Pure kindness and love return to television for one night this week with Mister Rogers: It's You I Like.
The special is a nostalgic glimmer of hope; a ray of sunshine in fraught times.
Airing Tuesday on PBS, it's an homage to every kid's favorite neighbor, Fred Rogers, and a celebration of 50 years of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood.
After decades of advocating for public television and inspiring three generations of children, Rogers died of stomach cancer in 2003.
The hour-long special is hosted by Michael Keaton, who worked at the station that produced Mister Rogers' Neighborhood and appeared on the series as part of the Flying Zookeeni Brothers stunt group in the late 1970s. It's full of archival footage of Rogers and his characters that'll take everyone back to childhood innocence.
The special also features remarks from celebrities like John Lithgow, Esperanza Spalding, Sarah Silverman and Yo-Yo Ma. Rogers' widow, Joanna, also talks about her late husband's legacy.
The show starts off just like an episode of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood — Rogers sings Won't You Be My Neighbor? while he walks into the house, puts on his iconic sweater and blue sneakers and feeds the fish.
Mister Rogers Neighborhood aired new episodes from 1968 to 2001, and over its 33 years of airtime, not much changed. Rogers maintained that direct link to children's' minds and gave them what they wanted most — attention, respect and love.
He connected to children by teaching them life lessons about love and acceptance through music and play. There was no such thing as mistakes in Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. Negative feelings and actions like failure, anger and sadness were taught as things to never be ashamed of, but as opportunities to grow.
Rogers' show was all about pulling the curtain back on the truth. He taught children that curiosity is never a fault, and explained difficult subjects in a way that was shockingly tailor-made for young minds.
He treated every guest and character with equal respect and love, and made sure he showed the characters on his show as they truly were. When celebrated violinist Itzhack Perlman played on the show, