1. A is for “Ayyy” (1977)

The Fonz appeared on Sesame Street several times. No, not Henry Winkler—The Fonz, with his leather jacket, slick hair, and hipper-than-thou attitude. In his most iconic appearance, Fonzie introduces his favorite letter of the alphabet: A, which is brilliant in its obviousness. He seems to be invoking the same magic he uses when he punches a jukebox or snaps his fingers to attract a woman like a magnet: He doesn’t have to say what the letter A stands for or illustrate all the different sounds it can make. All the audience needs to get it is his cool demeanor and his iconic catchphrase. Such is the magic of The Fonz (as played for 11 seasons by Henry Winkler). [Joe Hennes]

2. B is for “Batman” (1970)

Batman first came to Sesame Street to help mediate an argument between Bert and Ernie. Bert wanted to watch “The Man From Alphabet” (a Man From U.N.C.L.E. spoof starring Gary Owens that was produced but never aired on Sesame Street), while Ernie wanted to watch Batman. Using what must have been the advanced technology of the Batcave, Batman speaks to Sesame’s own Dynamic Duo through their television set, bringing them a message about taking turns. Voiced by the long-running Super Friends team of Olan Soule and Casey Kasem, Batman and Robin later appeared in a series of animated Sesame Street shorts, including one where they pause from chasing the murderous Joker to look both ways before crossing the street. And then the Joker gets pummeled by a car, thus learning an important lesson about traffic safety. [Joe Hennes]

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3. C is for “Cereal Girl” (1983)

Madonna was a major musical trailblazer of the 1980s, so it only makes sense that Sesame Street would use her music to teach kids a lesson about trying new foods. The show’s “Material Girl” parody tells the story of a young girl who tries cereal for the first time at the insistence of her father. After falling in love with the “healthful” breakfast, she becomes a full-fledged “Cereal Girl.” From cold cereal to hot cereal to cereal with fruit, the title monster uncovers a whole slew of new favorite foods all because she was open to new experiences. The official stance on cereal as a healthy breakfast option has shifted since the parody first aired in 1989, but the open-minded message remains just as relevant. (The ’80s fashion, surprise backup dancers, and upbeat melody are as captivating as ever.) [Caroline Siede]

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4. D is for “Draper” (2009)

Matthew Weiner’s Mad Men is a languid, subtle, intensely textured study of the gradual shift of history. It depicts the way the once-powerful can find themselves adrift, and how our efforts to build stable identities in the face of a complex world can ossify and trap us in patterns we can’t escape. Also, it’s super sexy. None of this would seem to translate well to a two-minute sketch on a children’s show, but while the Sesame Street version of Mad Men doesn’t match its inspiration for complexity, it does manage to capture some of the heart of the original, starting with an appropriately goofy take on the show’s foreboding opening titles. The sketch itself takes on a scene familiar to any Mad Men fan: underlings trying to pitch “Mr. Draper” on a campaign for the Happy Honeybear account. The underlings are, as the Muppet Draper points out, “sycophants”; this version of Don has the same uncanny instinct for finding emotional truths in advertising as his human counterpart. It’s a little disappointing how the shallow the parody is—no silly names? No Joan? (She’d have to be a Muppet bird.) But for a kid-show take on a series defined by its fascination with drinking, screwing, and existential angst, it’s impressive enough that this exists at all. It makes us very… what’s the word? [Zack Handlen]

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5. E is for “Ernie loves this boat” (1988)

Running from 1977 to 1987 (and in syndicated perpetuity ever since), The Love Boat depicted the anthologized voyages of the Pacific Princess, a vessel whose main port of call was familiar to all residents of the Aaron Spelling universe: booty. Using similar emotional extremes as a jumping off point, Sesame Street’s take on The Love Boat stars Ernie (or, as he’s addressed by fellow passenger Amanda, “Ernest”) and the rocking, rolling boat that he just loves. And while it initially seems that his passengers feel the opposite way, they eventually give in to the undeniable charms of this boat. Opening with an expert send-up of The Love Boat theme written and performed by Sesame maestro Joe Raposo (“You’re a guy or a girl or a goat / Who’s in love and afloat on a boat!”), the insert put its teachings about feelings to good use, appearing between segments depicting the wedding of Maria and Luis in episode 2,485. [Erik Adams]

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6. F is for “Furry Happy Monsters” (1999)

