Michael Wermuth, Jr. – Today I‘ll be reviewing the very first episode of Sesame Street, the one that introduced national audiences to Big Bird, Oscar, Ernie, Bert, and others. For an introduction episode, it’s great. The first episode has a very loose plot in which Gordon shows a new girl, Sally, around the street, introducing her to the various residents, and through these introductions, he’s also introducing those who watched the very first broadcast of Sesame Street to the characters and format. In this first episode, as with many first season episodes, there are many multi-part segments, some scenes lead directly to the next segment, and a handful of inserts are shown twice (as would be common for at least the first five seasons).
I’d like to discuss the Muppet portions first. Big Bird and Oscar both get only one scene each, where they get to meet Sally. These scenes are fun to watch, and interesting because of how different the characters are: Oscar has his grouchy personality but is orange, while Big Bird is extremely dopey. The first insert in this episode features Ernie and Bert. Ernie takes a bath and makes a funny joke about why he calls his bathtub Rosie. After a few inserts about baths, we get part two, in which Ernie leads the audience into a play-along song called “Everybody Wash,” which includes cutaways to characters we’d just met playing along as well. Kermit the Frog later shows up for a two-part lecture on the letter W. In part one, we are introduced to Cookie Monster, whose eating turns the letter W into various other letters, while in part two Kermit has to deal with a moving W. In fact, these two segments could have easily been separate stand-alone segments about the letter W.
This episode also has its share of animation and film segments. This being The Muppet Mindset, I‘ll focus first on Jim Henson’s contributions. This first episode includes two of the number films that end with a baker falling down the stairs, for the numbers 2 and 3. I like the number 3 segment, which features Jim as a juggler and Brian Henson counting three peas. Jim also lent his voice to various characters in a claymation segment about the letter S, which is also a good short. As for the non-Henson animation and film inserts, some of my favorites that appear in this episode include Jazz Number 2, Wanda the Witch, a film teaching “Over, Through, and Around,” and a series of shorts in which a number of dots appear.
This is a great, fast-paced episode. In fact, when it comes to the episodes on the Old School sets, I watch this one all the way through more than any of the other episodes. But as much as I like this episode, it does have its slow spots. There’s an overly-long film about milk, the scene with Gordon putting facial features on the Anything Muppets is slow, and some of the street scenes that don’t include Muppets are a bit hard to be interested in. But the rest of the episode is pure gold.
Interestingly, while this episode is sponsored by three letters (W, S, and E) and two numbers (2 and 3), any sponsor that isn’t W or 2 is only represented with one segment each, while the others are heavily featured. I guess W and 2 were the highest-paying sponsors for the first episode. These two sponsors seem to get special sections of the episode where they are heavily featured, Susan’s rendition of “One of These Things” involves three W’s and one 2, and when Ernie sings “Everybody Wash,” the word “wash” appears on screen, with the W in a much-different font wiggling around.
The first episode of Sesame Street is a good introduction to one of the greatest and longest-running television shows in history. It may have a shortage of characters, but that’s because many of the characters we know and love hadn’t been introduced yet. The segments with Ernie, Bert, and Kermit are among their best segments. There may be some slow spots, but otherwise it feels fast-paced. The episode was released on DVD as part of Old School: Volume 1 and is on the bonus DVD included with the book Sesame Street: 40 Years – A Celebration of Life on the Street, but if you don’t feel like going out and buying a copy (or ordering and waiting) the episode is also available (uncut, I must add) on iTunes as part of Sesame Street Classics Volume 1.
The Muppet Mindset by Ryan Dosier, firstname.lastname@example.org