Virginia Heffernan reports:
Sunny days! The earliest episodes of “Sesame Street” are available on digital video! Break out some Keebler products, fire up the DVD player and prepare for the exquisite pleasure-pain of top-shelf nostalgia.
Just don’t bring the children. According to an earnest warning on Volumes 1 and 2, “Sesame Street: Old School” is adults-only: “These early ‘Sesame Street’ episodes are intended for grown-ups, and may not suit the needs of today’s preschool child.”
Heffernan has some fun with what the warning might be referring to - "Cookie Monster was on a fast track to diabetes. Oscar’s depression was untreated. Prozacky Elmo didn’t exist" - but it turns out that her jokes are pretty close to the truth:
I asked Carol-Lynn Parente, the executive producer of “Sesame Street,” how exactly the first episodes were unsuitable for toddlers in 2007. She told me about Alistair Cookie and the parody “Monsterpiece Theater.” Alistair Cookie, played by Cookie Monster, used to appear with a pipe, which he later gobbled. According to Parente, “That modeled the wrong behavior” — smoking, eating pipes — “so we reshot those scenes without the pipe, and then we dropped the parody altogether.”
Which brought Parente to a feature of “Sesame Street” that had not been reconstructed: the chronically mood-disordered Oscar the Grouch. On the first episode, Oscar seems irredeemably miserable — hypersensitive, sarcastic, misanthropic. (Bert, too, is described as grouchy; none of the characters, in fact, is especially sunshiney except maybe Ernie, who also seems slow.) “We might not be able to create a character like Oscar now,” she said.
Read the whole thing, and prepare to be depressed. (But also informed: I had no idea that Sesame Street was designed specifically for the “4-year-old inner-city black youngster," or that "in East Harlem and Bedford-Stuyvesant in 1978, 95 percent of households with kids ages 2 to 5 watched “Sesame Street.”)
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