To many, R.E.M.’s relentlessly upbeat (and polarizing) 1991 hit “Shiny Happy People” felt like an anomaly in the band’s catalog. Frontman Michael Stipe refuted this misconception in a 2011 interview, when asked what he wanted the song to be: “Exactly what it is,” he told The Quietus. “Which is a really fruity, kind of bubblegum song… Many people’s idea of R.E.M, and me in particular, is very serious, with me being a very serious kind of poet. But I’m also actually quite funny.” Stipe and bandmates Peter Buck and Mike Mills later got to indulge their silly sides in a Sesame Street remake of the song, dubbed “Furry Happy Monsters.” Aided by a Kate Pierson-like Muppet—as well as a bevy of fuzzy friends, including the Two-Headed Monster—the band changed the song to illustrate the differences between happy and sad. The takeaway is that feeling down is entirely okay—but that things such as music and friendship can lift the spirits when people do feel blue. Accordingly, the band seems particularly amused to be pogo-jumping around with the monsters; even Buck—who looked notoriously unamused in the “Shiny Happy People” video—cracks a few faint smiles and cuddles with the colorful characters frolicking around him. [Annie Zaleski]

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7. G is for “Grouches Who Love Too Much” (1993)

In the mid-’80s, there were no bigger names in the talk-show world than Phil Donahue and Sally Jessy Raphaël, a pair whose blazers and oversized glasses took over daytime TV. Donahue appeared on Sesame Street in 1985, covering the story that Mr. Snuffleupagus was no longer imaginary, but Raphaël was initially honored by the show in the form of a Grouch. (She’d later contribute to a celebrity remake of “A New Way To Walk.”) Sally Messy Yuckyael (without the umlaut) first appeared in a 1993 episode, inviting Oscar and his girlfriend Grundgetta onto her show to tackle the controversial topic “Grouches Who Love Too Much.” Her appearance also raises the question: If Sally Jessy and Sally Messy both exist in this world, does everyone have a Grouch counterpart? Are Grouches to Sesame Street as Bizarro World is to Superman? [Joe Hennes]

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8. H is for “Here Is Your Life” (1969)

Sesame Street never lacked for insightful, timely parodies, but sometimes lost in the shuffle was how many of the show’s recurring sketches regularly outlasted their source material. When Guy Smiley first hosted “Here Is Your Life” in 1969, the series it was spoofing—the biography series This Is Your Life—had been off the air for years. Producer and host Ralph Edwards tried (and failed) to recapture the series’ popularity with ’70s and ’80s revivals of This Is Your Life, and Sesame Street aired variants on the series into the ’90s. The setup for the original series involved an individual being surprised by featured players from their past, resulting in touching reunions; the parody ingeniously focuses on inanimate objects, bringing out guests who had a hand in bringing the product, be it bread or milk or a tree, into being, resulting in the perfect blend of cheeky send-up and educational fare. [Libby Hill]

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9. I is for “Idol” (and “I”) (2007)

In 2007, when American Idol was arguably at its peak, it became fodder for the incredibly spot-on parody “American I.” The segment nails all of the specifics, from the mediocre performers vying to win an arbitrary talent contest to the judges’ panel of a sympathetic Latina (Rosita in the role that Jennifer Lopez would later fulfill), a surly grouch (Oscar, a natural replacement for Simon Cowell), and someone who loves the word “Dawg” (a dog named Dawg). “American I” is also notable for spotlighting one of the most under-appreciated long-running residents of Sesame Street: Prairie Dawn. She’s so much more than just a sweet little girl who plays the piano—she also embodies the classic Muppet slow burn, as she starts out calm and finishes with a glorious explosion that unintentionally teaches the lesson Sesame Street is trying to relate, just as Kermit The Frog did so many times before her. Ryan Seacrest couldn’t pull that off. [Joe Hennes]

10. J is for “Jack The Boss” (2008)

In the world of Sesame Street, Tina Fey’s 30 Rock protagonist Liz Lemon is literally a lemon—albeit one with glasses. She’s still over-stressed, neurotic, and constantly badgered by executives bothering her with irrational demands, though. In “30 Rocks,” that means being dopily micromanaged by Jack The Boss (longtime Street performer Tyler Bunch, unleashing his best, growliest Alec Baldwin impression), who wants to make absolutely sure that the rock delivery for “the rock sketch” contains exactly 30 rocks. “30 Rocks” was a relatively daring move on Sesame Street’s part: The sketch aired in 2008, shortly before 30 Rock’s third-season premiere, at a point when the show had built up positive press but wasn’t quite a cornerstone of NBC’s comedy lineup. The choice of parody material suggests a deliberate attempt to draw in younger, hipper parents; this is the era when Yo Gabba Gabba! began drawing attention with cred-heavy guests like Elijah Wood, Amy Sedaris, and 30 Rock’s own Jack McBrayer. 30 Rock repaid the tribute a few months later, drafting Sesame Street performers to play Anything Muppet versions of Jack, Tracy Jordan, and a non-citrus Liz in season three’s “Apollo, Apollo.” [William Hughes]

