It's easy to confuse fuzzy juvenile recollections of watching Sesame Street with shameful ones of being caught, at age nine, enjoying Barney and Friends by an older brother. It all falls into that hazy area of the formative years: a force-fed alphabet soup of educational children's programming, graham crackers and being taught to count (by The Count).
Though these warm, fuzzy memories of Sesame Street may linger, the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts' More Muppet Magic: Jim Henson's Legacy seeks to dispel those vague impressions. Celebrating the 40-year anniversary of Sesame Street, the YBCA's month-long retrospective is an effort not only to entertain the kids, but also to provide their parents with a new perspective with which to revisit familiar material.
The four-part tribute runs throughout the month of October, focusing on the history and scope of America's longest-running children's television series. The programs in the series address specific aspects of Sesame Street's production, from best-of compilations to behind-the-scenes footage and interviews, also covering music and the lesser-known evolution of the Muppets themselves. Programs in the retrospective include Sesame Street at 40: Milestones on the Street, Jim Henson & Friends: Inside the Sesame Street Vault, Sing! The Music of Sesame Street and Muppets History 201: Rarities from the Henson Vault.
This isn't Sesame Street as you may remember it. You might have relegated it to the stuff of kid-friendly buzz-words, as a show embodying "multicultural" and "educational" while gently "addressing real-life social issues." The YBCA's survey of Sesame Street reveals the handiwork of adults armed with an abundance of puns and a tongue-in-cheek sense of humor. The show's schmaltz and good cheer aren't the result of child-safe pandering, but the work of grown-ups who know how to produce kid-centric material and have fun while doing it. Need proof? Just watch Patrick Stewart (aka Captain Picard) waxing Shakespearean with a molded letter B, "B or not a B?"
Sesame Street has definitely retained the multi-flavored atmosphere that made it so engaging in childhood: there's a lot to enjoy, from the simple pleasures (children ... so cute!) to the sly wit. Even the pop-culture critic can enjoy appearances from old classics -- C3PO and R2D2 teaching kids how to count --- to modern performers (see: Feist) re-defining their classic songs with a child-like twist. It all lends itself to the legacy of a long-established program that keeps its content modern. Sesame Street is not -- as you may remember it -- a kids-only zone.
More Muppet Magic: Jim Henson's Legacy runs October 1-30, 2010 at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. For tickets and information visit ybca.org/film.