The newest Sesame Street cast member is a small orange Muppet with a big problem.
"My dad is ... my dad's in jail," says Alex to his Muppet friends, who echo back to him. "Jail?"
Surprising words from a Muppet, maybe, but the plot line is a carefully-designed attempt to tackle a subject to which Sesame Street says its audience will relate. One in 28 American children have a parent in jail, according to a report by the Pew Charitable Trusts.
The children's show is here to remind us that these kids lack the support they need. Little Children, Big Challenges: Incarceration is the latest of many tough topics the show has delved into over the years, including death.
But the incarceration angle has its critics. Editor Meredith Jessup at The Blaze wrote the campaign makes it seem like jail is normal without addressing what the parents did wrong to end up behind bars.
Another columnist at Reason.com suggested it's sad that incarceration rates in the U.S. are even high enough to warrant a Sesame Street tool kit on the issue. Canada's prison population is also growing, according to the Office of the Correctional Investigator.
In the Sesame Street episode, Muppet Alex tells his friends that he's sad his dad in jail and people don't seem to understand. His friends comfort the blue-haired Muppet and tell him that with support and guidance, he'll be okay.
A visit from Cookie Monster probably couldn't hurt either.