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11. K is for “Kermit The Frog speaking to you from the sunny tropics of Miami, Florida” (1987)

When Miami Vice ushered cop dramas into the MTV age, other television shows raced to catch up—Sesame Street included. Stars of “the hippest, newest, best-dressed detective show on television,” Tito and J.P.—a.k.a. the Miami Mice—arrived on Sesame Street in 1987, three years after the premiere of the two-hour Miami Vice pilot. After using their bilingual skills to help Ernie understand the Spanish word for “closed,” the Miami Mice retreated to their hometown to give Kermit The Frog one of his few reporting assignments that doesn’t involve a fairy tale or a nursery rhyme. They’re the perfect characters to help introduce the concept of “adventure”—at least they would be, if the daily grind of solving sexy drug murders (assuming they’re in the same business as their flesh-and-blood counterparts) hadn’t left them so jaded. Kermit is nearly stomped by a giant monster in this segment, and Tito and J.P. don’t even break a sweat. Unfortunately, their style-over-substance approach worked just as well as Crockett and Tubbs’: Miami Mice disappeared after one more segment, burning out while burning bright, as did Miami Vice. [Erik Adams]

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12. L is for “Lupita Nyong’o” (2014)

Lupita Nyong’o burst onto the scene with a star-making performance in 12 Years A Slave, and one of her many high-profile appearances in 2014 included a trip to 123 Sesame Street. Nyong’o joins Elmo to explain the biological functions of skin, which protects the human body and provides the sensation of touch. Without putting too fine a point on it, the scene also notes that Nyong’o’s beautiful dark brown skin is something to be proud of, just as Elmo should be proud of his red fur. Nyong’o has previously spoken about the self-hatred she experienced as a dark-skinned child with few mainstream role models, so it’s especially powerful to watch her inspire body confidence in young children as she declares, “I love my skin!” Interestingly, Sesame Street aired an almost identical segment featuring Whoopi Goldberg—one of Nyong’o’s acting influences—in 1990. In the intervening 24 years, the show has thankfully updated its policies about asking to touch other people’s hair. [Caroline Siede]

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13. M is for “Madeline Kahn” (1977)

The late Madeline Kahn was a great friend to the Muppets, guest-starring in a second-season episode of The Muppet Show and flirting with Kermit The Frog in The Muppet Movie’s El Sleezo Cafe. (In line with her many collaborations with Mel Brooks, Kahn provides the first beat for the scene’s epic, vaudevillian punning on the word “myth.”) Her comfort with the Muppets and their performers comes across brilliantly in the longest of the Sesame Street inserts the actress recorded in the late ’70s, in which she sings an “echo song” with a characteristically overeager Grover. Kahn’s Tony-winning pipes are spotlighted in the majority of her Sesame Street work (like the cameo she contributed to the all-star remix of “Put Down The Duckie”), and they conduct a playful game of follow-the-leader with the fuzzy blue monster. Frank Oz’s gravelly falsetto is no match for that operatic range, and after one sustained high note, Grover collapses into his friend’s arms. [Erik Adams]

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14. N is for “No room in the budget for Adam Levine” (2012)

Following the rise of YouTube, parody has become big business for Sesame Street, as former viewers who now have kids of their own (and even some young adults who aren’t parents) come back to the show through streaming uploads of movie, TV, and song spoofs. But as revealed in a 2013 Variety report, the popularity of these videos hasn’t given Sesame Workshop carte blanche when it comes to creating the characters for these segments. In the case of a 2012 take on The Voice, prop construction trumped the assembly of a Muppified Maroon 5 frontman. “Monetary concerns forced [the show] to forgo a puppet version of Adam Levine, as the judges’ chairs were too expensive to make,” says the article. Perhaps the producers could’ve helped themselves out by nixing the creepy human teeth on Carson Daly’s puppet counterpart—though that might’ve left him looking too much like a stubbly Guy Smiley. [Erik Adams]

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15. O is for “Outrageous Makeover: Home Addition” (2006)

It doesn’t take much imagination to picture Grover as a slightly more manic Ty Pennington in this Extreme Makeover: Home Edition spoof. All he’s missing is a vertical hairstyle. The Grover/Mr. Johnson relationship is taken to a new level as they move out of Charlie’s Restaurant and into Mr. Johnson’s house. It seems that there is no limit to the unintentional pain Grover can inflict; where once he tormented Johnson with incorrect lunch orders, now he’s breaking and entering, making unnecessary renovations, and driving the poor guy to the brink of a nervous breakdown. Reality television just does that to some people. [Joe Hennes]

