Prior to the premiere of the newest season of “Sesame Street” — which moved from PBS to HBO in a way that rattled many a devotee, including myself — I was very curious to see how it would come to life. I read reviews that discussed how gentrified the HBO version of “Sesame Street” would be, with Elmo living in a brownstone and Oscar the Grouch having a recycling bin next to his trash can. Some characters were going to be more prevalent, while others would fade to the background. Episodes were shortened from an hour to a half hour. Despite any developing skepticism I had as this childhood favorite show changed networks, I tried to keep an open mind.
As someone who fondly remembers snippets of episodes that aired when I was a child in the ’80s — and who rediscovered a love of the show through the eyes of my own kids — I couldn’t wait to see the new content (after watching reruns for the past several years). I was also eagerly anticipating my 2.5-year-old’s reaction to the new show. Though he’s an avid Elmo fan, we had taken a hiatus from “Sesame” for some time, in favor of a slew of holiday movies and “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse.”
After watching the first two episodes of the new “Sesame Street” live last Saturday, and again a few more times on the DVR, I can say that the writers of the show did a pretty good job maintaining the parts of “Sesame Street” that have made it a mainstay in homes across the U.S. for decades, while modernizing it in a very tasteful way. Here are some of my observations:
The opening song
The new opening song is a bit crisper, while maintaining the “sunny days, sweepin’ the clouds away” melody, and it has a nice beat to it. All the main characters are highlighted in slow-motion doing some activity — Big Bird is jumping, Cookie Monster is gobbling cookies, Elmo is blowing bubbles, etc. My son loved this and excitedly shouted, “Elmo’s blowing bubbles!” when he appeared in the opening.
Sesame Street itself looks really nice
No longer situated in a gritty borough of NYC, Sesame Street looks like a bright, clean place where anyone would like to live. Hooper’s Store is vibrant, clean, and welcoming. The subway station is still right within view. And everyone seems blissful in this new setting.
The first episode was about bedtime routines
I thought the evergreen theme of the first episode, focused on Elmo and Abby’s bedtime routines (as they have a sleepover at Elmo’s house) and those of other kids, was an excellent way to kick off the new season. Abby has a very energizing bedtime routine that involves chasing her magical toothbrush, playing tug-of-war with a giant, and listening to a marching band play a lullaby. She learns through the sage advice of her babysitter, new character Nina, that she isn’t able to fall asleep easily at night because her bedtime routine isn’t at all relaxing; rather, it’s just the opposite. Meanwhile, Elmo’s routine is a bit more sleep-inducing. I loved that my toddler — who doesn’t always love all parts of our bedtime routine, namely brushing his teeth — could see his friend Elmo setting a great example.
I wasn’t crazy about the almost cartoonish addition of the beanstalk and giant
When Abby plants a seed in her terra cotta pot, a beanstalk magically grows in real time, and there’s a giant at the top ready to play tug-of-war with her for the teddy bear they both hope to sleep with that night. With this scene taking place in Elmo’s normal bedroom setup, I thought this strayed from the Sesame foundation and rather deviated toward “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse” or another popular cartoon.
Some content was recycled
I was disappointed with a few things in the second episode, which focused on the character Mucko Polo searching for grouch-approved happenings — the opposite of bright, clean, and happy that seems to be the new “Sesame Street.” I wasn’t thrilled with this theme, but what bothered me more was that a side event in this episode (featuring Grover and Elmo searching for the Great Pyramid of Squeeza) was definitely recycled from an episode from years ago. I had thought all content would be new — we waited long enough, right? — but apparently this was not the case.
The episodes felt too short
When the first episode ended somewhat abruptly after less than half an hour, my son shouted, “More!” I was thinking the same thing, as I felt the new format was way too short. And pillars of the show, such as the letter and number of the day, seemed rushed. The hour-long format was a better fit to satisfactorily deliver an entire theme.
That all said, as I mentioned before, we DVRed the first two episodes, and they have been on request sporadically throughout the week since we first saw them. As we adjust to the changes at Sesame Street, it’s exciting to see the evolution and success of a show that has so much longevity — and meaning — for so many parents and children.