It may not be the longest-running television show in history, but it's safe to say that Sesame Street is the proverbial 800-pound gorilla of American children's programming. Beginning in 1969, this popular series combined educational animation with live-action skits, catchy songs and plenty of laughs. What really set it apart from other kids' shows was the combination of human characters with Jim Henson's Muppets; additionally, each species were represented by characters of various ages, sizes and colors. Produced by the Children's Television Workshop (or "CTW" for short, though it's now known as "Sesame Workshop"), Sesame Street started strong and kept the ball rolling: after more than 35 seasons, 4,000 episodes and 100 Emmy Awards, it doesn't look like the momentum will be stopping anytime soon.
Old School, Volume 3 is a long overdue follow-up to the first and second volumes, which were released all the way back in 2006 and 2007. Focusing on the years 1979-1984, this two-disc set serves up one hand-picked episode per season along with a few bonus clips and traditional behind-the-scenes extras. At this point in Sesame Street history, we're still a few years away from the Elmo invasion but plenty of familiar faces are here: Big Bird, Ernie, Bert, Cookie Monster, Gordon, Susan, Bob, Mr. Hooper and more. It's a nice cross-section of episodes that you'll probably remember if you caught them the first time: highlights include a trip to Puerto Rico to celebrate Maria's birthday, an invasion of bird-watchers, Snuffy and Gordon's trip to the New York City Marathon, Big Bird's adventures at summer camp and more.
I can certainly count myself among the appropriate demographic during these years, but the only clear memories that came flooding back were several of the animated alphabet/number segments that were re-used during later seasons. I've faithfully watched Christmas Eve on Sesame Street (1978) pretty much every year since I was a kid, though, so many of these live action segments have a familiar era-specific tone that sits comfortably with my aging brain. While this third volume shows Sesame Street settling into a comfortable groove, a lot has changed since then: among other cast changes and departures, the most notable was the death of Will "Mr. Hooper" Lee during this five-season run. Aside from the well-regarded tribute that aired shortly after his passing, this collection also includes a booklet that, among other things, reprints a few memories penned by long-running cast members. It's a nice touch, especially since December of this year marks the 30th anniversary of Will Lee's passing.
Video & Audio Quality
Presented in their original 1.33:1 format, it's no surprise that most of this content looks a little worn around the edges. These episodes have been taken from videotape masters; as such, they're fairly soft and the colors are slightly uneven. Additionally, portions of this content (mostly the animated segments) exhibit ghosting and mild frame-rate problems, which could be a flagging issue. Though I doubt most of this material could have looked much better, a bit of fine tuning certainly wouldn't have hurt.
The audio presentation offers a slight improvement, as these vintage episodes have been presented in Dolby Digital 1.0 mono. Dialogue and music comes through clean and clear, free of hiss, distortion and other such problems. Unfortunately, optional English subtitles and/or Closed Captions have not been provided during the episodes or bonus features. Aside from that, there's nothing to complain about.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
The animated menu designs for Sesame Street: Old School
look simple enough, though I preferred how the extras were grouped on past volumes. Each 60-minute episode is presented with several chapter stops ("highlights"), though a few more per episode would've helped. This two-disc set is housed in a handsome digipak case, combining retro-style drawings with photo collages from the set. Also tucked inside is an excellent Booklet
packed with fun facts and notes from members of the cast and crew.
As a sidenote, Disc 2 exhibited playback issues in my Panasonic BD-655 unit, as the navigation icon did not appear and basically left me with a looping menu. The problem was not detected either of my DVD players or laptop, and I'm not yet certain if this is a manufacturing error or a firmware problem.
A nice mix, though it's more about quality than quantity. The main attraction is a collection of Bonus Clips
cherry-picked from each season. Highlights include "Letter B with The Beetles", "Disco Frog", "Cookie Monster and Kermit", "Wavin' Goodbye", "Rainy Day Song", "Proud to Be a Cow", "Grover the Singing Waiter", "In/Out with Barkley" and "Trash Outta Heaven". These classic cuts represent some of the series' most memorable moments and it's a shame they only run for just under an hour total.
The more traditional bonus features can be found exclusively on Disc 2. Leading things off are four brief chunks of Behind-the-Scenes Footage from "Dr. Nobel Price Umbrella", "Birdwatchers", "Grover the Singing Waiter" and "Exercise with Grover" (roughly 2 minutes apiece). These short peeks behind the curtain show the puppeteers in action as they rehearse and shoot a quartet of classic segments.
Also here is an entertaining Interview with Caroll Spinney (13 minutes) in which the long-time voice and puppeteer behind Big Bird and Oscar shares some thoughts about his decades of work. On a related note is a reading of "How to Be a Grouch" (9 minutes, below) by Spinney, who also wrote and illustrated the book. This fun little adventure can also be viewed as a picture-in-picture reading, if you're curious.
Last but not least is the much requested segment "Goodbye Mr. Hooper" (11 minutes), which originally aired just a few months after actor Will Lee's death in 1982. It's a touching and appropriate tribute to a beloved friend, and Sesame Street deserves a lot of credit for tackling such a subject head-on. This collection of bonus features is presented in a mixture of 1.33:1 and 1.78:1 anamorphic aspect ratios, depending on their age. Unfortunately, no optional subtitles or Closed Captions have been included.
Who doesn't like Sesame Street? Whether you grew up watching it or passed the torch on to your kids, this popular series continues to enlighten, educate and entertain more than 40 years since its debut. Old School, Volume 3 is a welcome follow-up to the first two collections, even though it took exactly five years to get here. There's also one less disc this time around, but there's still about the same amount of content: five classic episodes, a handful of bonus clips and a nice mixture of behind-the-scenes goodies. Whether you're buying this collection for yourself or your little ones (assuming they can survive a few hours without Elmo, of course), Old School, Volume 3 is money well spent. Firmly Recommended.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey from Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance design projects, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs and writing in third person.