You? In a band? No way
An overly critical analysis of one scene from one episode of Sesame Street
Quick note: I’m not sure which gender Sesame Street puppets are, or even if a pronoun makes sense to use when referring to a puppet, but I’m going with the cisgender (I hope I used that correctly) of the puppeteer/voice for each character in this episode.
Elmo’s New Band starts with the classic Sesame Street intro music we all know and love, which always excites my daughter Em. In the opening shot, we find Elmo sitting on the stoop of a brownstone on Sesame Street surrounded by three of his furry friends: Rosita, Zoe, and Grover. They’re singing the Wubba, Wubba, Wubba song. Together, their singing group is called The Cute and Fuzzy Four—because, and I quote, “they’re so obviously cute and fuzzy” and “there are four of us.” Brilliant stuff.
Elmo shares how they’re eager to perform at Hooper’s Store in the evening and much cheering commences, until Grover blurts out, “Nothing will ever break this group up.”
“No, never!” the rest emphatically agree in unison.
But there’s a problem.
Zoe’s dad calls out and says she needs to come home because they’re leaving to go visit Aunt Chloe and Uncle Joey. So Zoe’s out. Then Rosita’s mom says she needs help with dinner. Rosita’s out too. It looks like it’s just going to be Elmo and Grover left to perform. They’re The Cute and Fuzzy Two now. So much for the nice bit of alliteration at the end of their band name.
Elmo is, understandably, concerned that the group is dissolving right in front of his eyes. He asks if Grover expects to hear from his mommy and daddy too.
“No, of course not, little Elmo,” says Grover.
“Oh good,” says Elmo.
And then Grover pulls the rug out from under him and says, “I have to go work at Charlie’s restaurant. See ya!”
Wait, wait, wait, hold on a sec, Grover. Less than a minute ago, you just went along with everyone and said you were stoked to perform tonight, but you knew you had to work the whole time?! Do you think you maybe should’ve mentioned you were double-booked at some point? Not to mention, you were the one who said nothing will ever break up the group. Were you just lying through your teeth? How can we trust a word you say ever again?
Anyway, so now we’ve very quickly established the conflict Elmo will need to overcome: he can’t be a band all by himself. Which, technically, isn’t true. I mean, have you seen FKJ perform? The dude sings and plays every instrument in his live performances by looping various sounds and beats. I’ve watched this live session of his at least five times. It’s incredible.
Seconds later, we see the first human characters join the episode and walk out of the door at the top of the stoop.
They’re mid-conversation when Gordon, who I recognize as one of the recurring characters on Sesame Street, says to the older-looking gentleman, “Hey, it’s really great having you with us today, Dad.”
“Oh, it’s great being here,” the older guy responds. “There’s nothing I like better than spending time with my son and my grandson.”
Okay, three generations established. Nicely, and tidily, done, Sesame Street writers.
After that little touching moment, they go on to disagree about how to spend said time together: Gordon wants to play chess, his son wants to play basketball, and Grandpa wants to go fishing. Hmm, what to do?
Gordon says he thinks they should find something they all want to do.
“But like what?” says his son.
“I’m not really sure,” says Gordon.
“Well I like fishing,” says Grandpa as he immediately, and rudely, walks away down the steps, because of course he’s a grumpy elderly character who’s stuck in his ways. Work with us a little, Grandpa. Jeez.
As they all walk down the stairs, Elmo’s still sitting there and he sighs. Gordon says hi to Elmo, and Elmo says, “Hi Gordon. Hi Gordon’s son Miles. Hi Miles’ grandpa.” I get this is a kid’s show, so I don’t mind the repetition about how the characters represent three generations. I like that we know Miles’ name now. I’m not sure if Elmo doesn’t know Grandpa’s name or what, though. There’s more to come on that front later so I’ll leave it here for now.
Miles asks Elmo what’s wrong and Elmo proceeds to tell them what just happened: his band broke up and now he has nobody to sing with tonight at Hooper’s Store.
“Maybe you could find someone else to sing with,” Gordon suggests.
Elmo thinks. And thinks, and thinks. Until he realizes that Miles is in a band. Elmo cuts right to the chase and asks Miles if he would like to join his band. No audition? Nothing? Really? Miles is a good kid, though, and says he can’t because he’s hanging with his “pop” and his “granddad.”
Granddad is feeling less grumpy now—or maybe he just wants to get out of playing basketball—and says it’s fine, they can just hang out later on. He adds this little bit of wisdom to top it off: “You should always take time to help a friend.” Pretty solid advice actually.
Miles and Elmo sing the Wubba, Wubba, Wubba song together and Gordon compliments them on how good it sounds. But Elmo says it sounded bigger when there were four members in the band. Time to find yet a new member.
Elmo thinks. And thinks, and thinks again. He turns to Gordon and suggests he joins. Miles retorts with, “My dad? In a band? No way. He’s not even into music.”
“Uh, you know son,” says Gordon, “there’s something you don’t know about me.”
“And what’s that?” Miles says.
“Well, I used to be in a band too, just like you.” Nice little rhyme tossed in there, Gordon.
“No way. You? In a band? Get outta here.” Yikes, a bit harsh there, Miles. As a person who was in a band back in the day, and who has had somewhat similar responses cast my way when I’ve mentioned it, I feel for Gordon’s ego a bit here. I’m just thankful my band wasn’t a 1970s power trio called The Electric Three who covered songs like Rubber Ducky. Gordon “played” the bass guitar, same as me, although I put the word played in quotes because Gordon clearly has no idea how to actually play the bass guitar.
