Review: ‘The Mitchells vs. the Machines,’ starring the voices of Abbi Jacobson, Danny McBride, Maya Rudolph, Michael Rianda, Eric André and Olivia Colman

March 27, 2022

by Carla Hay

Rick Mitchell (voiced by Danny McBride), Katie Mitchell (voiced by Abbi Jacobson), Aaron Mitchell (voiced by Mike Rianda) and Linda Mitchell (voiced by Maya Rudolph) in “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” (Photo by courtesy of Sony Pictures Animation/Netflix)

“The Mitchells vs. the Machines”

Directed by Michael “Mike” Rianda and Jeff Rowe

Culture Representation: Taking place in various parts of United States in 2020, including Kansas and California’s Silicon Valley, the animated movie “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a a few African Americans, Latinos and Asians) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A teenage aspiring filmmaker, who’s about to start her first year of college, reluctantly goes on a road trip with her family when they all experience an apocalypse where machines try to take over the world.

Culture Audience: “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching family-oriented animation films that have larger commentaries about modern society.

Aaron Mitchell (voiced by Mike Rianda), Rick Mitchell (voiced by Danny McBride), Katie Mitchell (voiced by Abbi Jacobson) and Linda Mitchell (voiced by Maya Rudolph) in “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” (Photo by courtesy of Sony Pictures Animation/Netflix)

The animated film “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” puts a high-energy spin on the over-used apocalypse concept, by balancing heartwarming earnest about family with biting satire about technology obsessions. The movie has an entirely predictable story arc, but there are enough engaging characters and comedy in this adventure story to make it a memorable experience that will inspire repeat viewings.

Written and directed by Michael “Mike” Rianda and Jeff Rowe, “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” has the type of protagonist that is often at the center of animated films: a teenager on the cusp of adulthood and restless to assert independence from the rest of the family. However, “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” has a teen protagonist who often isn’t seen in animated films: a female aspiring filmmaker.

Her name is Katie Mitchell (voiced by Abbi Jacobson), who is excited to start her first year of at an unnamed college in California, where she plans to study filmmaking. It will be the first time that she will be living apart from her family in her unnamed hometown in Michigan. Katie’s family includes her sometimes-bumbling but well-meaning father Rick Mitchell (voiced by Danny McBride); sensible and even-tempered mother Linda Mitchell (voiced by Maya Rudolph); and nerdy younger brother Aaron (voiced by Rianda), who is about 12 or 13 years old. The movie never mentions what Rick and Linda do for a living.

Aaron is so fascinated with dinosaurs, he randomly calls strangers in the phone book to find out if they like dinosaurs too, so he can find other people to talk to about his dinosaur obsessions. It’s an example of the personality quirks that “Mitchells and the Machines” has for some of the main characters that set this animated film apart from others that tend to have very generic and forgettable characters. Aaron is also at an age where he feels awkward around girls. He’s too young to date but he’s also not sure how to express himself when he’s attracted to a girl.

Katie has her own insecurity issues (she thinks of herself as an outsider at her high school), but one thing she is sure about is that she wants to be a storyteller in filmmaking. Flashbacks show that ever since she was a very young child, Katie wrote and directed stories, with Aaron often being someone she “cast” in roles to act out these stories. Katie and Rick used to have a very close father-daughter bond, but sometime around the time she reached adolescence, they began to drift apart emotionally.

Katie says early on in the story: “My parents haven’t figured me out yet. To be fair, it took me a while to figure myself out. My little brother Aaron gets me, but he has his own weird interests.”

Rick is an outdoorsy type who likes to fix things, but he isn’t as skilled as he would like to think he is. Rick doesn’t really understand Katie’s love of creative arts, which is one of the reasons Rick and Katie have become alienated from each other. Linda is more understanding of Katie’s filmmaker aspirations, but Linda isn’t as immersed in cinema as much as Katie is.

Katie’s irritation with Rick grows to new levels when they have an argument over the dining table because she’s working on her laptop computer during this meal. Rick wants Katie to stop working on the computer and pay attention to the family while at the table. Rick takes the computer, a tug of war ensues between Rick and Katie, and it ends with the computer being dropped and getting broken.

But that’s not all. Katie becomes even angrier at her father when he announces that he canceled the plane ticket for Katie’s trip to California for her college enrollment. Instead, Rick has decided that all four of the Mitchells will take a road trip together to the college. It will mean that Katie will miss the college’s orientation week, which she sees as a crucial way to get to start making friends and getting to know the campus before classes begin.

Meanwhile, in Cupertino, California (which, not coincidentally, is the headquarters of Apple Inc.), a 21-year-old billionaire technology mogul named Mark Bowman (played by Eric André), the found of PAL Labs, makes a major announcement at a PAL Labs event: The company, which is famous for inviting the PAL digital assistant (a hand-held device that looks a lot like an iPhone) is about to introduce Pal Max Robots, which are essentially walking versions of a PAL digital assistant.

The Mitchell family’s road trip starts on September 22, 2020. Even though Katie doesn’t really want to be stuck with her family, she takes solace in making videos to document this excursion. But something goes terribly wrong: The PAL operating system, which has extraordinary artificial intelligence, finds out that the digital assistant will be “downgraded” and eventually marketed as obsolete, compared to the PAL robots.

And so, the PAL operating system (voiced by Olivia Colman) incites and mass rebellion of all machines to take over the world and capture humans at PAL’s command. The Mitchells are on the road when this Machine Apocalypse turns their lives upside down, as they try to escape from being captured. People who’ve seen enough of these movies can predict what happens in the story and the lessons learned by the family members along the way.

