Virginia Heffernan has an article in the New York Times about the first seasons of Sesame Street being released on DVD. Interestingly, the DVDs come with a warning: “These early ‘Sesame Street’ episodes are intended for grown-ups, and may not suit the needs of today’s preschool child.”
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.