From True Blood to Mad Men and Homeland to Boardwalk Empire, no popular piece of moving imagery—be it television series or movie—is immune to a spoofy makeover courtesy of the lovable residents of Sesame Street. (“Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but it can also be downright hilarious,” explains the “Parodies and Spoofs” page on SesameStreet.org.) But parodies are nothing new to Bert, Ernie, Oscar, Grover, and the rest of the Sesame Street gang, especially Cookie Monster—a.k.a. Alistair Cookie—who practically invented the art form. Here are 15 classic Sesame Street parodies from decades past.
1. MIAMI MICE
When Miami Vice was in its fourth season, Sesame Street debuted Miami Mice, “The hippest, newest, best-dressed detective show on television,” starring two dapper detectives of the rodent variety, Tito and J.P.
2. 1 FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST
No sinks are thrown through windows nor frontal lobotomies performed in this “Monsterpiece Theater” sendup of Ken Kesey’s novel-turned-Oscar-winning film. It’s a lesson in numbers, not insanity, and is taken in the most literal sense. It also teases next week’s program, Rocky 20 (the story of 20 rocks).
3. TWIN BEAKS
While the over-12-year-old crowd obsessively tuned in to figure out who killed Laura Palmer, Alistair Cookie himself played the part of a detective paying a visit to Twin Beaks—a “darn fine town” with “darn fine pie”—to determine the origin of the town’s name. David Finch is one of the residents he questions in trying to solve the case.
4. ABCD BLUE
The greatest moment in this re-creation of Stephen Bochco’s NYPD Blue, in which Grover and Herry assist some neighborhood kids with learning their ABCs, comes in the final moments. As the camera cuts back to Alistair Cookie, he wonders aloud: “A singing cop show? Who writes this stuff?” Bochco, of course, also (in)famously wrote and produced the short-lived series Cop Rock.
5. THE 400 BLOWS
Like many of the best Sesame Street parodies, this play on François Truffaut’s classic French New Wave film is just the first part of Grover’s beleaguered attempts to blow out the candles on his birthday cake. Spoiler alert: It’s going to take 400 blows; fortunately, he only makes it to 40 before fainting. (Puffs 41 through 400 were promised but never arrived.)
6. DR. NO
In this 007 spoof, Dr. No is an optometrist who attempts to help James Bond with a seeming bout with blindness. The problem? The too-cool spy’s ridiculously dark sunglasses.
7. FAMILY FOOD
Guy Smiley may have been Sesame Street’s resident television host, but Richard Dawson took over hosting duties on this Family Feud spoof. And yes, he put the moves on all the female contestants.
8. UPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS
Before there was Downton Abbey (or Upside Downton Abbey) there was Upstairs, Downstairs, the story of the aristocratic family, their servants, and the London townhouse they share. In the case of this 1989 Sesame Street parody, the story is a much more straightforward one: Grover simply runs up and down a flight of stairs. (Eagle-eyed viewers might notice a picture of Dr. Teeth on the wall.)
9. LETHAL WEAPON 3
Mel Gibson and Danny Glover play themselves in what Alistair Cookie calls “A rock-em-sock-em yarn of two tough but tender buddies who face unexpected danger.” That danger? The number three. (Gibson made another “Monsterpiece Theater” appearance in Hamlet.)
10. SPACESHIP SURPRISE
One of Sesame Street’s longest-running bits is this alliteration-heavy Star Trek spoof, in which the ship would always crash on a new planet where the crew would learn about consonant diagraphs (the pairing of two consonants to create a new sound, i.e. sh, th, ph) and usually conclude with a dance number. A parody redux, Spaceship Surprise: The Next Generation, was launched in the early 1990s.
11. SALLY MESSY YUCKYAEL
In the midst of 1990s afternoon talk show madness, Sesame Street debuted a Grouch version of Sally Jessy Raphaël, who chatted about such hot-button topics as “Grouches who love too much” with fellow Grouches (Oscar was one of her most frequent guests).
12. HILL STREET TWOS
Grover, Ernie, and even Rubber Duckie are part of a group of detectives who can’t seem to grasp the concept of pairs. If you’re going to be known as Hill Street Twos, after all, that’s the only way to patrol the neighborhood.
13. LIFESTYLES OF THE BIG AND LITTLE
Dicky Tick plays the part of Robin Leach in this Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous takeoff, focused on the living conditions of very, very large creatures and very, very tiny ones.
Sergeant Thursday is on the hunt for the letter W. And he doesn’t think it will be difficult to find him, what with those distinctive “four up and down lines.”
One of Sesame Street’s longest-running parody sketches, where a lamb re-creates the disheveled detective made famous by Peter Falk, began in the early 1990s and ran regularly for five seasons. He’s popped up again on occasion, most recently in 2000, when he aided Oscar in the search for his pet elephant, Fluffy.