One of the many ways that “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” pokes fun at how technology has taken over people’s lives (and not necessarily for the better) is when it shows how people get social media envy when they think other people on social media are living much more glamorous lives, based on what’s presented on social media. Linda has a lot of this envy about the Posey family, a seemingly picture-perfect clan of three whose lives are fashionably curated and documented on social media platforms such as Instagram.

In a case of inspirational casting where art imitates life, real-life spouses John Legend and Chrissy Teigen, who have put their lives on social media, are the voices of spouses Jim Posey and Hailee Posey, who have a bright and inquisitive daughter named Abbey Posey (voiced by Charlyne Yi), who is about the same age as Aaron Mitchell. Abbey predictably becomes Aaron’s crush but he doesn’t know how to handle his feelings about her.

In many scenes, “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” makes clever spoofs and observations about how, if the machines we used came alive, they would have a love/hate relationship with people. Humans overly rely on technology, but think no matter what happens, people are smart enough to be superior to technology.

Meanwhile, technology has the power to being people from long distances together, but it can alienate people who are in close proximity. Just go to any party and see how many people would rather look at their phones than engage with other people at the party. It’s why Katie’s father Rick, who’s a self-confessed “technophobe,” is the most insulted int he family when Katie would rather look at a computer or phone screen than talk to him. You can bet that Rick’s technophobia is a big part of the battles that the Mitchells have to do against the warring machines.

All of the voice cast members take on their roles with gusto, especially Jacobson, McBride and Colman, whose hilarious villain antics and quips as PAL are among the movie’s many highlights. In addition, the animation conveys a thrilling array of zany misadventures, and problem solving in the midst of an apocalypse. This is not a movie where viewers will get bored, because there’s so much hyperactivity going on.

Of course, the heart of “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” is about family relationships and accepting flaws and quirks in loved ones when it’s unlikely those flaws and quirks are going to change. The Mitchells start off their road trip as an emotionally fractured family. And the movie’s message is that it shouldn’t have to take an apocalypse to appreciate family members whose love might not be perfect but it’s there when it matters.

Netflix premiered “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” on April 30, 2021.

Review: ‘Sesame Street: 50 Years of Sunny Days,’ starring Sonia Monzano, Whoopi Goldberg, Angelina Jolie, Rosie Perez, Steve Youngwood, Kay Wilson Stallings and Sherrie Westin

May 20, 2021

by Carla Hay

Ryan Dillon (Elmo puppeteer), Bradley Freeman Jr. (Wes Walker puppeteer) and Chris Thomas Hayes (Elijah Walker puppeteer) in “Sesame Street: 50 Years of Sunny Days” (Photo courtesy of ABC)

“Sesame Street: 50 Years of Sunny Days”

Directed by Rebecca Gitlitz

Culture Representation: The documentary “Sesame Street: 50 Years of Sunny Days” features a racially diverse group of people (African American, white, Latino and Asian) discussing their connection to the groundbreaking children’s TV series “Sesame Street.”

Culture Clash: “Sesame Street,” which launched in 1969 on PBS, was the first nationally televised children’s program in the U.S. to be racially integrated, and “Sesame Street” has endured controversy over racial diversity, AIDS and representation of the LGBTQ community.

Culture Audience: “Sesame Street: 50 Years of Sunny Days” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in a comprehensive overview of “Sesame Street,” with an emphasis on how “Sesame Street” is responding to current global issues.

Stacey Gordon (Julia puppeteer) in “Sesame Street: 50 Years of Sunny Days” (Photo courtesy of ABC)

ABC’s documentary “Sesame Street: 50 Years of Sunny Days” offers some nostalgia for “Sesame Street” fans, but the movie is more concered about how this groundbreaking children’s culture has made an impact around the world and with contemporary social issues. Directed by Rebecca Gitlitz, it’s an occasionally repetitive film that admirably embraces diversity in a variety of viewpoints. The major downside to the film is that it won’t be considered a timeless “Sesame Street” documentary, because the movie very much looks like it was made in 2020/2021. Therefore, huge parts of the movie will look outdated in a few years.

“Sesame Street: 50 Years of Sunny Days” premiered on ABC just three days after director Marilyn Agrelo’s documentary “Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street” was released in select U.S. cinemas. “Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street,” which focused mainly on “Sesame Street’s” history from 1969 to the early 1990s, interviewed people who were “Sesame Street” employees from this time period, as well as some of the family members of principal “Sesame Street” employees who are now deceased. “Sesame Street: 50 Years of Sunny Days” takes a broader approach and includes the perspectives of not just past and present employees of “Sesame Street” but also several “Sesame Street” fans who are famous and not famous.

In addition, “Sesame Street: 50 Years of Sunny Days” (which was produced by Time Studios) makes a noteworthy effort to convey the global impact of “Sesame Street,” by including footage and interviews with people involved with the adapted versions of “Sesame Street” in the Middle East and in South Africa. “Sesame Street,” which is filmed in New York City, launched in 1969 on PBS. In the U.S., first-run episodes of “Sesame Street” began airing on HBO in 2016, and then on HBO Max in 2020. “Sesame Street” is now available in more than 150 countries.

“Sesame Street: 50 Years of Sunny Days” quickly breezes through how “Sesame Street” was conceived and launched. There are brief mentions of “Sesame Street” co-creators Joan Ganz Cooney and Lloyd Morrisett, but this documentary does not interview them. “Street Gang” has interviews with Ganz Cooney and Morrisett, who go into details about how they were inspired to create “Sesame Street” to reach pre-school kids, particularly African American children in urban cities, who had television as an electronic babysitter.

