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Grover spoofs the famous Old Spice commercials in a scene from "Sesame Street Spoofs!" (PBS)
Grover spoofs the famous Old Spice commercials in a scene from "Sesame Street Spoofs!" (PBS)

Warren Clements: TV on DVD

Parody gets the Muppet treatment in 'Sesame Street Spoofs!' Add to ...

The ad looks and sounds like that Old Spice commercial in which a supremely self-confident guy brags that other men can't match his sex appeal. "Look at yourself. Now back to me. Now back at yourself. Now back to me. Sadly, you are not a monster."

It's not the Old Spice guy. It's Grover, the Muppet from Sesame Street with the strangulated voice, blue fuzz and red nose. If you haven't seen this 40-second promo, which has gone viral on the Web, look for it. It's very funny.

In fact, it's the funniest entry on Sesame Street Spoofs!, a two-disc DVD compilation of old and new Sesame Street parodies of television series, movies and songs. Muppets twist the plots, usually with the help of puns ( The King and I is about the letter "i"), to teach preschoolers to add, pronounce letters and control their emotions. In this version of Mad Men, the characters get really mad.

The first hour-long disc, from the days when Muppets creator Jim Henson was alive and assisted by the likes of Frank Oz, has fun with Casablanca (pianist Sam recites the alphabet) and Madonna's song Material Girl ("Now I am a cereal girl"). On the second, later disc, a parody of True Blood called True Mud begins with a deft parody of the show's swamp-rock theme song. The Closer is about closing briefcases.

With the rare exception (did I mention Grover's Old Spice riff?), the contents elicit smiles rather than laughs. The spoofs hover uneasily between two worlds: the universe of children, who must be taught simple lessons and have never heard of most of the shows being kidded, and the universe of adults. The idea is to slip the grown-ups these parodies as a reward for watching Sesame Street with their kids, but the jokes usually hinge on simple puns.

Many of the spoofs on the first disc are ancient history: Dragnet, This Is Your Life, Family Feud. But the humour is freewheeling, in the style of Henson's more adult-oriented Muppet Show. The Cookie Monster hosts Monsterpiece Theater as Alistair Cookie, introducing Gone with the Wind ("Me not see it yet, but me hear it about the wind"). There's a smart parody of Bruce Springsteen's Born to Run ("Kids like you and me, baby, we were born to add") and of Billy Idol's Rebel Yell (a rebel L just wants "to live for loudness").

The pop-cultural references on the second disc are more numerous, but the humour is tamer; Henson's successors can't quite replicate his off-kilter sensibility. Sometimes a premise goes nowhere, as in an encounter between Dr. Phil and his Muppet doppelganger, Dr. Feel. Sometimes it's inspired, as in a parody of 30 Rock (about the delivery of 30 rocks) in which Liz Lemon is a real lemon. The characters in Law and Order: Special Letters Unit notice and reflect upon the show's distinctive two-note musical sting. ("You know, that 'chung chung' can really get on a person's nerves.")

It's hard to top Grover's Old Spice routine, though. That guy has a great career ahead of him.

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