Ryan Dosier – Two of the best DVD sets released by Sesame Workshop in the last decade were Volumes 1 and 2 of the excellent Old School series, which showcased clips and episodes from Sesame Street‘s early, pre-Elmo days. Realeased in 2006, Volume 1 spanned 1969-1974 and Volume 2 picked up with 1974-1979 when it was released in 2007. These sets contained extremely rare footage from the golden age of Sesame Street, and fans have been clamoring for a third volume to be released for five years. After awhile, and the release of the 40 Years of Sunny Days DVD set in 2009 and the Best of Sesame Street Spoofs set last year, fans assumed that Sesame Workshop had given up on the Old School sets, and so we gave up on them as well.
But then, less than two months ago, it was revealed that Old School: Volume 3 would finally be released by Sesame Workshop and Warner Bros. Home Video five years after the last release. This was hugely exciting news for Muppet fans and fans of Sesame Street‘s sunniest days. It was announced that the set would continue on the trend of the first two volumes and pick up with 1979-1984. Does the set hold up to its two predecessors? Read on to find out! (Spoiler: It absolutely does.)
The first thing most fans will notice about this set is that it contains only two DVDs, as opposed to the previous two volumes’ three discs. This does mean less content, but honestly I didn’t feel at all shafted while I was going through the set. I thought that everything included was wonderful and carefully and purposefully chosen to truly represent this era of Sesame Street.
Once again, there are five full episodes of the show in this set, the season premieres of Seasons 11-15. In the past I thought it would have been better to go through the entire season and pick an episode that was perhaps more interesting than the season premiere, but on Volume 3 I think each season premiere is excellent and the perfect choice for the set. For Season 11 we get to see the whole cast travel to Puerto Rico for Maria’s birthday, in Season 12 Big Bird goes to school for a day, in Season 13 birdwatchers (hilarious humans portrayed by Madeline Kahn and Richard Hunt–yes, that Richard Hunt) watch Big Bird, in Season 14 Big Bird sets out for summer camp, and in Season 15 Gordon and Snuffy run the New York City Marathon.
On both discs there are also the traditional crop of “Classic Cuts”–some wonderful, favorite clips and songs that aren’t featured in the episodes included. These Classic Cuts include often-seen favorites like “Born to Add,” “Dance Myself to Sleep,” and “Grover the Singing Waiter,” as well as some true rarities like Big Bird and R2-D2’s song “I Say Banana,” Oscar and Bruno performing “Trash Outta Heaven,” and an appearance by Aristotle, a rarely seen blind monster Muppet performed by Richard Hunt. Although there are fewer Classic Cuts included on Volume 3 than there were on Volumes 1 or 2, it’s understandable because Volume 3 is only two discs. I attribute this to wanting to keep cost down on the set in an effort to sell more DVDs… but it is a shame that we didn’t get more clips from the amazing era of Sesame Street in the early 1980s. For instance, there is very little Count von Count, virtually no Super Grover, and shockingly very little Cookie Monster.
But the content that is here is absolutely fantastic. There is so much Big Bird, which is always welcome. We also get plenty of Snuffy, lots of Telly Monster, tons of Bob and Maria and Susan and all the adults, and just pure Sesame Street greatness. My favorite of the full episodes included has to be the trip to Puerto Rico. It just seems so effortless and fun–like you really are on a vacation with Maria and Olivia. Plus, the hilarity of Maria’s near-misses of seeing the rest of the cast who are there to surprise her for her birthday are hysterical. It’s especially funny when she sees Big Bird and then looks back and sees a chicken instead. It’s ridiculous, but it’s Sesame Street, so it’s impossible not to love it.
The bonus features on the set are one of the big draws, and with good reason. The best feature included is audio commentary from Sonia Manzanno (Maria) on Episode 1316, where the cast goes to Puerto Rico. The insights are great, but what’s so much fun is hearing how much fun Sonia is having watching this classic show again. She laughs at the jokes, she cheers the actors and Muppeteers, and she just adds so much to the experience. I would be thrilled to see audio commentary on each of the episodes included on the next set. Perhaps from Caroll Spinney or Bob McGrath or Roscoe Orman. But honestly, having Sonia’s commentary was such a wonderful treat.
The other bonus features are some (way too) short behind the scenes clips of a Nobel Price segment, the Birdwatchers with Madeline Kahn and Big Bird, Grover the Singing Waiter, and the “Exercise” song. These are wonderful clips, but they are just so incredibly short that it just leaves you itching for more. We also get to hear (and see, if you choose picture-in-picture mode) Caroll Spinney reading How To Be a Grouch, a book he wrote and illustrated himself, as Oscar the Grouch. This is also a really fun feature, especially watching Caroll record as Oscar. There is also an exclusive, 13-minute interview with Caroll Spinney that is delightful but nothing too revolutionary. Finally, the set includes clips from the “Goodbye Mr. Hooper” episode. Having these clips is spectacular because they include almost all of the Street Scene clips with Big Bird and the adults, not just the main scene that everyone has seen dozens of times. It’s a wonderful tribute to include these clips on the set.
Old School: Volume 3 also comes with a 24-page booklet filled with trivia, interviews, and, best of all, pages of written tributes to Will Lee (Mr. Hooper) from the human cast and some of the Muppeteers, including Jerry Nelson and Fran Brill. The booklet is a fantastic supplement to an already fantastic set.
In the end, there are really no reasons not to buy Sesame Street Old School: Volume 3. For only $20 you get two DVDs packed with spectacular content from the best years of Sesame Street. You get Jerry Nelson, Frank Oz, Richard Hunt, Jim Henson, Caroll Spinney, Big Bird, Bert, Ernie, Telly Monster, Oscar, Grover, and so, so much more. Yes, the set doesn’t include as much as the previous two volumes, but it is still such a great collection of content that it’s hard to be upset. Plus, with bonus features to delight and surprise, there really is no reason not to spend $20 on Old School: Volume 3.
For full listings of the content on Old School: Volume 3, check out Muppet Wiki!
The Muppet Mindset by Ryan Dosier, firstname.lastname@example.org