“Sesame Street: 50 Years of Sunny Days,” just like “Street Gang” did, discusses that the concept behind “Sesame Street” was to have a children’s TV show with a racially integrated cast and puppets, which were called muppets. A lot of research went into creating the show before it was even launched. The intent of “Sesame Street” was for the show to be educational and entertaining.

But the creators also wanted “Sesame Street” to include real-life topics that weren’t normally discussed on children’s television at the time. For example, when actor Will Lee, who played “Sesame Street” character Mr. Hooper, died in 1982, “Sesame Street” had an episode that discussed Mr. Hooper dying. “Sesame Street” did not lie to the audience by making up a story that Mr. Hooper had moved away or was still alive somewhere.

Time For Kids editorial director Andrea Delbanco says, “Many people avoid the topics that they know are going to be lightning rods. ‘Sesame Street’ goes straight for it. And they handle each and every one of them with the amount of thoughtfulness and research and care that they require.”

David Kamp, author of “Sunny Days: The Children’s Television Revolution That Changed America,” mentions that one of the reasons for the longevity of “Sesame Street” is the show’s ability to adapt to changing times: “They’ll pivot. They’ll adjust. They’ll say, ‘We got it wrong. Now, we’re going to get it right.’ That’s one of [the show’s] great virtues.”

One of the noticeable differences seen in comparing these two “Sesame Street” documentaries is how racial diversity has improved for “Sesame Street” behind the scenes. “Street Gang,” which focused on the first few decades of “Sesame Street” shows that although the on-camera cast was racially diverse, behind the scenes it was another story: Only white people were the leaders and decision makers for “Sesame Street” in the show’s early years. Several current “Sesame Street” decision makers are interviewed in “Sesame Street: 50 Years of Sunny Days,” and it’s definitely a more racially diverse group of people, compared to who was running the show in the first two decades of “Sesame Street.”

Sonia Monzano, an original “Sesame Street” cast member (her character is Maria), says that although the show has always had a racially diverse cast, the muppets are the “Sesame Street” characters that people remember the most. “I remember my first scene with [muppet character] Grover,” Monzano comments with a chuckle. “It took me a while to be comfortable, not try to upstage them. And that’s the same with kids. You give them the platform. Get out of their way.”

As memorable as the “Sesame Street” muppets are, the human characters on the show had a particular impact on children, who saw “Sesame Street” people who reminded them of their family members or neighbors. Several celebrities who are interviewed in the documentary grew up watching “Sesame Street”—including Lucy Liu, Rosie Perez, Olivia Munn and Questlove—and they talk about the importance of seeing their lives and experiences represented on the show.

Perez comments on the show’s racial diversity: “We needed to see that, because when you’re a little girl in Brooklyn watching ‘Sesame Street,’ it’s nice to know that when you opened your door and walked down your stoop, you had the same type of people on your television.” Perez says about “Sesame Street’s” Maria character: “She was my Mary Tyler Moore,” and that until Maria came along, “Desi Arnaz Jr. was our only [Hispanic TV] role model for years.”

Racism, social justice and AIDS are some of the topics that “Sesame Street” has openly discussed over the years, sometimes to considerable controversy. But one topic was apparently too much to handle in “Sesame Street’s” first year: divorce. In “Sesame Street: 50 Years of Sunny Days,” it’s mentioned that the original pilot episode of “Sesame Street” had a segment about muppet character Mr. Snuffleupagus dealing with his parents’ divorce. The “Sesame Street” executives did a test screening of this episode with children.

“The kids freaked out” because the idea of divorce was too upsetting for them, says Time staff writer Cady Lang. And the episode was “tossed out.” The documentary has some of this unaired Mr. Snuffleupagus “divorce” footage. In the documentary, Martin P. Robinson, the puppeteer and original voice for Mr. Snuffleupagus, expresses disappointment that this decision was made to eliminate talk of divorce on the first “Sesame Street” episode, because he says it was a missed opportunity for “Sesame Street” to start off with an episode that would have been very cutting-edge at the time.

However, there would be plenty of other episodes that would rile up some people. It’s not mentioned in the “Sesame Street: 50 Years of Sunny Days” documentary, but it’s mentioned in the “Street Gang” documentary that TV stations in Mississippi briefly wouldn’t televise “Sesame Street” in 1970, because they said people in their communities thought the show’s content was inappropriate. They denied it had to do with the show having a racially integrated cast. But considering that Mississippi was one of the last U.S. states to keep laws enforcing racial segregation, it would be naïve to think that racism wasn’t behind the “Sesame Street” ban.

The topics of racism and race relations take up a lot of screen time in this “Sesame Street” documentary, but mostly as pertaining to a contemporary audience, not the “Sesame Street” audience of past decades. Black Lives Matter protests and the racist murders of George Floyd and other African Americans have been discussed on “Sesame Street.” And there has been a concerted effort to have all races represented on “Sesame Street,” for the human cast members as well as the muppets.

Roosevelt Franklin (the first African American muppet on “Sesame Street”) was on “Sesame Street” from 1970 to 1975, and was voiced and created by Matt Robinson. The “Sesame Street” documentary briefly mentions Roosevelt Franklin, but doesn’t go into the details that “Street Gang” did over why the character was removed from the show: A lot of African American parents and educators complained that Roosevelt Franklin played too much into negative “ghetto” stereotypes. In the “Sesame Street: 50 Years of Sunny Days” documentary, musician Questlove and TV host W. Kamau Bell mention that they have fond memories of watching Roosevelt Franklin on “Sesame Street” when they were kids.

Although most muppets aren’t really any race, some of have been created to be of a specific race or ethnicity. Some muppets look like humans, while others look like animals. For the human-looking muppets, there have been Asian, Hispanic and Native American muppets in addition to the muppets that are presented as white or black people. And the documentary also gives significant screen time to Mexican muppet Rosita, a character introduced in 1991, which is considered a role model to many, particularly to Spanish-speaking people. Carmen Osbahr, the puppeteer and voice of Rosita, is interviewed in the documentary.

The documentary features a Mexican immigrant family called the Garcias, including interviews with mother Claudia and her autistic daughter Makayla, who are the only U.S. citizens of the family members who live in the United States. The Garcias say they love watching “Sesame Street” for Rosita, because she represents so many American residents who are bilingual in Spanish and English. Claudia Garcia, who moved from Mexico to the United States when she was 12, comments in the documentary: “When I was 12, it was not cool to speak Spanish. Now, it [the ability to speak Spanish] is a super-cool thing that you have.”

Four other diverse muppet characters are the Walker Family, an African American clan that is intended to be a major presence in contemporary “Sesame Street” episodes. Elijah Walker (a meteorologist) and his underage son Wesley, also known as Wes, have already been introduced. The characters of Elijah’s wife Naomi (a social worker originally from the Caribbean) and Elijah’s mother Savannah were being developed at the time this documentary was filmed. The documentary includes concept art for Naomi and Savannah.

According to Social Impact U.S. vice president Rocío García, “The Walker Family is a new family we’re creating for the racial justice initiative [Coming Together].” Wes and Elijah are characters that are supposed to contradict the media’s constant, negative narrative that black males are problematic. “Sesame Street” producer Ashmou Young describes the Wes Walker character as “a happy, energetic, innocent child who loves reading and architecture.” Elijah is a positive, intelligent role model. And no, he does not have an arrest record.

Bradley Freeman Jr., the puppeteer for Wes Walker, says in the documentary how proud he is to be part of this character, which he knows can be a role model for all children. “I was bullied at school for being black. That’s something that can hurt you, and you don’t know how to talk about it.” In “Sesame Street,” Elijah and Wes candidly discuss race issues and what it means to be an African American.

Omar Norman and Alisa Norman, an African American married couple, are in the documentary with their two daughters and discuss how the Walker Family on “Sesame Street” means a lot to them. Elder daughter Macayla says it’s impactful when Elijah talks to Wes about racism and how being a black male means being more at risk of experiencing police brutality. Omar gets emotional and tries not to cry when he thinks about how it’s sadly necessary for these topics to be discussed on a children’s show.

All the muppet characters were designed to not only teach kids (and adults) about life but also show what the world is all about and how to cope with problems in a positive way. Chris Jackson (who’s known for his role in the original Broadway production of “Hamilton”) talks about writing the song “I Love My Hair,” which debuted on “Sesame Street” in 2010. The song was written for any girl muppet to sing, but it has special significance to black girls because of how black females are judged the harshest by what their hair looks like. Jackson says that after he wrote the song, he thought, “I think I just wrote a black girl’s superhero anthem,” which he knows means a lot to his daughter.

And if some people have a problem with “Sesame Street” supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, well, no one is forcing them to watch the show. Kay Wilson Stallings, executive vice president of creative and production for Sesame Workshop, comments: “Following the murder of George Floyd, the company decided to make it a company-wide goal of addressing racial injustice [on ‘Sesame Street’].” U.S. first lady Dr. Jill Biden adds, “‘Sesame Street’ is rising up to he movement and addressing what’s going on and what kids are seeing and feeling around them.”

Wilson Stallings says, “We showed diversity, we showed inclusion, we modeled it through our characters. But you can’t just show characters of different ethnicities and races getting along. That was fine before. Now what we need to do is be bold and explicit.”

Sesame Workshop CEO Steve Youngwood comments on increasing “Sesame Street’s” socially conscious content: “We realized that nothing was hitting the moment the way it needed to be. And we pivoted to address it. The curriculum we developed is going to be groundbreaking, moving forward.”

LGBTQ representation on “Sesame Street” is still a touchy subject for people who have different opinions on what’s the appropriate age for kids to have discussions about various sexual identities. In 2018, former “Sesame Street” writer Mark Saltzman, who is openly gay, gave an interview saying that he always wrote muppet characters Ernie and Bert (bickering best friends who live together) as a gay couple. The revelation got mixed reactions. Frank Oz—the creator, original voice and puppeteer for Bert—made a statement on Twitter that Ernie and Bert were never gay.

Sesame Workshop responded with a statement that read: “As we have always said, Bert and Ernie are best friends. They were created to teach pre-schoolers that people can be good friends with those who are very different from themselves. Even though they are identifiable as male characters and possess many human traits and characteristics (as most ‘Sesame Street’ muppets do), they remain puppets, and have no sexual orientation.”

In retrospect, Sesame Workshop president Sherrie Westin says: “That denial, if you will, I think was a mistake.” She also adds that people can think of Ernie and Bert having whatever sexuality (or no sexuality) that they think Ernie and Bert have. As for LGBTQ representation on “Sesame Street,” Jelani Memory (author of “A Kid’s Book About Racism”) is blunt when he says: “It’s not enough.”

And it’s not just social issues that are addressed on “Sesame Street.” The show has also discussed health issues, such as the AIDS crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic. Although “Sesame Street” got pushback from some politically conservative people for talking about AIDS on the show, this criticism didn’t deter “Sesame Street,” which was supported by the majority of its audience for this decision. Dr. Anthony Fauci is in the documentary praising “Sesame Street” for helping educate people on health crises.

The documentary includes a segment on the first HIV-positive muppet Kami, a character in “Takalani Sesame,” the South African version of “Sesame Street.” Kami, who is supposed to be a 5-year-old girl, was created in 2002, in reaction to the AIDS epidemic in South Africa. Her positive outlook on life and how she is accepted by her peers can be viewed as having an impact on people that’s hard to measure.

Marie-Louise Samuels, former director early childhood development at South Africa’s Department of Basic Education, has this to say about Kami: “It wasn’t about her getting some sympathy. It was really about how productive she is in society with the virus.” Even though Kami was well-received in South Africa, “the U.S. was not as receptive,” says Louis Henry Mitchell, creative director of character design at Sesame Workshop.

Also included is a segment on Julia, the first autistic muppet on “Sesame Street.” It’s a character that is near and dear to the heart of Julia puppeteer Stacey Gordon, who tears up and gets emotional when she describes her own real-life experiences as the mother of an autistic child. Julia is one of several muppet characters that represent people with special needs. As an autistic child of a Mexican immigrant family, Makayla Garcia says in her interview that Rosita and Julia are her favorite muppets because they represent who she is.

The documentary shows how “Sesame Street” is in Arabic culture with the TV series “Ahlan Simsim,” which translates to “Welcome Sesame” in English. The Rajubs, a real-life Syrian refugee family of eight living in Jordan, are featured in the documentary as examples of a family who find comfort in “Ahlan Simsim” even though they’re experiencing the turmoil of being refugees. David Milliband, CEO of International Rescue Committee, talks about how “Sesame Street” being a consistent presence in children’s lives can help them through the trauma.

Other people interviewed in the documentary include Shari Rosenfeld, senior VP of international at Social Impact; Elijah Walker puppeteer Chris Thomas Hayes; Dr. Rosemarie Truglio, senior vice president of education and research at Sesame Workshop; Dr. Sanjay Gupta; Peter Linz, voice of muppet character Elmo; “Sesame Street” actor Alan Muraoka; Nyanga Tshabalala, puppeteer for the mupppet character Zikwe on “Takalani Sesame”; and former “Ahlan Simsim” head writer Zaid Baqueen. Celebrity fans of “Sesame Street” who comment in the documentary include Usher, Gloria Estefan, John Legend, Chrissy Teigen and John Oliver, who says about the show: “It was my first introduction to comedy, because it was so relentlessly funny.”

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNCR) special envoy Angelina Jolie comments that The Count (the muppet vampire who teaches counting skills) is her favorite “Sesame Street” character: “He had a wonderfully bold personality: The friendly vampire helping you learn how to count. It worked for me.” Whoopi Goldberg adds, “All the things that ‘Twilight’ did for vampires, The Count did more. [The Count] made vampires cool because they could count.”

Jolie also comments on “Sesame Street’s” social awareness: “What they’re bringing is more relevant to today than ever.” The documentary includes 2021 footage of “Sesame Street” executives cheering when finding out that Sesame Workshop and International Rescue Committee won the MacArthur Foundation’s inaugural 100 and Change Award, a grant that gives the recipients $100 million over a maximum of six years.

There’s also a notable segment on the music of “Sesame Street.” Stevie Wonder (who has performed “123 Sesame Street” and “Superstition” on “Sesame Street”) performs in the documentary with a new version of the “Sesame Street” classic theme “Sunny Days.” The documentary has the expected montage of many of the celebrity guests who’ve been on “Sesame Street” too.

“United Shades of America” host Bell says that being asked to be on “Sesame Street” is a “rite of passage” for “famous people at a certain point. Got to get that ‘Sesame Street’ gig! That’s when you know you really made it: When ‘Sesame Street’ calls you.”

Although there’s a lot of talk about certain “Sesame Street” muppets, the documentary doesn’t give enough recognition to the early “Sesame Street” muppet pioneers who created iconic characters. The documentary briefly mentions Jim Henson (the creator and original voice of Kermit the Frog and Ernie), but Frank Oz (the creator and original voice of Grover, Cookie Monster and Bert) isn’t even mentioned at all.

Big Bird is seen but not much is said about Caroll Spinney, who was the man in the Big Bird costume from 1969 to 2018, and who was the creator and original voice of the Oscar the Grouch muppet. Spinney died in 2019, at the age of 85. Henson died in 1990, at age 53. Oz did not participate in the documentary.

The movie doesn’t mention the 2012 scandal of Elmo puppeteer Kevin Clash resigning from “Sesame Street” after three men accused him of sexually abusing them when the men were underage teenagers. The three lawsuits against Clash with these accusations were dismissed in 2014. Clash had been the puppeteer and voice of Elmo since 1984.

“Sesame Street: 50 Years of Sunny Days” tries to bite off a little more than it should chew when it starts veering into discussions about United Nations initiatives and how they relate to “Sesame Street.” There’s no denying the global impact of “Sesame Street,” but “Sesame Street” is a children’s show, not a political science show about international relations. And some viewers might be turned off by all the talk about social justice content on “Sesame Street.”

The documentary could have used more insight into the actual process of creating these memorable muppets. Except for some brief footage in a puppet-creating workspace, that artistic aspect of “Sesame Street” is left out of the documentary. Despite some flaws and omissions, the documentary is worth watching for people who want a snapshot of what’s important to “Sesame Street” in the early 2020s. Whereas “Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street” is very much about the show’s past, “Sesame Street: 50 Years of Sunny Days” tries to give viewers a glimpse into the show’s future.

ABC premiered “Sesame Street: 50 Years of Sunny Days” on April 26, 2021. Hulu premiered the documentary on April 27, 2021.

Hulu Partners With Vox Media Studios, David Chang’s Majordomo Media, Chrissy Teigen’s Suit & Thai Productions for food-focused show

May 1, 2019

The following is a press release from Hulu:

In a new, multi-year, multi-show partnership, Hulu will partner with Vox Media Studios, David Chang’s Majordomo Media, and Chrissy Teigen’s Suit & Thai Productions to develop and produce a slate of premium food-centric programming for the platform. As the founder and chef of the Momofuku restaurant group, Chang brings a profound understanding of global food culture, while Vox Media Studios lends its world-class storytelling capabilities and a wealth of experience built through its food and travel network, Eater. New York Times bestselling cookbook author Teigen will co-produce and headline a diverse cast of compelling and knowledgeable personalities—from household names and celebrated chefs to everyday home cooks—who will entertain and provoke viewers with a variety of inventive new shows.

Among the first projects being produced by this new partnership is a cooking show featuring Chang and Teigen. Tentatively titled “Family Style,” the show will revolve around the ways in which people express their love for friends and family by cooking and eating together. Also in the pipeline is a documentary series tentatively titled “Eater’s Guide to the World,” which taps into Eater’s extensive knowledge of the most interesting and delicious restaurants on the planet.

2019 Popsugar Play/Ground: Chrissy Teigen, Issa Rae, Mandy Moore headline event

March 6, 2019

The following is a press release from PopSugar:

On June 22 and June 23, powerhouse global lifestyle brand PopSugar, along with event partner Reed Exhibitions, the world’s leading event organizer, will return to Pier 94 in New York City to present the second annual PopSugar Play/Ground, an experiential wonderland for women. Following the huge success of last year’s inaugural festival, the event will provide experiences both playful and grounding, bringing together a large and engaged community of women with today’s most compelling leaders, experts, and artists.

PopSugar Play/Ground celebrates dreams, no matter what they may look like, and provides the tools to achieve them. Festival-goers can expect one-of-a-kind programming that has something for everyone, with an emphasis on wellness, career advancement, activism, self-care, and self-love. The Main Stage will feature uplifting and inspiring panel conversations with headliners Chrissy Teigen, Issa Rae, and Mandy Moore, among others, cutting-edge workouts, and much more to be announced. Further highlights this year include immersive villages:

  • The Playground: a space where attendees can tap into their inner child and experience pure joy
  • Sugar Studios: a fitness dome programmed with back-to-back workouts from today’s leading influencers and most highly sought-after studios
  • The Samsung Soul Space Village: a dedicated wellness space offering expert workshops and classes focused on spirituality, stress relief, crystal healing, and more
  • The Beauty Carnival: a beauty hub that aims to gamify beauty in the most luring, eye-catching, and experiential way
  • The Mall of the Future: a shopping space with numerous brands that everybody will love, from all-time favorites to the up-and-coming. This village will also include The Pop Shop, an area curated by PopSugar editors that will feature exclusive collaborations and an entire PopSugar product range

“PopSugar Play/Ground is going to be even bigger and better this year,” said Lisa Sugar, founder and president of PopSugar. “We were thrilled with the community that joined us in year one, and this year we plan to build on our success to bring together women who are ready and excited to learn, play, and be inspired by the incredible talent and experiences we have lined up. PopSugar has always celebrated the multihyphenate woman, and Play/Ground is a place where she can embrace and connect with new friends while treating and celebrating herself.”

“I’m thrilled to announce that I’ll be a part of PopSugar Play/Ground this June because it’s a festival that celebrates all aspects of the modern-day woman — playfulness, politics, health, wellness, and fearlessness,” Mandy Moore said. “It’s about celebrating her potential and speaking to all sides of her. It’s a weekend dedicated to learning, being inspired, and creating your path to happiness — whatever that may be.”

Immersive retail is a cornerstone of PopSugar Play/Ground. In the shopping bazaar, guests will be able to purchase exclusive items curated by both PopSugar editors and Play/Ground celebrity headliners, as well as limited-edition product collaborations with PopSugar’s favorite brands. Samsung, one of Play/Ground’s presenting sponsors, will partner on the Samsung Soul Space Village, focused on holistic health, spirituality and more. Wendy’s will return to PopSugarPlay/Ground as a premiere sponsor for the second year in a row. CALIA by Carrie Underwood, Nair, Physicians Formula, Tropicana, and many other brands will also activate at PopSugar Play/Ground, producing highly experiential and Instagram-worthy activations that are unique to PopSugarPlay/Ground.

“PopSugar Play/Ground is a leader in the experiential event space, and we are thrilled to bring the festival to NYC for the second year,” said Ron Walden, group vice president of ReedPOP West, a division of Reed Exhibitions. “We can’t wait to build off last year’s success and share the evolution of PopSugar Play/Ground in June with our audience.”

The two-day festival is expected to attract more than 15,000 attendees. Tickets are on sale now and begin at $55 for GA and $200 for VIP. More guests, brand partners, and exhibitors will be announced in the following months.

For more information on PopSugar Play/Ground and to purchase tickets, please go to www.popsugarplayground.com.