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16. P is for “Philip Glass” (1979)

Sesame Street’s connection to the musical avant-garde runs deep: Joan La Barbara famously contributed the chirpy, chattery score to the show’s “Signing Alphabet,” and Raymond Scott was a frequent collaborator of Jim Henson’s in the 1960s. Composer Philip Glass, meanwhile, took some time off from his Portrait Trilogy of operas to assemble Geometry Of Circles for Sesame Street. With visual accompaniment that practically translates the repetition and patterns of Glass’ music to the screen, Geometry demonstrates the number of shapes and figures that can be pulled out of a simple circle. It’s a haunting, hypnotic introductory course to Philip Glass (and certainly more inviting than his work on the Koyaanisqatsi score.) [Erik Adams]

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17. Q is for “Queen Latifah” (1993)

1993 was a big year for Queen Latifah. She was at the height of her “U.N.I.T.Y.” phase and Living Single made its network debut. And so she was deemed a big enough star to make her requisite appearance on Sesame Street, singing about the letter O with Prairie Dawn and Merry Monster, who have taken it upon themselves to dress in the Afrocentric fashions Queen Latifah helped popularize. The music video features her majesty rapping about Telly Monster’s missing letter, and how he just needs to chill out and let the O come back on its own. Between the song’s vintage Native Tongues sound, fuzzy video footage, inspired wardrobe, and casual use of the word “homegirls,” this video is a perfect embodiment of the essence of 1993. Just like Queen Latifah herself. [Joe Hennes]

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18. R is for “R2-D2” (1980)

Fantasy abounds on Sesame Street, but the science-fiction elements of vintage episodes extend only as far as the extraterrestrial Yip Yips or the ornery automaton Sam The Robot. Two notable exceptions to this rule are the Star Wars franchise’s C-3PO and R2-D2, who landed on Sesame Street to foster human-Muppet-cyborg relations for two episodes in season 11. They make fast friends with Big Bird, who first spots the droids’ space craft—though, in an unfortunate repeat of the Mr. Snuffleupagus affair, the adult characters don’t believe him until they see 3PO and R2 with their own eyes. The metallic Odd Couple of the Rebel Alliance are on a mission to deliver a message to Oscar The Grouch, though the episodes’ 1980 premiere dates suggest that the real message of this cameo is “Coming to a theater near you: The Empire Strikes Back.” Months before moviegoers left their local cinemas saying, “Didn’t that Yoda sound a lot like Grover?” C3PO and R2-D2 forever connected the Sesame Street and Star Wars universes. [Erik Adams]

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19. S is for “Superstition” (1973)

Sesame Street’s formula has proven so durable that it was legitimately controversial when Blue’s Clues broke with the “magazine” format of short clips that Sesame pioneered in an attempt to engage young viewers with an unbroken story. So it’s strangely thrilling to see an early episode of the show break from the formula to show a live performance from Stevie Wonder that, apart from a shout-out to Sesame Street and a Cookie Monster name-drop, could have just as easily aired on Saturday Night Live or Soul Train. Of course, there’s nothing strange about being thrilled by hearing Stevie, at the peak of his powers in 1973, turn in an incendiary performance of one of his biggest hits, “Superstition.” One can’t help but feel bad for the kids who got to hang out on the set and watch the show—clearly, their lives were all downhill after that. [Mike Vago]

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20. T is for “Twin Beaks” (1991)

David Lynch and Mark Frost’s supernatural mystery Twin Peaks captured the popular imagination following its 1990 debut, inspiring parodies from Saturday Night Live, The Simpsons, and, most unexpectedly, Sesame Street. Premiering three months after Lynch and Frost revealed Laura Palmer’s murderer, there’s no surer sign of Twin Peaks’ cultural penetration than one of Monsterpiece Theatre’s eeriest presentations: “Twin Beaks.” While softening the language (“Darn fine pie,” remarks Cookie Monster, in the guise of Special Agent Cookie) and removing any trace of psychosexual murder, “Twin Beaks” retains the off-kilter atmosphere of its inspiration, with an approximation of Angelo Badalamenti’s airy score and its very own David Lynch stand-in, David Finch. Asking the locals about their town’s name, Cookie Monster doesn’t get very far, but he does discover that, where they’re from, these birds sing a pretty song (through two mouths). The scene is intended to demonstrate the value of inquisitiveness, but just as it is for his Twin Peaks counterpart FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper, Agent Cookie’s questions yield no answers—only more questions. [Erik Adams]

