Sesame Street and SNL: “Sack Lunch Bunch”

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As the Netflix logo fades out, an obscure quote from Erika Jayne of “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” fades in reading, “Do you know who tells the truth? Drunks and children.”

“So I have a lot of big fears, like a big asteroid hitting the Earth or other stuff like that, you know? And sometimes I was afraid of getting hit by the ball in baseball, but my biggest fear of all time is drowning. And that’s why I’m afraid of swimming because I’m afraid of drowning.”

And thus begins John Mulaney’s Netflix special, “John Mulaney and The Sack Lunch Bunch,” released Christmas Eve of 2019 on Netflix.

If you are unfamiliar with John Mulaney, aesthetically, he is somewhere in between an old man and a child. He is actually 37 and has had a career in comedy since 2002, getting his first big job as a comedy writer in 2004 at “Saturday Night Live.” Since then, he has done stand-up comedy and partnered up with his comic friend Nick Kroll for “The Oh, Hello” special, where he plays a crotchety old man named George St.Geeglund. He has also done voice acting in the Netflix cartoon, “Big Mouth,” where he plays a pubescent boy named Andrew Glouberman.

Mulaney’s comedy falls somewhere between nihilistic self-cranks and traditional, story-based stand-up. He tends towards the sarcastic, which makes him the perfect person to create and host this mocking spoof of Sesame Street, the Electric Company, Mister Roger’s Neighborhood.

His co-writer, Marika Sawyer, is also from “Saturday Night Live.”

Mulaney explains, “It’s a show for kids, by adults, with kids present.” He explains that kid’s TV today is terrible, but when he watched it as a kid it was good, so he would try his best to recreate what he knew and loved The show spoofs some well-known kids-show segments and pokes fun at kids and their often-uncensored ways of expressing themselves.

The show is divided into smaller segments, where Mulaney will talk to the kids about various topics. Sometimes the kids will break out into musical numbers to really emphasize the main idea. There are smaller bits including a review of a fictitious book called “Shasha’s Dad Does Drag.”

At one point, Mulaney plays chess with one of the kids, while trying to convince him that the moon landing was faked.

In between, there are hokey cutscenes of shapes and colors or obscure puzzles for you to do over the “commercial breaks.” (There are no breaks, though, because it is Netflix, but it simulates what kids’ shows are like on public television.). One puzzle asks you if you can spot the difference between two images, and other asks if you can guess what something is from close up and one puzzle asks you to put a list of New York mayors in order.

Between bits, Mulaney asks all the kids and guest stars prodding questions, such as “what’s your biggest fear?” This produces some interesting and uncomfortable answers from the children, but not unrelatable.

In an interview with Mulaney by Entertainment Weekly, he said, “When I see people interact with kids, I was always like, ‘Why are you talking down to them? Why are you crouching on the floor talking in a high voice?’ I don’t recall needing that as a kid.”

As a result, he talks to them about real topics that resonate with children and adults, although in different ways. The best part of the show is that you could sit down and watch it with a kid and they would laugh at the same jokes for different reasons.

Mulaney himself does not have kids by choice, unless you count his French bulldog fur-baby Petunia. Through the show, some of his reasons why become apparent, such as their antics and overall weirdness. The kids will do random things throughout the show like ask to go to the bathroom or say something completely off topic, or they will be incredibly mature or have moments of existentialism and talk about how they don’t understand how the world works. Anyone who has been around a kid for long enough would agree that that is precisely how children really are, with classic quirks such as being a picky eater emphasized.

Mulaney’s co-stars, the Sack Lunch Bunch themselves, are played by child actors, aged eight to 13, from a variety of backgrounds. Some have no prior acting experience. Others have played children’s roles or appeared as babies in productions. It was fun to see the kids perform and interact with Mulaney through the program, because Mulaney is really just a big kid himself.

The show also brings in several guest stars who talk to the kids and have bits with them. Some guests include Andre De Shields, David Byrne of The Talking Heads, Jacob Gyllenhaal and Richard Kind.

It is clear that the guests are just awkward around kids as Mulaney, but they go along with their antics and still talk to them as adults. In one segment, David Byrne opens up to one of the kids about his long time fear of volcanoes while making one out of paper maché.

The program has several musical numbers scattered throughout including “Grandma’s Boyfriend Paul,” “Pay attention!,” “Algebra Song!,” “I Saw a White Lady Standing On The Street Just Sobbing (And I Think About It Once a Week),” and my favorite, “Plain Plate of Noodles,” to name a few. The music for the program was directed by Eli Bolin, known for his work on “Sesame Street.”

The set is nostalgic and really makes you think of 1990’s and early 2000’s kids shows that a range of audiences can relate to. Most of it takes place in a kind of whimsical back yard setting like you would see in a theater production, with Mulaney and the kids arranged on lawn furniture and rocks.

Overall, “John Mulaney and The Sack Lunch Bunch” is a great watch for the whole family and I would highly recommend it to anyone who needs a laugh during these trying times.