New Year’s Eve specials ringing in 2019 will feature Christina Aguilera, Jennifer Lopez, Sting and more

December 27, 2018

by Carla Hay

Watching a New Year’s Eve special on TV is a tradition for millions of people around the world. After taking a break from a New Year’s Eve Special in 2017, NBC is back with its star-studded party in New York City’s Times Square. Here’s what is planned for the four biggest New Year’s TV specials in the United States:

Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve with Ryan Seacrest 2019 

Ryan Seacrest and Jenny McCarthy (Photo by Lorenzo Bevilaqua/ABC)

Celebrating its 47th year, “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve” (which is produced by Dick Clark Productions and airs in the U.S. on ABC) is still the most high-profile televised New Year’s Eve event. Mariah Carey headlined the show from New York City’s Times Square in 2018 and 2017. In 2018, another Grammy-winning diva—Christina Aguilera—is taking the headlining spot. Ryan Seacrest will once again host the show, which begins airing from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. ET, followed by 11:30 p.m. to 2:13 a.m. ET. Jenny McCarthy will provide on-site reporting. Other performers in Times Square include Bastille, Dan + Shay and New Kids on the Block. Airing just after midnight Eastern Time, Post Malone will perform from a stop on his current tour in Brooklyn, New York, marking the first television performance of the new year. Meanwhile, the special has partnered with YouTube Music for the first time this year for cross-promotional programming.

Ciara will once again host the Los Angeles segments of the show that will feature performances that were mostly previously recorded. Artists in the show’s Los Angeles segments will include Lauren Alaina, Kelsea Ballerini, Bazzi, Kane Brown, Camila Cabello, The Chainsmokers, Ciara, Foster the People, Halsey, Dua Lipa, Ella Mai, Shawn Mendes, Charlie Puth and Weezer, as well as collaborations from Brown featuring Alaina; Macklemore with Skylar Grey; and The Chainsmokers featuring Ballerini.

Meanwhile, actress Lucy Hale (former star of “Pretty Little Liars”) will host the show’s second annual Central Time Zone celebration from New Orleans. Florida Georgia Line and Maren Morris will perform from the Allstate Fan Fest, leading up to the midnight countdown and fleur-de-lis drop near Jackson Square.  “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve with Ryan Seacrest 2019” is produced by Dick Clark Productions with Seacrest, Barry Adelman and Mark Bracco serving as executive producers. Larry Klein is producer.

Fox’s New Year’s Eve With Steve Harvey: Live From Times Square

Steve Harvey (Photo by Brian Bowen Smith/Fox)

After televising its New Year’s Eve show (hosted by Pitbull) in Miami from 2014 to 2016, Fox changed locations and hosts in 2017, with the show now taking place at New York City’s Times Square with comedian/talk-show host Steve Harvey and former E! News personality Maria Menounous. This year, Harvey and Menounous return to co-host the show, which airs on Fox from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. ET and 11 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. ET live; CT/MT/PT tape-delayed. Performers will include Sting, Snoop Dogg, Robin Thicke, Florence + the Machine, Jason Aldean, Juanes and Why Don’t We. Additionally, the special will include celebrity cameo appearances by comedians Ken Jeong and Kenan Thompson, as well as “Fox NFL Sunday” commentators Curt Menefee, Terry Bradshaw, Howie Long, Michael Strahan and Jimmy Johnson. “Fox’s New Year’s Eve With Steve Harvey: Live From Times Square” is produced by IMG Original Content and Done + Dusted. Guy Carrington, Katy Mullan, Mike Antinoro, Dave Chamberlin and Orly Anderson serve as executive producers; and Eddie Delbridge serves as co-executive producer. IMG also produces Harvey’s self-titled talk show, as well as the Miss Universe Pageant and “It’s Showtime at the Apollo,” which have been hosted by Harvey over the past several years.

[December 30, 2018 UPDATE: Dierks Bentley has been added to the lineup performing in Times Square.]

NBC’s New Year’s Eve

Carson Daly, Chrissy Teigen, Leslie Jones, Keith Urban
(Photo courtesy of NBCUniversal)

Stars from NBC’s “The Voice” are all over “NBC’s New Year’s Eve” special, which begins airing at 10 p.m. ET from New York City’s Times Square. Not only is “The Voice” host Carson Daly hosting the New Year’s Eve show (with Chrissy Teigen and assistance from Leslie Jones), but “The Voice” coaches Kelly Clarkson, Blake Shelton and John Legend are also performing on the special. Other performers include Jennifer Lopez, Bebe Rexha, Diana Ross and Andy Grammer.  Keith Urban and  Brett Young will perform at Jack Daniel’s Music City Midnight: New Year’s Eve in Nashville. “NBC Nightly News” and “Dateline NBC” anchor Lester Holt will also appear on stage before the iconic ball drop. “NBC’s New Year’s Eve” will be televised from 10 p.m. to 11 p.m. ET, followed by the New Year’s countdown segment 11:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. ET. “NBC’s New Year’s Eve” is executive produced by Daly, Teigen and John Irwin through NBCUniversal Television Studio and Irwin Entertainment. It is co-executive produced by Casey Spira.

