Marilyn Agrelo traces the radical roots of “Sunny Days” spent with Elmo, Bert and Big Bird in “Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street”. The HBO Doctor examines how creators, artists, writers, and educators came together to transform a medium and change lives with “Sesame Street,” which was devised by TV director Joan Ganz Cooney and Sesame Workshops co-founder Lloyd Morrisett. The couple wanted to use the small screen as a means of educating – not just entertaining – children.
“This was an experiment. No one had ever seen anything like it,” Cooney explains. Children spent a lot of time in front of their TVs, and the thoughts behind “Sesame Street” meant that “television could be socially valuable.” Designed as a way to build and Inspiring its young viewers, “Sesame Street” was never about selling thoughtless entertainment or selling products, artists, writers and educators wanted to “capture the aura of the family”, but they also saw “Sesame Street” as a political show. emphasis on reaching urban communities where poverty and racism caused an educational gap.
“Street Gang” makes a convincing argument for how revolutionary the series was. Educational entertainment is common now. Then it was groundbreaking. “Sesame Street” brought TV writers and educators together, a collaboration so fruitful that it continues to shape learning, teaching and entertainment to this day. By taking us behind the scenes of the show and highlighting interviews with talents on both sides of the camera, the doc makes it clear how well-meaning the show was. And how much optimism, enthusiasm and gratitude the people who worked on it had. They knew they were doing something special and that they were part of something special. “Sesame Streets” lasting legacy suggests that they were in for something after all.
“Street Gang” is a loving tribute to the innovative series, and while I enjoyed its festive spirit, I sat back with a lingering sense that some questions remained unanswered. The Doctor gives “Sesame Street” a lot of credit for its progressive politics and inclusiveness, and that’s understandable enough. “The civil rights movement and all the unrest, protests and awakening that took place in the late 1960s gave birth to ‘Sesame Street,'” Agrelo told us. “The diversity of the cast was unheard of,” we are told in doc. But we do not hear from or see colored people working behind the scenes of the show, suggesting an absence. And although “Street Gang” addresses the controversy surrounding the character of Roosevelt Franklin, who was written off from the show after concerns were raised that he maintains negative stereotypes about black people, it does not really go into depth with the issue or get involved meaningful with the outcome of his departure and the actor who created the character and voiced him, Matt Robinson. “Street Gang” could recognize “Sesame Street” for being ahead of its time, while at the same time counting on this story – instead, it mostly shoots over it.
“Street Gang” debuts on HBO and HBO Max today at 22:00 ET / PT.