Sesame Street hit the airwaves in 1968, meaning the influential children's program has been an ongoing presence in children's lives for more than four decades now. Just about everyone who stumbles across this review has probably seen at least a clip from the series at some point; many of us spent our pre-kindergarten years watching it. The program on the DVD Sesame Street: 20 Years...and Still Counting! was, obviously, produced for the show's 20th anniversary. (I know that because Sesame Street taught me how to count.) It is a 48-minute retrospective produced for television in 1989. Hosted by Bill Cosby, it's a light-hearted and congratulatory look back over a successful run. I wonder if anyone realized then that 20 years wouldn't even be the middle of the series' lifespan?
The presentation here is pretty much what you'd expect: a collection of clips interspersed with new material. Cosby talks to the various Muppets, while some of the actors from the cast reminisce. Jim Henson introduces the program, and he also chats with the show's creator Joan Ganz Cooney. Kermit the Frog even does his man on the street routine, looking for people who know the way to Sesame Street, and it's pretty great seeing him "accidentally" run into the two girls he did the "next to" sketch with in 1974, now all grown up. Later, another SS-alum, John-John, revisits the monster he famously counted with on one of the better-known sketches--only John-John is now a grown man in the air force.
Other special guests include Ray Charles performing a marvelous rendition of "It's Not Easy Being Green" and opera star Placido Domingo joining Placido Flamingo for a bilingual tune. Actually, the best parts of the retrospective are the back-to-back montages of Ernie singing the Rubber Ducky song in multiple languages and a peek at different versions of Sesame Street from around the world.
Amidst the good times, Cosby very carefully inserts tidbits about the impact of Sesame Street, done with as much finesse as the "commercials" that air in the regular shows, the ones that teach kids about letters and numbers instead of selling them junky toys. The scene with the human cast explaining to Big Bird what it means for someone to die--in this case, longtime cast member Will Lee, who played shopkeeper Mr. Hooper--is one of the saddest things I have ever seen. The grief on screen is very real, and the straight-talk is bold in its honesty.
If I have any complaint about Sesame Street: 20 Years...and Still Counting! is that it's hopelessly out of date. For a television program that's sustainability has been largely reliant on its adapting to the times, a DVD release this sparse seems way behind current trends. Was there not a 40-year update? What about some DVD extras? While this is an easy, inoffensive program to put on for your kids, I would think they'd be happier with something that was a little more regular, while adults like me could really dig into a more extensive history.
Still, for nearly an hour, I got to be a kid again and laugh along with some old friends, so any more extensive complaining about Sesame Street: 20 Years...and Still Counting! just seems ungrateful.
The girls and Kermit in 1973 and 1989
The full-frame presentation of Sesame Street: 20 Years...and Still Counting! is pretty good. There is some slight interlacing, but overall, for an old television program, it has been preserved remarkably well.
The Dolby Digital presentation is clear and without any glitches.
Subtitles for the deaf and hearing impaired are available for those who require them.
There are no bonus features to speak of. Come on, no Cosby outtakes of him ad-libbing with some Muppets?!
Recommended. Sesame Street: 20 Years...and Still Counting! is a slight but entertaining retrospective that at this point practically needs its own retrospective. Less than an hour long and produced for television in 1989, it's exactly what you think it is, so if the idea appeals, by all means, go forth and acquire this DVD.
Jamie S. Rich is a novelist and comic book writer. He is best known for his collaborations with JoŽlle Jones, including the hardboiled crime comic book You Have Killed Me, the challenging romance 12 Reasons Why I Love Her, and the 2007 prose novel Have You Seen the Horizon Lately?, for which Jones did the cover. All three were published by Oni Press. His most recent project is the comedy series Spell Checkers, again with Jones and artist Nicolas Hitori de. Follow Rich's blog at Confessions123.com.