Sesame Street returns to New Zealand screens this week, and nobody is more excited than Grover, the show’s friendly blue monster.
If there was ever a year when we needed a furry blue superhero to rescue us, it’s this one, and Sesame Street has no time left to waste. The 48th season of the beloved children’s show landed on TVNZ OnDemand on Monday, bringing with it a bunch of enthusiastic celebrities like Lucy Liu and Kate McKinnon, something called a “powerful kindness curriculum”, and the most friendliest monster you’ll ever meet, old mate Grover.
Having a Zoom with one of Jim Henson’s muppets is as bizarre and wonderful as you might expect. Grover calls from the US to talk about Sesame Street, and he’s sweet and funny and full of energy. His voice is slightly raspy, a cross between Elmo and Cookie Monster, and he’s surprisingly supple, waving his thin blue arms and flexing his neck to express his feelings. His stare never wavers; he doesn’t have eyelids. We are new friends, united by a smudged computer screen and the shared experience of a global pandemic.
That’s because even furry monsters have had to endure the hellfire year of 2020. “Like everybody, we have had to socially distance and wear masks,” Grover says of Sesame Street life during Covid-19. “But it has also been important to me to stay active, so I’ve been patenting a new exercise regimen called ‘Grovercise’.”
Hold onto your lycra onesie, because I predict Grovercise will be to 2021 what hoarding toilet paper was to 2020. Grover loves it, but Grovercise also suitable for adults who may have overindulged in treat foods before, during and after lockdown. “You cannot just go with the Cookie Monster diet,” Grover tells me, staring deep into my biscuit-crumbed soul. Wise words from the puppet. Sesame Street has always been a force for change, and I just felt it happen.
For over 50 years, Sesame Street has promoted inclusivity, diversity and kindness through fun and learning, and in 2020, these values are more important than ever. “Kindness is everything,” Grover says. “Right now especially, I like to check in on my friends and make sure they are doing OK. Some people might be lonely, some people might be sad, so it is a good idea to check and ask ‘how you doing?’”
So, how are Grover’s Sesame Street mates doing? If anyone was going to go rogue and embrace a conspiracy theory, I figured it would be Oscar the Grouch, but Grover reckons Oscar is fine. “I do not think this has really affected him as much, because he has always wanted to socially distance from everyone.”
Much like 2020, Grover is the monster who keeps going while everything else falls apart. Since arriving on Sesame Street in 1970, Grover has impressed generations of viewers with his caring nature and perseverance. He’s the waiter who always mucks up the order, he’s the lifeguard who never learns to swim. There’s even the burning rumour that he’s actually doorknob salesman Grover Kent, the alter ego of Super Grover, superhero to the stars.
Fake news, or Sesame Street scandal? Grover was keen to address the rumour. “People think we look a lot alike, Super Grover and me and this fellow Grover Kent. I do not know him. I think there are a lot of monsters out there. Some of us are blue and furry, and cute too, but you must not mistake us all for the same.”
As well as new episodes of Sesame Street, TVNZ OnDemand will screen The Not-Too-Late Show With Elmo, a star-studded talk show featuring celebrity guests like the Jonas Brothers and Jonathan Van Ness. Grover, however, is far too busy to host his own show. “I do a lot of other things for people,” he says. “I have a lot of jobs. I am a waiter, I am a doorknob salesm—no! Not like Grover Kent. There are a lot of doorknob salesmen.”
And despite being on the show for 50 years, Grover remains as young as ever. “You know, monsters age differently than you,” Grover says. “I’m not even in my adolescence yet.” Maybe it’s his gene pool, maybe it’s his lifestyle. “Grovercise, I’m telling you. Keeps you loose!”
The return of Sesame Street is a bright note at the end of a stressful year, and Grover has some simple advice as we head into 2021. Things are going to get better, he reckons, and that’s Sesame Street’s message too, because they want to help kids be smarter, kinder and stronger. “This is not going to last for ever. I know it feels like it, especially when you are really little – the minutes feel like years, right?” Grover says. “But things are going to change. Just hang in there.”
Sesame Street’s 48th season is on TVNZ ONDemand now. The Not Too Late Show with Elmo will premiere on TVNZ OnDemand on January 8.