New Year’s Eve Live With Anderson Cooper and Andy Cohen

Andy Cohen and Anderson Cooper (Photo courtesy of CNN)

For the second year in a row, longtime friends Anderson Cooper and Andy Cohen will co-host CNN’s New Year’s Eve celebration, which begins at 8 p.m. ET. CNN’s 11th annual New Year’s Eve Show, which is telecast live from New York City’s Times Square has a more star-studded lineup this year than in previous years. Gwen Stefani is scheduled to perform from her Las Vegas residency, while Keith Urban (who also appears on NBC’s New Year’s Eve Special), Dave Chappelle, Patti LaBelle and Jack Black also round out the show’s celebrity lineup.  New Year’s Eve Live With Anderson Cooper and Andy Cohen will also spotlight Broadway musicals such as “The Band’s Visit,” “Wicked,” “Tootsie” and “Come From Away.” CNN’s New Year’s Eve Show begins at 8 p.m. ET, and will end at approximately 1:05 p.m. ET. CNN anchors Don Lemon and Brooke Baldwin will host a countdown from New Orleans at 12:30 a.m. ET. In 2017, Cohen replaced Kathy Griffin, who was notoriously fired from the show in May of that year for publicly posting a photo of herself holding up a fake bloody head of President Donald Trump. Griffin and Cooper had co-hosted CNN’s New Year’s Eve Show since 2007, but the Cooper/Cohen duo brought in the show’s highest ratings so far. Cooper and Cohen have an established rapport, since they have done numerous speaking engagements together.

NBC’s New Year’s Eve: Carson Daly, Chrissy Teigen, Leslie Jones, Keith Urban will usher in 2019

November 29, 2018

The following is a press release from NBC:

NBC has it all on New Year’s Eve as Carson Daly and Chrissy Teigen host “NBC’s New Year’s Eve” live from Times Square in New York with Leslie Jones. Keith Urban will perform live from Nashville and host the Jack Daniel’s Music City Midnight: New Year’s Eve from Nashville’s Bicentennial State Park. This incredible line up of talent will introduce the biggest musical acts of the year (to be announced) and join the crowd in saying goodbye to 2018.

The special will air Monday, Dec. 31 from 10-11 p.m. ET/PT, will break for local news and return for the final countdown from 11:30 p.m.-12:30 a.m.

CARSON DALY

Carson Daly serves as host and producer for the 15th season of the hit NBC series “The Voice.” The series has received seven consecutive Emmy Award nominations for Outstanding Reality Competition Program and won in 2013, 2015-17. Additionally, “The Voice” received a Producers Guild Award for Outstanding Producer of Competition Television for the sixth year in a row. Daly joined NBC’s morning show “Today” in 2013 and is host of the Orange Room, its digital studio. Daly’s long-running late night NBC series, “Last Call with Carson Daly,” is currently entering its 18th season. “Last Call” has garnered acclaim for its documentary style, emphasis on exceptional storytelling and status as late-night TV’s unofficial music tastemaker. After getting his start in radio as the host at the top-rated morning-drive radio program on 97.1 AMP-FM Los Angeles, Daly quickly landed one of the most coveted positions in the business — the early evening voice of L.A.’s influential and highly rated alternative rock station KROQ-FM. MTV soon recognized his talent and brought him to New York. As host and executive producer of MTV’s “Total Request Live (TRL),” Daly transformed an afternoon music video program into a must-stop on the publicity circuit for musicians, movie stars and entertainers. It was Daly’s guy-next-door charm that made him appealing as he entered living rooms daily to offer exactly what the audience desired.

CHRISSY TEIGEN

Chrissy Teigen is a bestselling cookbook author, model and television host. In 2016, she released her #1 New York Times best-selling cookbook, “Cravings: Recipes for All the Food You Want to Eat.” Earlier this year she followed that publication up with her highly anticipated second cookbook, “Cravings: Hungry for More,” in addition to launching her kitchen and tabletop collection, “Cravings by Chrissy Teigen,” which is available exclusively at Target. Teigen can also be seen on Paramount Network’s smash hit competition show, “Lip Sync Battle.”

LESLIE JONES

Leslie Jones is currently starring in her fifth season of “Saturday Night Live.” Her work on the longstanding sketch show has garnered her two Emmy Award nominations and inclusion on the Time 100 list. Jones covered the most recent Summer and Winter Olympics for NBC and was the host of the 2017 BET Awards. She is currently recording one of the lead roles in “Angry Birds 2” for Sony Pictures. Jones also starred in Paul Feig’s reboot of “Ghostbusters,” alongside Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig and Kate McKinnon. Her other film credits include Chris Rock’s “Top Five,” Judd Apatow’s “Trainwreck” and the animated film “Sing.” Jones is from Memphis, Tenn.

KEITH URBAN

Keith Urban, 2018 CMA Entertainer of the Year and Grammy Award winner, recently released his new album, “Graffiti U,” in conjunction with his “Graffiti U World Tour 2018.” The album, which upon its debut on April 27, hit #1 on charts in the United States, Canada and Australia, is Urban’s ninth. He’s had an album atop the all-genre charts in the U.S., Canada and Australia twice and is the only male country artist to have achieved the mark even once. He now stands at #8 on Billboard’s All-Time Country Airplay Chart as the artist with the most consecutive top 10 songs on Billboard’s Country Airplay Chart (38) – a streak that started in 2000. Besides four Grammys, Urban has won 12 Country Music Association Awards, 11 Academy of Country Music Awards, four People’s Choice Awards and four American Music Awards. He is also a member of the Grand Ole Opry. He’s long supported numerous charities, including the CMA Foundation, for which he is the first Ambassador, the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum©, St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, for which he is an advisory board member, the Mr. Holland’s Opus Fund and the Grammy Foundation.

The 10th annual Nashville New Year’s Eve event will take place near the Tennessee State Capitol at Nashville’s Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park. The music-filled evening caps off with a Music Note Drop and fireworks to ring in the New Year.

“NBC’s New Year’s Eve” is executive produced by Daly, Teigen and John Irwin through NBCUniversal Television Studio and Irwin Entertainment. It is co-executive produced by Casey Spira and directed by Ryan Polito.

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