June 15, 2016

The charm of "Monsterpiece Theatre"

I'm in an expansive, even whimsical, mood today, so let's put aside the serious subjects today and look at something really important, one of the most charming of the regular features on Sesame Street: "Monsterpiece Theatre."

Regardless of what you might think about the educational merits of Sesame Street, one of the strengths of the longtime children's series has been its ability to deal in humor that appeals to children and adults alike, often on two completely different levels. "Monsterpiece Theatre," introduced by "Alistair Cookie" (Cookie Monster), is one of the best examples of this. It's obviously a parody of Masterpiece Theatre, right down to the meticulously detailed opening sequence (including pictures from previous "Monsterpiece" episodes, and spines of books adapted for the show, such as "The 39 Stairs."*)

*A parody, of course, on John Buchan's famous thriller The 39 Steps.

This segment spoofs Spading Gray's "Monster in a Box." The title is the same, but the story is much different.

As usual, the introduction by Cookie Monster is very funny, particularly his perpetual problem with pronouns. "Me digress," he says at one point, though I doubt children would know what the word "digress" means.I particularly appreciate his sly throwaway comment when, referring to how the story is written by Spalding Monster and stars Spalding Monster, he remarks "No ego problem there."* It also features something that, to the best of my knowledge, never happened with Alistair Cooke on the original, when Cookie Monster becomes directly involved with the story, as he has to show the dimwitted Spalding what "inside" means. A bit of a thin plot, though.

*Lest this be seen as a shot at Spalding Gray, I had the opportunity to see him in person once, at the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis, when he was performing "Gray's Anatomy." It was terrific, as were most of his other monologues.

What would "Monsterpiece Theatre" be without the most famous of the Masterpiece Theatre plays, though? Here's the appropriately-named "Me Claudius," (a "classy drama") complete with new opening credits.

I can guarantee you no child is going to get those opening titles. I also have to think that the writer of this scene saw Spartacus at one point, don't you? (I don't think I ever saw Alistair Cooke eat his pipe after the broadcast.)

Here's a brilliant take on "Waiting for Godot," called "Waiting for Elmo," a "contemporary classic," which means nobody can understand it, "Not even Alistair." After the absurdist drama plays out, Cookie astutely comments, "That deep, deep stuff,"

Finally, what would any classy show be without the touching and heartwarming "Conversations With My Father"? After all, the only thing better than one Cookie Monster is two Cookie Monsters.

There are other funny take-offs out there, of everything from "West Side Story" to "Lethal Weapon." As I mentioned, you can argue about whether or not Sesame Street has done a good job of educational television. However, there's no doubt that skits like this show how the program has always had the knack of appealing to adults without contaminating, if you will, the effect it has on kids. As evidence, I'll leave you with a non-Cookie Monster skit, the famous Ernie & Bert bit about "Bert's Brother Bart." Unless you have a very precocious child, I don't think he'll get that "I'm aghast" joke.


  1. I still remember their version of "Upstairs, Downstairs" - which is exactly what you think it is - poor Grover got his workout that day.

    Thanks for such a light and happy piece at a time when the news is so grim.

    1. Glad you liked it, David - I think I really needed a smile, too!


Thanks for writing! Drive safely!