Here's something different to talk about: Muppets! Not something that I've mentioned nearly enough in my blog over the years. But I've got quite into "Sesame Tree" these last few weeks - it's the Northern Irish take on the Sesame Street franchise, and it's really quite fun.
Sesame Street has never really caught on in a big way over here - when I was of a suitable age for watching it, back in the early eighties, it used to be on Channel 4, although I never really paid much attention to it. Nowadays, it's been off British screens for a long time (I think it might be on some super-obscure cable channel, but not one that anyone watches), except for the not-very-good "Elmo's World" segment, which shows up on Channel 5. Performed by the genuinely-very-good Kevin Clash, by the way, against whom I won't hear a word of criticism.
But this hasn't deterred BBC NI from buying into the concept and adapting it for the unique audience of Northern Ireland. It's set in a big hollow tree, and stars Potto the giant purple agoraphobic monster (he's genuinely afraid to leave the tree, but this is played strictly for laughs, even in episodes with the moral that you should try not to be afraid of things), Hilda the hare and Archie the young squirrel (who lives upstairs with his unseen mum - the tree seems to be a block of flats).
Episodes follow a very rigid pattern, and each one revolves around answering a question from a young Irish child, which coincidentally is on the same subject as the cast are already discussing among themselves. These questions, nine times out of ten, boil down to whether or not people should be friends and work together with other people regardless of any difference of opinion. Politics and religion aren't mentioned, but clearly the hope is that Northern Irish kids will pick up on the subtle brainwashing and apply it to adult life in the future.
There's still room for plenty of fun and traditional muppet-style humour around the edges of the many identical sequences (like the looking in on 'what our friends in Sesame Street are up to', as an excuse for a brief American clip on a vaguely similar subject to the episode's theme) in every fifteen-minute episode, and the characters are all genuinely likeable and funny. There's something about Muppets, wherever in the world they get to, that is always watchable, and the performances in this incarnation are really great all round!
One episode had a guest appearance of Oscar the Grouch, which struck me as a strange choice, him being the most extremely American of the Sesame Street cast. And if you're going to fly Caroll Spinney out for some puppeteering (which everyone should do, at every opportunity), why not have him play Big Bird? I personally find Big Bird scary, but everyone else likes him!