It’s the first word that leaves my daughter’s mouth when she comes downstairs for breakfast each morning; the only thing she wants when she returns from school. Elmo. Her inflection, coupled with her bewildered facial expression, makes it less a statement and more a menacing question delivered by a mob boss or Miranda Priestly-esque superior: Dad, why isn’t Elmo on my television right now? We talked about this. Don’t make me tell you again.
“Elmo,” of course, is toddler-speak for Sesame Street, the venerable children’s series now in its 46th season. The show’s much-publicized move to HBO this year (the pay-cable channel gets new episodes for an exclusive nine-month window before premiering on PBS for free this September) resulted in a few minor changes — a shorter half-hour running time, new intro, fewer pop-culture parodies — but nothing that matters to a two-year-old.
Sesame Street is incredible. For her, for me, for the entire family. As soon as the kiddo hears that delightful theme music she turns into Bran when he’s warging into the past. A 1,000-kiloton blast couldn’t break the spell. Her fixation allows me to make breakfast, pack lunches, drink scotch, or load up the car without interruption. For you non-breeders, having a half-hour to yourself each morning without a gibberish-speaking midget clinging to your leg is more valuable than a platinum-covered Honus Wagner rookie card.
Before you judgmental folk ring up child protective services, my wife and I do limit her television consumption. She can watch Game of Thrones or Preacher, not both. Puzzles, books, educational toys, and playgrounds are just as much a part of her daily routine as the Cookie Monster. But Sesame Street is usually there buzzing in the background, like CNN at an airport.
She stomps with the Count. She imitates his Transylvanian laugh (Ha-Ha-Haaaaa). She laughs at Abby and Big Bird and Murray and Ovejita. But not Mr. Noodle. Never Mr. Noddle. Because Mr. Noodle is creepy, lecherous nightmare fuel. The best part about this season so far, though, are the songs. Holy hell does she love the songs. Sesame Street music is like the Hamilton soundtrack for toddlers. It rained the other day where I live (because it always rains here, because God is upset a place this shitty exists in his world), so we sat down together to watch all this season’s songs. “Dad, why don’t you rank these based on my reactions and exploit this wonderful father-daughter moment for pageviews?” she suggested. OK darling, whatever you want.
She totally has me wrapped around her finger.
“Mucko the Explorer Song” with Alan Cumming
Captain Jack Shakespeare teams with Oscar the Grouch (side note: “Bitch, I live in a trash can” remains a top-five Dave Chappelle punchline) for a ditty about embracing life’s grimy side. An admirable stance given our propensity toward overprotection. My kid’s a little slow, though, and didn’t take much value from The Atlantic piece, or this song.
Daughter’s reaction: Dumps dried yogurt snacks all over the floor, says “Uh-oh”
“That’s Music” with Fifth Harmony
This song is objectively terrible. Five completely indistinguishable Hot Female Singers™ make music about…music. The puppets are more lifelike. But Elmo pops up and the woodpecker is hilarious so “That’s Music” gets a positive response.
Daughter’s reaction: “More!”
“Everyday Hero” with Aloe Blacc
Store-brand John Legend delivers a perfectly serviceable ditty reminding kids that not all heroes wear capes. SPIDER-MAN PUTS ALL HIS TOYS BACK IN THE BINS EACH NIGHT, KID!
Daughter’s reaction: Gets stuffed puppy from toybox, hands it to me with a satisfied look on her face
“Check that Shape” with Nick Jonas
“Check that Shape” is smoooooooooth. This is the kind of sneaky jam that ensures Sesame Street will always have new viewers. Legit baby-making music, in other words. Not saying I could get down to Nick Jonas crooning about octagons, but I could definitely get down to him singing about hexagons (six sides are sexy; eight sides are just gross). This one features Cookie Monster, The Count and a rare appearance from Bert (Bert and Ernie are virtually nonexistent in the new Sesame Street. You can read more about this in Salon’s piece, “You Can’t Spell ‘Homophobic’ Without HBO: How the New ‘Sesame Street’ Teaches Kids to Hate the LGBT Community.”
“No, hon, Abby isn’t in this one.”
“Be a Good Friend” with Gwen Stefani
The undisputed house favorite. I’ve seen her drop food and run to the television when this jam comes on. First off, Gwen Stefani chose to dance in front of giant balls. Brilliant move. “BALLLLLLLLLL!” is probably the kiddo’s second-favorite word. Second, the video is well-shot with wild colors, flashing lights, graphics, and appearances by all the best characters (Elmo, Abby, Murray, Grover, Big Bird). Kid crack. Finally, the beat is fire. Throw this on a Drake album and club DJs are spinning this all summer. Ironically, despite this being my daughter’s favorite song, she remains a terrible sharer.
Daughter’s reaction: Stands up and gyrates furiously while whipping her head back and forth; says “Again?”