John Oliver and Sesame Street Characters Sing About Lead Poisoning

Jeff Pfeiffer
john-oliver-elmo-rosita

In the main segment of Sunday's Last Week Tonight With John Oliver tackled the deadly serious subject of lead poisoning, which has made national headlines with the ongoing health crisis in Flint, Michigan, were people—particularly children— have been poisoned by lead in the water.

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As fans would expect by now, Oliver deftly handled a subject that is literally a matter of life and death with a combination of humor and a fascinating breakdown of the facts of the matter. Peppered in among learning things like how lead paint in older homes is still a greater threat than lead in water (which is also an ongoing health hazard) were references to everything from Led Zeppelin to Jeremy Piven to Ride Along 2. It was funny at times, but we certainly weren't laughing at the topic. It was more of a laugh-so-you-don't-cry sort of thing.


The highlight of the Oliver's segment was when he recalled how Sesame Street made a video called "Lead Away!" that alerted children to the hazards of lead 20 years ago, in a song featuring beloved characters. Baffled at how puppets seemed to know—and care—more about this subject than politicians, Oliver closed the segment by reuniting the characters from the "Lead Away!" video—Elmo, Rosita and Oscar the Grouch (sadly, the "Lead Police," a parody of rock band The Police seen in the original, did now show up here).

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Again, Oliver walked the fine line of not only being funny and respectful of the subject of how dangerous lead can be, but he also remained respectful of Sesame Street itself. The characters did not say or do anything too "adult," and Oliver's segment ended up feeling as if he was actually making a guest appearance on the children's program. (That's not to say there weren't references for adults, though; at one point, when asked why he lives in a garbage can, Oscar explained, "It's rent-controlled; I've had it since the '60s.")

Oliver and the characters (yes, even grumpy Oscar got into the act) ended by singing a new song. It was a catchy tune, along the lines of countless other Sesame Street tunes geared toward kids over the decades, but this one was decidedly also geared toward adults—especially those adults in a position to make decisions about actions and funding on such matters—as it sang about how simply caring can be the first step toward doing something that at first appears hard to achieve.

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, Sundays, 11/10c, HBO.