?Like many of you, I grew up watching Sesame Street, but the show of today is nothing like it was back then. For one thing, they do more parodies of TV shows– a lot more, a number which is up from the zero I remember from my childhood. Granted, after 42 seasons, they may be running out of ideas, and their “Change-O-Bots” sketch was petty damn entertaining, but it still doesn’t explain why so many of the parodies are of explicitly adult programs. Perhaps, in a world where there are plenty of choices for children’s programming, Sesame wants to put out a product that parents will choose because they like it, too? Smart thinking, and the only reason I can find to explain “30 Rocks,” but I really have to question the decision to present kiddified versions of late-night dramas to pre-schoolers. I’m sure plenty of you will call it harmless fun, but here are ten of the most disturbing parodies in my eyes, although I expect this list to change once they figure out how to make The Walking Dead into a sketch about counting.
10) “G” (Glee)
While Glee is largely presented (and accepted) as family entertainment, its focus on teens and equally hormonal adults keeps sex in the forefront of its subject matter. And while the glee club’s lone gay member, Kurt, is frequently part of the most chaste storylines, he is also what can only be described as a walking stereotype. Interior decorating, singing showtunes… the complete package. And yet, somehow, Sesame Street has managed to make Kurt even more stereotypically flamboyant, simply by explaining that “G” is for gasp, glitter and GORGEOUUUUUS! Also, Sue Sylvester makes a joke about M. Schuester’s proclivity for hair gel, which, I’m sorry, no.
9) “RSI: Rhyme Scene Investigation” (CSI)
Sesame’s parody of The Closer is a little disturbing, with its syrupy-sweet of Kyra Sedgwick Muppet, but it at least teaches the difference between “open” and “closed” in a fun and clever way. Meanwhile, in this “RSI” sketch, the act of rhyming is made to seem utterly dire and procedural. Also, call me old-fashioned, but I think we need to protect our children from David Caruso.
8) “Smell Like a Monster” (Old Spice Commercials)
Grover is usually naked, but for some reason it’s hard to deal with Grover in a towel, trying to seduce us with his eyes and offering us tickets to an event of some kind. Maybe it’s the original actor’s raw sexuality coming through in the parody, maybe it’s the commercial’s flexible sense of reality, or maybe it’s just the fact that Muppets shouldn’t advertise personal hygiene products designed to make you more attractive to the opposite sex. Don’t make me want to smell Grover’s musk.
7) “Mad Men” (Uh, Mad Men)
They don’t even bother to change the name — or the premise — of the AMC drama for this sketch, in which 1960s advertising executive Don Draper emotionally analyzes several pitches from underlings for a big honey account. Nobody sleeps with their secretary or has a drinking problem, but we do get to see Muppets quiver with rage and suck up to their superiors. Sure, kids learn the difference between “mad,” “sad” and “happy” from this sketch, but they also learn the word “sycophant,” which I’m not sure is such a good thing. (As an alternative, I recommend the classic “Twelve Angry Men”, which manages to educate and entertain without actually re-enacting the terse courtroom drama.)
6) “The Heaviest Catch” (The Deadliest Catch)
Deep-sea crab fishing has never seemed so much fun as in this sketch, which morphs the original show’s unflinching look at the pressures and dangers of the job into a wacky chase for heavier and heavier sea creatures. And yet the sketch carries over many of the show’s most disturbing themes: the captain obsesses over heaviness quotas, is injured by falling clams and squid, and the entire ship sinks at the end from too much weight. The only way it could be more like the original would be if it was implied that the captain had a fatal heart condition. Wait… his name is “Captain Heartburn”? Oy.
5) “Law & Order: Special Letters Unit” (Law & Order: Special Victims Unit)
Yes, Sesame Street once did a Dragnet parody where they went out looking for the letter “W.” But SVU is normally about child molesters, rapists and sex crimes, so it’s a little ickier that this sketch has Muppet versions of Mariska Hargitay, Chistopher Meloni and Richard Belzer searching for the missing letter “M” instead (was Ice-T’s character left out because of the rapper’s controversial past? That’s arbitrary). Unfortunately, this sketch mimics the show’s opening and “chung-chung” sound effect exactly, thereby practically guaranteeing that kids will come running into the room the next time you watch a real episode of SVU, just in time to discover the body. Not good, people.
4) “A’s Anatomy” (Grey’s Anatomy)
Not as much bed-hopping in the breakroom as in the original, but a child would still be traumatized by the arrival of the letter “A” in the emergency room. How an accident involving an amateur acrobat would result in a giant talking “A” getting all of his lines severed, I have no idea, but the appearance of a fully skeletonized “A” later on in the sketch is like something out of a David Cronenberg movie. I guess we should be thankful that, of all the medical “A” words this sketch uses, “amputation” isn’t one of them.
3) “SpiderMonster, The Musical” (Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark)
“Hey, let’s do a Spider-Man paody!”
“Okay, do you want to parody the comics or the movie?
“No, I want to parody the Broadway musical! You know, the one where all of those stuntmen and actors were horribly injured because of the elaborate wirework involved in the production?”
“Hmm. I don’t see why not!”
“And can we have Grover get accidentally launched into the audience repeatedly? And land on an audience member every time?”
“I suppose. I mean, nobody’s actually died yet, so I guess it’s fine.”
“Perfect! I’ll start making a monster version of Bono.”
2) “Twin Beaks” (Twin Peaks)
Now, this sketch is 25 years old., but it’s still pretty amazingly disturbing. Not only is it a parody of a pretty unsettling TV show about a murder investigation, but, to make the sketch less creepy, they made Cookie Monster investigate why the town is called “Twin Beaks” instead. Apparently they didn’t realize that their cast of bird Muppets with cleft beaks are among the scariest things ever created. Leave it to the Muppet Show, boys.
1) “True Mud” (True Blood)
Wow. Just… wow. Not only does this sketch manage to successfully replicate the creepy opening credits of the gory and erotic HBO vampire series, it manages to make a grown man’s near-sexual craving for mud seem as deviant as sucking on arteries. They try to explain it away by making him a filth-loving grouch (as in Oscar), but that just raises more questions, like why he doesn’t look like any grouch we’ve ever seen (and yet entirely too much like Stephen Moyer), and why the credits show grouches riding camels, wearing tribal clothing and working in the fields. Are grouches this reality’s vampires, or its Africans? I’m assuming vampires, since the floppy-haired grouch moves in super-fast speed sometimes, which I can only assume would be as scary to a child as it was to me. And it’s not like the sketch has any real educational value, either. We basically learn that “mud” rhymes with “spud,” “dud” and “cud,” three words no child would ever need to use. It’s like they made this sketch purely to get coverage in the Hollywood Reporter. Mission accomplished!