Some brands just manage to stay important long past their peers. Betty White, for example, or the LA Lakers—if they’re doing something big, chances are you’re going to hear about it. They have staying power because they manage to stay relevant, and every time you almost forget, they drop Jay Z bars, like, “I’m back ’fore you had a chance to miss me.” Sesame Street is one of those brands.
Sesame Street first aired on Nov. 10, 1969, and my parents remember the show just about as much as I do, and my kids will likely grow up on it as one of the only shows that transcend our generations. The brilliance of Sesame Street is its ability to adapt to popular culture over the course of four decades, all the while staying fundamentally simple at its core: “We teach letters and numbers, and our characters can do that with just about anything.”
This week, Sesame Street showed its brilliance again by parodying the adult favorite House of Cards.
Entertaining both your child audience and the grownups that take care of them requires a special balance. Many of the best animated features of the past 15 years were those able to sneak adult jokes inside children’s stories. Remember watching Shrek or Monsters, Inc. and laughing at a completely mature joke? It might’ve been a sexual, political or cultural reference—something a 9-year-old wouldn’t understand—but there it was, hiding in plain sight. It went over kids’ heads, yet you were both laughing all the same despite it being for two separate reasons. I love seeing that balance; it’s a joke on youthful naiveté and a sneaky reward for adults who still love lighthearted animation as a medium.
“Some people say there’s too much pork in this town; I could not agree more.” -Frank Underwolf
In “House of Bricks,” Sesame Street takes one of the darkest dramas on Netflix, with its beautifully evil protagonist, and turns him into something kids can understand: the Big Bad Wolf. More conservative parents might frown on mixing children’s entertainment with adult programming, concerned with glorifying shows whose characters aren’t befit for children, but they’re missing the point. The people who get mature references are the ones it was meant for, and if you’re mature enough to get it—well, life experience taught you, not Sesame Street. You earned the wink and the nod.
The intersection of children’s media with adult content is a growing trend in comedy. The recent release of Go the Fuck to Sleep, “a children’s book for adults,” reached No. 1 status on Amazon.com in 2011, and Samuel L. Jackson’s narration went viral as one of the more brash examples of flipping childish entertainment with coarse language and grown-up struggles. A sequel was released in November 2014 addressing the topic of picky eaters: You Have to Fucking Eat, narrated by Bryan Cranston. I find both hysterical, but I will always appreciate the subtler nod toward adult humor even more.
Three little pigs plus House of Cards equals a clever math lesson for kids and an ingenious parody for adults. Sesame Street maintains its reputation of cultural relevance, and still looks great at the age of 45 years young. I must say, of all the unexpected things to get me hype for House of Cards Season 3, this is the best.