “I Love Trash,” which dates back to the first season. I didn’t catch “Rubber Duckie,” also from season one. “Mahna Mahna” is best known for the two versions sung on the Muppet Show, but it also appeared in season one. We only get one News Flash with Kermit (Rapunzel, who apparently is from Canarsie), and only one Count von Count (although it’s a good one, with Bert & Ernie in it). Herry Monster makes one brief appearance. The number of the day in the full episodes appears to be two in every episode on the DVDs, which gets a little annoying. (I did get a kick out of Jim Henson doing the voiceover for the clumsy chef – “Two chocolate cream pies!”) And we’re generally short on celebrity appearances, although we do get two short Carol Burnett cameos and the few I mentioned earlier.
Of course, they do call this “Volume 1,” so I’m hoping there will be more sets to come – why not? It’s free money for Sesame Workshop – and I can’t say I’m dissatisfied with this set, which has definitely brought back some memories, even if my daughter is far more enchanted by that shrill he-harpy, Elmo, than she is by any of the old stuff. Maybe she’ll appreciate it when she’s older – say, maybe, two or three.