The long-running kid’s show “Sesame Street” doesn’t have the same zeitgeisty impact it once did, but a new documentary called “Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street,” now on VOD, is a behind-the-scenes look at the undeniable impact Big Bird and Company had on the minds of several generations of young people.
Based on Michael Davis’ 2009 book “Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street,” the doc takes a step-by-step approach, detailing the educational initiatives and creativity that paved the way to Sesame Street.
Director Marilyn Agrelo focuses on three characters, co-creator and producer Joan Ganz Cooney, writer, director and producer Jon Stone, and Muppets creator Jim Henson. Through the lens of this powerhouse trio, and plenty of others like “C Is For Cookie” and “(It’s Not Easy) Bein’ Green” composer Joe Raposo, a portrait emerges of a show that corralled the revolutionary spirit of the time. Progressive, inclusive and overtly political, the creatives moved away from the tried-and-true kid’s show format which was, more often than not, simply a vehicle for subliminal advertising aimed at mom and dad’s pocketbooks to something that would not only entertain but also educate.
Bringing the show to air wasn’t without speed bumps. A Mississippi educational board deemed “Sesame Street” too controversial for the youth of their state in 1970, a ruling soon overturned the ban but not before it made national headlines. Agrelo also delves into Stone’s depression and Henson’s workaholic tendencies, but, by-and-large, the movie is a shiny happy document that drips with nostalgia.
As “Street Gang” essays the show’s nuts-and-bolts, it does so with energy and a sweetness that emanates from the material. It’s a loving portrait, painted with clips that are sure to trigger happy memories for those who grew up watching the show, or even watching kids as they watched the show. Add to that a blast of nostalgia and some rare footage—this is worth a watch if only to see Johnny Cash and Oscar the Grouch duet on the folk song “Nasty Dan” or Odetta do “If I Had a Hammer” with the kid cast—and you’re left with a documentary captures the enduring spirit of a show that changed television and the world.