New York Times
Sweeping the Clouds Away
By VIRGINIA HEFFERNAN
Published: November 18, 2007
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."
Say what? At a recent all-ages home screening, a hush fell over the room. "What did they do to us?" asked one Gen-X mother of two, finally. The show rolled, and the sweet trauma came flooding back. What they did to us was hard-core. Man, was that scene rough. The masonry on the dingy brownstone at 123 Sesame Street, where the closeted Ernie and Bert shared a dismal basement apartment, was deteriorating. Cookie Monster was on a fast track to diabetes. Oscar's depression was untreated. Prozacky Elmo didn't exist.
Nothing in the children's entertainment of today, candy-colored animation hopped up on computer tricks, can prepare young or old for this frightening glimpse of simpler times. Back then-as on the very first episode, which aired on PBS
Nov. 10, 1969-a pretty, lonely girl like Sally might find herself befriended by an older male stranger who held her hand and took her home. Granted, Gordon just wanted Sally to meet his wife and have some milk and cookies, but . . . well, he could
have wanted anything. As it was, he fed her milk and cookies. The milk looks dangerously whole.
Live-action cows also charge the 1969 screen-cows eating common grass, not grain improved with hormones. Cows are milked by plain old farmers, who use their unsanitary hands and fill one bucket at a time. Elsewhere, two brothers risk concussion while whaling on each other with allergenic feather pillows. Overweight layabouts, lacking touch-screen iPods and headphones, jockey for airtime with their deafening transistor radios. And one of those radios plays a late-'60s news report-something about a "senior American official" and "two billion in credit over the next five years"-that conjures a bleak economic climate, with war debt and stagflation in the offing.
The old "Sesame Street" is not for the faint of heart, and certainly not for softies born since 1998, when the chipper "Elmo's World" started. Anyone who considers bull markets normal, extracurricular activities sacrosanct and New York a tidy, governable place-well, the original "Sesame Street" might hurt your feelings.