(Photo by Richard Termine_courtesy Sesame Workshop)
NEW YORK (AP) | The upcoming season of “Sesame Street” features an octopus as a chef, an exploration of American Sign Language and an “Abbott Elementary”-style mockumentary featuring series creator Quinta Brunson. It will also feature several LGBTQ+ celebrities including Oscar-winning actress Ariana DeBose, Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Brandi Carlile, Emmy-winning actor and writer Dan Levy and actor — and former White House aide — Kal Penn, who booked his ticket after making a plea dressed as Cookie Monster on “Live with Kelly & Mark.”
This season marks the second that Sal Perez is executive producing the show and returns to last season’s self-identity and belonging curriculum. He grew up watching “Sesame Street” and joined the Sesame Workshop in 2006. During this latest season’s filming, he also welcomed a second child. His first, a daughter now 4, is, of course, a fan.
“I would be lying if I didn’t say that there were a few episodes in the season that were inspired by some of the trials and tribulations of my then-2 or 3-year old as she was growing up,” says Perez in an exclusive interview previewing the season. Some of those include being scared by slides and the wonders of flamingos.
DeBose — who won her Oscar playing Anita in Steven Spielberg’s 2021 remake of “West Side Story — kicks off the season singing the song ”Friendship Feeling” with Elmo, Abby and Cookie Monster.
“It’s really fun when you have someone like that who’s so excited to be with us and able to sing along. Obviously having a wonderful voice does not hurt,” says Perez.
Carlile recorded a song about nature with a special twist: Both Big Bird and Snuffleupagus joined her, a rare puppet pairing these days on “Sesame Street.” Perez calls it “magic.”
“To be honest, it was the first time in this role that I’ve seen Snuffy in person and I teared up,” he says. “I made sure to be on set because it’s such an emotional moment for everybody.”
The show will also feature a gentle satire of Brunson’s hit mockumentary “Abbott Elementary,” mimicking that show’s single-camera style and confessional cut-aways.
“It was really fun to kind of zoom in on Cookie Monster making a joke about eating a cookie and Quinta Brunson giving him a little bit of side-eye,” says Perez.
Brunson came in with an advantage most celebrity guests don’t have: In her early days in Los Angeles, she attended a puppet workshop created by Jim Henson, creator of The Muppets.
“When a celebrity or a guest comes on set with that sort of knowledge and understanding, it just takes the content that we’re doing that much further,” says Perez. “We were lucky to have her.”
Other highlights this season include an exploration of Bessie Coleman, the first woman of African American and Native American descent to earn her pilot’s license in the U.S. And Elmo celebrates Alphabet Day by singing the ABC song while a deaf friend signs the alphabet using American Sign Language.
Grover takes over Hooper’s store and brings in his chef, who happens to be a muppet octopus. The only flaw is that the chef only makes bread — from pita to baguettes.
“So no matter what anybody orders in the restaurant, the only thing that the octopus can make is bread,” he says. “It was a really, really unique way to show different cultural identities within food.”
The season also includes a segment called “Proud of My Name,” where Rosita feels frustrated when her basketball coach shortens her name and Elmo and Gabrielle encourage her to speak up that she wants to be called “Rosita.”
“Sesame Street,” designed by education professionals and child psychologists, is shown in more than 150 countries, has won 193 Emmys, 10 Grammys and received a Kennedy Center Honor for lifetime artistic achievement, the first time a television program got the award.
In 2015, the longtime PBS show began a pact with HBO that gave the premium cable channel the right to air new episodes nine months before they air on PBS.
The 54th season of the iconic children’s show debuts Nov. 9 on MAX.