“Snuffy's Parents Get a Divorce” and 3 other astonishingly inappropriate Sesame Street episodes that were filmed but never aired
If you’re anything like me, you’re unhealthily obsessed with Sesame Street in a way only partially explained by your being the father of a two and a half year old boy. And if you’re also like me, that pathological obsession leads you down some pretty weird, pretty deep internet rabbit holes involving minor characters like Big Bird’s aunt, Cookie Monster’s grandma and Baby Bear’s weed dealer.
During one of my visits down various Sesame Street-related rabbit holes, I discovered that in 1992 the venerable and beloved children’s entertainment institution filmed an episode in which the parents of minor character Aloysius Snuffleupagus (better known as Big Bird’s pal Snuffy) get divorced. The idea was to help teach children about divorce but the episode never aired after it scored terribly with focus groups of children who seemed confused by it at best and borderline traumatized by it at worst.
Astonishingly, I then discovered that Sesame Street went on to film three similar episodes that also didn’t air for reasons that should soon become apparent. With that in mind, here are the four astonishingly ill-conceived episodes Sesame Street filmed, but never aired, about the implosion of the Snuffleupagus marriage.
1. “Snuffy's Parents Get a Divorce”
Sesame Street has always had an admirable commitment to helping children deal with all of life’s issues, and the complicated world of emotions, not just more traditionally educational subjects like math and spelling. To that end, the show decided that it would help children better understand divorce with a special episode where the parents of Aloysius and Alice Snuffleupagus, Mr. and Mrs. Snuffleupagus decided to get divorced and Mr. Snuffleupagus moves out of the family cave.
If anyone could pull off the tricky feat of making a difficult and emotionally fraught subject like divorce palatable to small children, it would seemingly be the smart, sensitive and socially conscious people behind Sesame Street. But the episode was misconceived from the very beginning.
For starters, it seems perverse to use minor, limited characters like the extended family of a minor, limited character like Snuffy as the instrument for delivering such a heavy message. Heck, audiences didn’t even really see Snuffy’s dad Daddy Snuffle at all before the episode, so confused kids were likely to know him only as a furry version of their dad when he said he was going out for a pack of smokes and never came back.
Though the writers took great pains to establish that just because mommies and daddies fought didn’t mean they were getting divorced, traumatized kids took away the opposite message, and when Alice, the gratingly adorable baby sister character, kicked a doll in frustration, children thought she was stabbing it in rage.
When the testing results came in, they decided to never air the episode. Yet unbeknownst to anyone but me, they somehow kept making more episodes in this vein, all of which were burned in a fire, never to be seen by child or man.
2. "Daddy Snuffle Is Having A Snuffle-fair with his Teen Intern”
The normally savvy Sesame Street stubbornly refused to learn meaningful and somewhat obvious lessons from the divorce episode boondoggle. They decided that children were confused because they did not realize that the Snuffleupagus’ marriage was in trouble, or that when a male Snuffleupagus’ sexual needs are not being met, his eye begins to stray.
So they introduced the character of Tawny, a 19-year-old, sexually experimental Snuffleupagus with daddy issues, who works as an intern at the Snuffle-surance company where Daddy Snuffle is employed as a Senior Vice President of marketing. This extremely unpopular, poorly thought out character debuted in a scene where Mommy Snuffleupagus walks in on her soon-to-be-estranged husband giving his intern a particularly loud and intense “Snufflegasm”, the kind she herself had never actually experienced.
A fifteen minute screaming match ensues, and Tawny runs away, embarrassed. It just gets uglier from there. The scene where Daddy Snuffle explains to his children that if a wife isn’t able to match the Snuffle-Sex Drive of her partner, then it’s a Snuffle-husband’s right to have his sexu-snuffle needs met outside of the marriage however he sees fit, including prostitutes, was flagged by PBS as “astonishingly tone-deaf” and “sending out, like, 17 of the wrong messages.”
3. “Daddy Snuffle's Divorce Leads to Snuffle-cidal Snufflepression and Snufflecaine Abuse “
When the divorce and adultery episodes were nixed, the deeply confused Sesame Street writing staff felt that the problem was that kids just didn’t know enough about Daddy Snuffle's unhappiness for his desire for a divorce to make sense. So they wrote yet another never-to-be-aired episode chronicling the snufflecidal snufflepression Daddy Snuffle fell into when he realized his marriage was broken beyond redemption and also how he became addicted to “Snufflecaine”, a white, powdery substance that makes Snuffleupagus first very happy and energetic at first, and then very sad and paranoid. Also, total assholes!
In a scene PBS told Sesame Street they were “insane to imagine and film” Daddy Snuffle blatantly lines up a fat line of Snufflecaine in clear sight of his horrified children and when two year old daughter Alice begs him to stop, he explains that he “can stop at any time” but that he “just likes to party” and needs to “blow off steam.”
This episode was particularly controversial due to its seeming endorsement of Daddy Snuffle's constant, sweaty assertions that he “doesn’t have a problem with Snufflecaine” and that as long as he’s paying the bills and shows up for work on time, no one has the right to tell him what to put in his body, or up his snuffle.
This episode was so horrifyingly authentic in its depiction of drug addiction that PBS asked its writer if it was based on personal experience, and he said no, of course not, then started crying and yelling at them to stop trying to steal his thoughts.
4. “Daddy Snuffle Pressures his Snuffle-mistress to get a Snufflebortion”
This is an episode that got notes from the network like, “What the fuck are you lunatics doing?”, “Are you out of your goddamn minds?” and “Have you even seen Sesame Street? What the fuck show do you think you’re putting on?”
Alas, the Children’s Television Workshop ignored the angry, enraged reception each of their issue-oriented episodes received from the brass at PBS, as well as the fact that none of them aired and wrote and filmed an episode where Daddy Snuffle discovers that the cheap snufflectomy he received in Mexico didn’t work when his teen mistress Tawny becomes pregnant.
Worried about his political chances (He’s thinking about running for County Snufflemmissioner) if he has a child out of wedlock, Daddy Snuffle encourages Tawny to get a “snufflebortion”, making vague promises of someday marrying her if she does so, even though his divorce hadn’t even been finalized yet. The episode actually consists of a single 56-minute-long argument about the Snufflebortion ghost-written by David Mamet filmed in a single, brutal long take.
The entire writing staff of Sesame Street was fired shortly after PBS looked at the episode. It was probably for the best. While Sesame Street earned justified kudos recently for its sensitive handling of Julia, an autistic character, this just seemed like a bad idea that just kept progressively getting worse and worse with each new never-to-air episode and surreally ill-conceived iteration.
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