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21. U is for “Upstairs, Downstairs” (1989)

Before Downton Abbey (which also has its own Sesame Street spoof in “Upside Downton Abbey”), Americans learned about the cultural divide in Great Britain through the BBC drama Upstairs, Downstairs. To fully understand the Sesame Street parody of the same name, all you need to know is that it’s British and there are stairs. Grover plays the part of both the downstairs servant and the upstairs master simply by racing up and down a stairway, to the point of exhaustion. Maybe it’s meant to be a metaphor for the division of wealth and status, and how there are no actual differences between the people who fill both roles. Or maybe Sesame Street viewers just like seeing Grover tire himself out. [Joe Hennes]

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22. V is for “Vincent Twice” (1992)

Alistair Cookie’s counterpart on the Mystery! facsimile Mysterious Theater, Vincent Twice introduces tales of intrigue and suspense from a well-appointed drawing room not unlike that occupied by Vincent Price during his long stint as Mystery! emcee. (There are a few less vials and tinctures lying around, however.) Without mimicking Price too closely, Muppet performer Martin P. Robinson still captures the actor’s regal air, all while lending Vincent Twice a self-echoing tic worthy of the Merchant Of Menace. Fitting for his pedigree, Vincent even factors into the solution of “The Case Of The Missing Toast,” filling the role of the villain his inspiration was seemingly born to play. [Erik Adams]

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23. W is for “Worm World Music Festival” (1996)

In the ’80s, Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine dominated the pop charts with their slick, danceable Latin-pop. Although Estefan ditched the second half of the band’s name by the ’90s, it resurfaced in a slightly different form in 1996, when Gloria Esteworm And The Miami Slime Machine performed “Mambo I, I, I” at the Worm World Music Festival. The Sesame Street event played on the decade’s penchant for eclectic music fests; other featured acts include Squiggy Marley And The Mud Makers, Gooey Armstrong, and Wormsmith Black Mambazo, among others. The lighthearted song and scene is basically a chance to stress the importance of letting loose and soaking up the rhythms and music of other cultures—a lesson just as important as learning letters or numbers. [Annie Zaleski]

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24. X is for “Oh, How I Miss My X” (1989)

“X is for ‘Oh, How I Miss My X’” is a bit of a stretch (there just aren’t enough words that start with X!), but the song is totally worth including, because it’s awesome. In the segment and on the recording, Patti LaBelle delivers an impassioned and stirring song that would fit right in with any soul album. If you didn’t know that she was singing about a letter of the alphabet, you’d think this was a song about lost love and loneliness straight out of the Stax catalog. And it doesn’t hurt that LaBelle absolutely kills this song, as she treats it like any meaningful recording and not a silly song for kids about phonics. It’s just another example of Sesame Street’s high level of quality, from the songwriting to the humor to the celebrity talent. [Joe Hennes]

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25. Y is for “You go, Beyoncé” (2002)

Before Beyoncé Knowles-Carter became Queen Bey, she was simply one third of Destiny’s Child. And in 2002, fresh off the success of Survivor, Beyoncé, Kelly Rowland, and Michelle Williams stopped by Sesame Street to cover the show’s beloved classic, “A New Way To Walk.” The scene starts with Elmo, Grover, and Zoe creating innovative walks that are in desperate need of a little underscoring. Destiny’s Child adds an R&B flare and some smooth harmonies to the Oinker Sister’s 1985 ditty about confidence and individuality. With her red leather cap and ability to make even mundane choreography look interesting, Beyoncé is already the clear standout of the group. Even Elmo seems to realize her star is rising; he ends the number with an exuberant “You go, Beyoncé!” [Caroline Siede]

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26. Z is for “ZZ Blues” (1986)

ZZ Top was just begging to be rendered as Muppets. You don’t grow the kinds of beards sported by Billy Gibbons and Dusty Hill (or play with a drummer named Frank Beard) without expecting some caricature. That caricature arrived with “ZZ Blues,” as performed by ZZ Top’s Muppet counterpart, Over The Top. The song, which mimics the band’s mellow blues-rock style, laments the fact that there aren’t a whole lot of Z words to choose from. Could they have taken inspiration from some frustrated Sesame writers? The key to making the song work is the late, great Jerry Nelson, who performs as the band’s lead singer. Nelson perfectly matches ZZ Top’s style with his own weathered twang, without overdoing the parody. Like so many Sesame Street spoofs, this one stands on its own as a solid song, and probably the best one you’ll ever hear about Zanzibar. [Joe Hennes]

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