Old School Sesame Street: Gritty and Terrifying

Sesame Street is no longer safe for kids.In a hilarious New York Times article, Virginia Heffernan jokes about the very real warning on the DVD for volumes 1 and 2 of Sesame Street: “These early ‘Sesame Street’ episodes are intended for grown-ups, and may not suit the needs of today’s preschool child.”

After subjecting herself and friends to an “all-ages” screening of the 1970’s version of the kids show, Heffernan bemoaned the “damage” the show’s gritty early years caused her psyche.

The show rolled, and the sweet trauma came flooding back. What they did to us was hard-core. Man, was that scene rough. The masonry on the dingy brownstone at 123 Sesame Street, where the closeted Ernie and Bert shared a dismal basement apartment, was deteriorating. Cookie Monster was on a fast track to diabetes. Oscar’s depression was untreated. Prozacky Elmo didn’t exist.”

Even though I was nothing but a faraway dream in the 70’s, I remember tuning into Sesame Street during my early years, somewhere around 1986. While I’m pretty sure Elmo had been ‘born’ by then, the images my pre-school eyes witnessed were not the saccharin filled pictures that flood PBS today.

Heffernan’s Sesame Street may have been gritty, but mine was terrifying.

First of all, does anyone remember the segments that featured a giant, fang-bearing blue wolf? (if not, check out the horror here) Whenever this wolf came on the screen, my brother and I would scream and run from the living room. I was petrified, and to this day my bro swears he used to have night terrors that revolved around “a big blue snout pushing open [his] closet door”.

Second, the Cookie Monster of my youth was not the put-together guy he is now. That growly voice, those googly eyes that just wouldn’t stop rolling, and an insatiable appetite, combined to make the perfect mixture for nightmares. I mean, if there was a monster living under my bed, I was pretty sure it looked and acted like Cookie Monster—except cookies were replaced with the desire for human flesh.

Thirdly, and most scarringly, was the segment I came to tearfully call “the scary aliens”. To this day, the palpable, body-numbing fear of seeing this segment is still one of the strongest childhood memories I have. Looking back, it makes perfect sense why trippy muppets that were all mouth and no body scared the bejeezus out of me. They flew around, had loud and uncontrolled voices, and stared at things with giant, unfocused eyes. Coked-out monsters who could hover. Frightening.

I don’t tune into Sesame Street anymore (I’ve got more mature things to watch. Like SpongeBob), but considering the “nobody-loses-and-we’re-all-so-special” society we live in today, I’m pretty sure the psychedelic, freaky episodes of my youth have been done away with.

Too bad the memories will never die.

What about you? Did you parents accidentally scare you for life by plunking you in front of good, quality children’s television? Let’s commiserate.

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