Over the years Sesame Street has featured brief skits that parody television programs and films that are made for adult audiences. In most cases these parodies isolate selected semantic elements—the show’s title, mise en scene, plots, characters—and then reenact them quite literally. For example, in a spoof of 30 Rock Liz Lemon is portrayed as…a giant lemon with horn-rimmed glasses. In the skit Liz receives pallet of thirty rocks for her variety show and must verify that the full amount is there. And a recent Mad Men parody features a trio of advertising executives in three-piece suits and fedoras who demonstrate a range of emotions in reaction to a series of ad mockups for honey; they go from being “mad men” who shake with anger, to sad men who weep, to happy men who clap with joy. The clip I have selected for discussion is a Sesame Street parody of Desperate Housewives entitled “Desperate Houseplants.” This skit mimics many of the melodramatic elements of Desperate Housewives (plangent background music, longing women, illicit affairs), but it substitutes plants for the show’s female characters.
All three clips are addressed at children. The 30 Rock and Mad Men skits ostensibly teach a lesson in counting and emotions, respectively, while the Desperate Housewives skit teaches children how to care for plants. And all three parodies effectively recreate a child’s surface engagement with the complex narratives of adult programming, garnered through stolen glimpses, commercials and overheard dialogue. They are parodies of adult programs filtered through a child’s point of view.
These skits are also clearly aimed at an adult audience. The 30 Rock parody takes a jab at managers, the Mad Men skit uses the word “sycophants,” and "Desperate Houseplants" is an extended joke about horny housewives. I have singled out the latter, however, because it seems to be least accessible to its young audience (i.e., I am confident no 5 year old would understand the meaning of the plant’s simulated orgasm). So what, exactly, is the purpose and function of Sesame Street’s dual address to children and to adults?
Children’s movies like Up! contain nods to the adult audience since these often expensive films aim to pull in adult viewers not accompanied by children. However, Sesame Street is a medium created explicitly for home viewing by children. Are the inclusion of these alternately racy and ironic skits are an attempt to gain a viral presence for the show? Would this have any positive impact on the show (ratings, water cooler conversation, etc.)?