Jarrod Fairclough – As Sesame Street kicks off its 4th season on HBO, its 49th season overall, there are still some who are detractors of the network change. No, first run episodes of the show cannot be seen unless you’re a HBO subscriber, and there’s such a long time before they’re seen on PBS that someone could get pregnant AND have a baby while they wait. But there are upsides to the decision, and one Sesame Workshop now have the money to give us more primetime specials. There was the great Once Upon A Sesame Street Christmas in 2016, and last year we had the middling Magical Wand Chase. 2018 though brings us a special that seems to have remembered what makes us fans of the show in the first place, When You Wish Upon A Pickle.
When the citizens of Sesame Street begin lamenting about their lives, a mysterious machine is delivered to Hoopers Store. There, the Wish Pickle grants them all their one desire. Chris and Elmo, who have wished for each others lives, switch bodies. Bert, who has a desire to be a weatherman, in sucked in to the television thanks to Ernie’s wish for his pal. Cookie’s wish for more cookies actually ends up with more Cookie’s, and Abby’s desire to like her literary hero Natalie Neptune causes her to come alive and help Abby discover why there are weird things happening on the Street.
Sure, we’ve all seen wishes go awry. Heck, we’ve even seen it happen on Sesame Street – Christmas every day, anyone? But instead of putting the entire world in to chaos, or even transporting us in to a different dimension, this time everything is fairly contained, meaning that while the stakes aren’t that high, it’s still interesting enough to keep the adults in the room curious about what’s going to happen next.
That’s not to say this special is perfect. There are one or two things that didn’t work. One being Chris’ and Elmo’s body switching. Sure, it was humorous enough, and it did lead to one of the specials best moments – Chris in Elmo’s World, totally confused by the entire concept. But Chris Knowing’s lip sync was off the entire time, and it didn’t look at all like Elmo’s voice was coming out of his mouth. Instead it looked like he was lip syncing, like he wasn’t saying anything at all, and his face and body movements rarely kept in line with Ryan Dillon’s voice over work.
Another detriment to the special was the relegation of some of the show’s favorite characters to bit part players. I get that we can’t have everyone involved in the plot, and I was pleased to see Ernie and Bert get a nice chunk of time. But main characters like Big Bird and The Count are relegated to cameos. Grover and Oscar get some, but not much, screen time. God knows where Telly, Rosita, Zoe, Baby Bear etc are. There were enough background Muppets populating various shots that it would have been easy to slide in a familar face or two.
But there was a lot more that worked in this special than not. I said before that it was nice to see Ernie and Bert get some love. For a long time, due to Steve Whitmire’s commitment to The Muppets and his geographic location, Ernie and Bert were almost seperated from the main gang, instead usually appearing in sketches that they could shoot in 2 days when Steve’s schedule would allow. Then Ernie was performed by Billy Barkhurst for a few years, meaning they could be brought back in to the fold. Billy’s Ernie never really clicked, and so veteran Muppet performer Peter Linz has picked up mantle and has injected an enthusiasm in to Ernie that has been absent for years. It’s allowed Ernie to resume his place as Sesame royalty, and Peter’s chemistry with the always stellar Eric Jacobson is on par with Jim Henson and Frank Oz’s.
Blake Lively gets a fun little role as the delivery person of The Wish Pickle. Blake’s one of those actresses whose work I haven’t seen a tonne of, but I’ve always enjoyed what I’ve seen. Her role in this years A Simple Favor was incredible. And while she’s generally a dramatic actor, she gets to bust out the comedy chops in her couple appearances in this special to great effect.
But by far, the absolute best part of this special is guest star Amanda Seyfried, playing the detective from Abby’s book come to life, Natalie Neptune. It would be easy for anybody to guest on Sesame Street and play it big, god knows it’s happened before. But Amanda does something so interesting, and matches the cartoony excitement of her surroundings but in a real human way. Amanda has done a lot in her time in Hollywood, and there’s a reason she’s been a part of some of the biggest movies in the world (her role as Karen in Mean Girls will go down in the history books). She garners some of the biggest laughs in this entire special, and her relationship with Abby is so good that all I want is to see them do more together. Please, Sesame Workshop – more Amanda Seyfried.
All in all, this is a fun little special. The ending seemed a bit rushed, and the parts with multiple Cookie Monster’s never really went anywhere. The ending was spoiled in the special’s description, which seemed like a silly move. But it gets right the fact that people tune in for these characters and a fun innocous storyline, and thanks to elevated performances by the cast, it’s the best we could have wished for. That was a cheesy gag.
- The animated opening is a nice touch. There’s a lot of little Easter Eggs, like references to the old Pinball Count, the Typewriter (“Noo-nee-noo-nee-noo” – That one) and even a Bob Sings record from 1977!
- Mr Johnson has a mini storyline that doesn’t really go anywhere, but it’s always nice to see him get angry.
- ToughPigs mentioned this in their review, but Bert’s reaction to being on camera is exactly the same as Miss Piggy’s when she’s forced to host that UFO show in Muppets From Space – a wide eyed glare and a small involuntary squeak.
- Elmo’s “You got it buddy, here we go!” when he tries to help Chris is pure Ryan Dillon magic.
- Suki Lopez continues to shine as Nina, criminally underused in this special.
- Cookie shouting “Who would do such a thing?” has the exact same inflection as when he asked “How you do that?” to my amazing magic trick when I interviewed he and Abby earlier this year. He’s an excuse to go watch it again!
- The Wish Pickle is a fun character. You can tell Matt Vogel was enjoying the heck out of playing him.
- It’s Herry Monster! He’s being performed by Peter Linz, who is doing a wonderful job.
- I can’t say I love the weird arm movements Chris does when he dances. He looks like Wallace from Wallace and Gromit thinking about cheese.
- “Please sign right here below the line that says ‘Please sign right here below the line'”.
- “Being a detective and solving mysteries is my job! What is that, a clue? No, bug”.
- “Do you see anything unusual?”
“Heh, uh… Just you”.
- “I can’t read it!”
“Because it’s written in a secret code!?”
“No! It’s because I’m 4”.
- “Hey Cookie Monster, can you go to Hoopers and ask Elmo if he my help?”
“…Okay, dis trick question, right? Because me pretty sure you Elmo”.
- “Please sign right here below the line that says ‘Please sign here below the line that says ‘Please sign right here””.
- “And now I’m off to grant wishes at a deli in Passaic!”