The scene cuts to a short flashback of The Electric Three (Gordon, Luis, and Bob) jamming, with some subtle jokes that reference English bands and how Luis’ girlfriend Maria might end up breaking up the band, like how Yoko Ono allegedly broke up The Beatles.
When we come back to the present, Grandpa reflects on how they played the Rubber Ducky song over and over again and how it drove his wife, Gordon’s mother, crazy.
“Wow, my dad in a band. I never knew that about you, Pop,” says Miles. And I’m left wondering if they ever talk to each other. I mean, Miles is currently in a band and Gordon likely knows this information. And yet, he’s never mentioned his old band once? It makes no sense. Why keep it private? Is he that embarrassed about his band days? Couldn’t he give his son some tips, like maybe try learning how to actually play your instrument or don’t cover songs meant for little kids?
Elmo asks Gordon to join the band. Gordon says he would, but he’s hanging with his dad. Granddad clearly wants to get out of playing chess and be left alone to go fishing by himself, so he says, “Don’t worry about it, son. I think it’s great. You go right ahead.”
The band is now three singers strong. They rehearse the Wubba, Wubba, Wubba song together, and it sounds good. But still not big enough for Elmo because he’s apparently very particular and needs some serious layers and harmonies or something. Time to find another singer.
We all know where this is going. Again, Elmo thinks. And thinks, and thinks. He looks at Miles’ grandpa and asks if he would join. This time Gordon, instead of Miles, retorts with, “Oh no,” followed by a long snide laugh, then, “No, I don’t think so, Elmo. See, my dad’s not a singer.”
“Oh, I’m not, am I?” Granddad quickly snaps back. Dammmnnnn. Granddad is back with the attitude. But I kinda like the chip-on-his-shoulder tone in this instance.
“Are you?” asks Gordon.
“Well son, there’s something you don’t know about your father.” My mind goes in so many dark directions in this spot, but then I remember I’m watching Sesame Street and where we’re going next is somewhat predictable. Or is it?
After a bit of back and forth, Grandpa says, “I went by the name Johnny Uno.” Elmo points out that uno is Spanish for one, which is good because it would be great if my daughter learns at least something from this scene other than how to spend years not talking about your past with your children.
Gordon is flabbergasted and says, “Wait a minute. Dad, you were Johnny Uno?”
“I sure was,” says Miles’ grandpa, “I even had a little bit of a hit song.”
We flashback to 1955 at a live performance filmed in black and white on the stage of the Sesame Street Bandstand. An announcer guy announces, “And now, here to perform his number one smash hit single, Do the Macaroni, it’s Johnny Uno!”
And after I get over the fact that the actor who plays Miles is now in the role of young Johnny Uno, a.k.a. his grandpa, whose real name we still haven’t learned (and never will), I realize that he had a “number one smash hit single.” And somehow his son never knew about it?
Back in the present, Gordon goes on to say he can’t believe his dad invented the Macaroni dance and was this massive star back in the day. And now it’s starting to make sense why Miles didn’t know his dad was in The Electric Three: because this family doesn’t talk to each other about their lives and it has become a tradition to pass this culture of secrecy down their family tree like generational trauma.
“Well, I had a whole different life before you was born,” says Granddad. Uh, you think? And you apparently kept it to yourself for decades, including, presumably, all the money you made from this smash number-one hit single. Please tell us you didn’t blow it all on drugs and women, Granddad. Please.
Unsurprisingly, Elmo asks Grandpa to join the band, and he says yes, unsurprisingly.
Flash forward to the evening performance at Hooper’s Store. Other classic Sesame Street characters such as Bert and Ernie and Big Bird are finding their seats and chatting amongst themselves when another recurring human character, Alan, announces their new band: The Cute and Not-So-Fuzzy Four. Not quite an accurate name since Elmo is fuzzy, but whatever.
A hip-hop-ish beat starts and they launch into, you guessed it, the Wubba, Wubba, Wubba song:
Wubba, wubba, wubba, wubba, woo, woo, woo
Wubba, wubba, wubba, and a doodly-do
Wubba, wubba, wubba, you can join in too
If you wubba me then I will wubba you
Singing wubba, wubba, wubba, wubba, woo, woo, woo
If you wubba me then I will wubba you
Wait, what?! “If you wubba me then I will wubba you.” Uhhh, nope. I refuse to speculate on what that means. No wubbaing for me, thank you.
As the final notes ring out, the crowd bursts into applause, and we see one of Gordon’s old bandmates, Luis, sitting with his now-wife Maria (the butt of the Yoko Ono joke in the first flashback earlier).
Luis sort of pathetically says, “I used to be in a band.”
And Maria says, “I know.” And gives Luis a kiss. She knows what she did.
The band takes a bow and the scene ends.
But we’re left questioning what else these men haven’t told each other. Will this experience open up their relationships more? Maybe they’ll go on to share the other skeletons and/or career-defining moments that are hidden in their closets. And maybe they’ll learn to trust each other more. And maybe, years later, Miles will have a son of his own, and he’ll sing him to sleep with the Wubba, Wubba, Wubba song. And maybe, just maybe, we can hope that he’ll change the last line of the song so it doesn’t sound so creepy.
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