In preparation for this, we went down a bit of a weird rabbit hole, my boyfriend and I—looking up people from SVU for the game “On Sesame Street or Not On Sesame Street?” Christopher Meloni? On Sesame Street—twice! Ice-T? Not on Sesame Street. BD Wong? Surprisingly not on Sesame Street, nor was Mariska Hargitay. Richard Belzer? Not only on Sesame Street, but on Sesame Street in 1978, as “Man on Boat,” back when he was still mostly doing stand-up comedy. (Before that, two SNL sketches and a movie called The Groove Tube.) And that’s the highbrow end of children’s television. When you watch enough of it, you become amazed by the people who get cast on these shows.
Sometimes, it’s the Belzer thing—sort of a more innocent version of porn. He was young and needed the money, so he ended up on educational television, poor boy. Then, you get people like Weird Al and Neil Patrick Harris, who seem to really enjoy doing children’s television. Richard Kind, too, I think. Give ’em a chance to teach a kid the value of the letter “W,” and they’re there. Or people doing things for their own kids to watch—half the adult cast of Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone appears to have been pressured into it by a child of their acquaintance. (It’s not just the educational stuff, though that’s where you get the wider, and therefore stranger, range—and probably less money for the roles.) I will admit, too, that some of it is just well-written and worth being in for its own merits.
You get weirdly hipster stuff, too—probably soon, I’ll get to The Who Was? Show for Stuff My Kids Watch, and that’s got an odd assortment of guest stars. Sarah Vowell, John Hodgman, Ellie Kemper? Ask the StoryBots has had Kevin Smith, Edward Norton, Tim Meadows—and Snoop Dogg as the operating system of a computer in a scene that reeks of weed. I’ll be half-ignoring these shows while my son is watching them and think, “Did they just decide to skip through IMDb until they hit on a random person and call and ask if they’d be on the show?”
I mean, okay, you’re casting The Who Was? Show, you want a historian, so you cast a pop historian like Sarah Vowell, right? I can dig that. But you’re casting a guy to play a guidance counselor for Sacagawea and Blackbeard, what makes you consider Jordan Klepper in particular? You’re casting the Mad Hatter on an episode of Dora the Explorer or Grandpa Mel in Special Agent Oso, is there a reason you go Mel Brooks? Hell, is there a reason you went with Sean Astin for Special Agent Oso? The casting of these things is fascinating, but the guest casting most of all.
Don’t get me wrong. I’d cast Weird Al, Neil Patrick Harris, or Richard Kind in pretty well anything. Coming at it from the other direction, there’s a ton of children’s stuff I’d do; I’d be on Sesame Street in a flash, and The Who Was? Show as well. I’m just not sure that my kid learns electricity better from Edward Norton or whatever The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About this week from Martin Short. I’m curious as to why they cast him. Not that I’m saying they shouldn’t, but it’s weird. They know that, right?
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