DVD Review: Sesame Street: 20 Years and Still Counting

Hi there!

When I was a kid growing up in the 1970s, Sesame Street was a good friend on the television. My parents knew it was safe to leave me in front of the TV for an hour. And when the Electric Company was on, it was a two hour event. Now as a parent, I know the content has changed but the quality remains high and I trust Sesame Street to educate and entertain this new generation just as well as educated me.

The Sesame Street: 20 Years and Still Counting documentary was produced in 1989, covering the first 20 years of its continuing run on PBS. The series has continued to have another 20 years of success since then, so I can hardly wait to see what the show looks like in another 20! The documentary, hosted by Bill Cosby, provides a look back at the beginnings of the series, from its humble beginnings in 1969 to the worldwide acclaim and adoption it’s seen since then.

Watching with my two daughters, the video looks out of date but offers a great historical perspective on the series’ amazing legacy. Not only do you get some wonderful musical performances from Ray Charles and Plácido Domingo, but you get to hear from some of the actors who have called Sesame Street their home forever. What was more interesting to me was that Jim Henson appears to introduce the show, only a year before his untimely death. Neither of my girls knew him on sight, but when I mentioned the name they knew immediately who he was.

Seeing a much younger Luis (Emilio Delgado), Maria (Sonia Manzano), and Bob (Bob McGrath) really took me back to my childhood. It was quite obvious that the trio believed in the series from the beginning – not only as an integrated cast, but the first educational show to focus on using a curriculum to teach kids the alphabet, their numbers, language skills, shapes, colors, science, and much much more. Though the series went through occasional cast changes, such as when Mr. Hooper (Will Lee) passed away in 1983, that core trio has remained in place for more than 40 years now.

Add to that the many characters who call Sesame Street home – Bert and Ernie, Grover and the Grouch, Big Bird, Cookie Monster, Kermit, and the whole gang – and you end up with a snapshot of that wonderful world. Cosby, with his usual humor and style, manages to interact with them all and give us a walking tour of the street most kids across America (and around the world) know and love.

It was very interesting to listen to the Sesame Street theme in different languages and see how different countries and cultures had adapted the show for their own children. Big Bird as a parrot instead of an eight foot yellow bird was fun to see, and listening to the theme song in Spanish, French, and Hebrew was intriguing. It’s amazing to think that kids in Germany, Israel, the West Bank, the Netherlands, and elsewhere are all benefiting from the pioneering work done by the show creators Jim Henson and Joan Cooney.

I have to admit that it’s a bit odd to me that Lionsgate chose now to release this special on DVD, but I think it proves the staying power of one of the tent poles of public television. Today, just like every day for the last 40+ years, children around the world have tuned in to learn and have fun at home.

Though I think this documentary will appeal more to parents than to kids, Sesame Street: 20 Years and Still Counting provides a historical record of the great work Sesame Street has done for four decades and will hopefully do for my grandkids over the next 20. Hopefully we will see more of these “messages in a bottle” from the past to inform the viewers of tomorrow about the enduring legacy of this series.

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up this and other great Sesame Street DVDs below!

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Book Review: Changes by Jim Butcher

Hi all!

Harry Dresden is one of my heroes. I’ve been reading about Jim Butcher‘s modern wizard since I found the first book Storm Front in the early 2000s. It’s a perfect mix of urban fantasy, adventure, and sarcasm. Yes, I said sarcasm. He’s willing to provide a wisecrack to the most powerful beings on the planet or the guy next door. I value that devil-may-care attitude.

This isn’t your traditional wizard. For one, he lives in modern day Chicago and works as a private investigator. Well, he used to when he had more time. Lately he’s been helping out in a war between the White Council of wizards and the Red Court of vampires that he might have started…

Ok, maybe I should start at the beginning. Harry Dresden is a wizard in every sense of the word. He casts spells, speaks with spirits and other supernatural beings, crosses into the realm of faerie, and hunts for monsters who seek to hurt innocent (and sometimes not-so innocent) people. He lives and works as a special private eye in the bustling metropolis of Chicago, Illinois. I say special, because it’s not often you see ads for a “Wizard for Hire” in the yellow pages.

Author Jim Butcher published the first novel of the “Dresden Files” – Storm Front – back in 2000. Since then he’s published eleven more novels set in the Dresden universe, all focused on his wizard/detective. Each has put Dresden and his friends in harms way more times than I can count and not everyone has come out unscathed or alive. Sometimes the things making noise in the darkness are out to get you and won’t stop until they succeed…

Harry Dresden has changed over time. He’s not quite the same hot-headed young wizard he was when he started. By the time Changes starts, he’s taken on an apprentice – Molly Carpenter, the daughter of his good friend Michael Carpenter who is a retired Knight of the Cross – and becoming a teacher has mellowed him out greatly.

Beyond that… Harry has a dog – Mouse, a Tibetan Mastiff who protects Harry as much as anyone can – and a cat – Mister, a large gray tomcat who (like most cats) has a serious attitude. Harry has a magical skull that contains the spirit of a former powerful wizard – “Bob” – who has a soft spot for romance novels. And Harry has a lot of good friends, among them Karrin Murphy, a police detective in the Chicago Police’s “Special Investigations” unit. SI handles the weird cases nobody wants to deal with but everyone wants dealt with quickly and quietly. Inevitably Harry gets involved somehow.

When Changes starts, Harry gets a phone call that literally changes his life. He’s told by his former girlfriend, Susan Rodriguez (one-time lover and reporter, now half-vampire), that he has a child and the child is in danger. In true Dresden form, Harry kind of goes off the deep end to save his daughter from the Red Court of vampires who would really like to see him dead.

I don’t want to spoil this book for anyone. It, like all Dresden novels, was one heck of a page turner. I devoured this book in about 8 hours spread out across two days and that’s fast even for me.

However… I will mention two things in case you’re a Dresden fan and haven’t picked this up yet. First of all, you get to meet Odin from Norse mythology. Suffice it to say that the scene in which that happens is one of my favorite of the entire book and made me think back to American Gods by Neil Gaiman, which I will now have to re-read. Second, you get to hear Mouse talk. Yes, it makes sense in the context of the story and made me laugh out loud.

If you like urban fantasy (fantasy fiction set in the modern world) and haven’t read any of the Dresden books, I would encourage you to start at Storm Front and work your way up to Changes. If you are already a Dresden fan, I would encourage you to read Changes if you haven’t already done so. This book was a blast and somehow Butcher continues to turn out amazing, entertaining stories in Dresden’s world. Next up will be Butcher’s Side Jobs short story and novella collection combining numerous Dresden short stories in one place, including a follow-up to Changes. Look for that to arrive in late October 2010!

This review first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

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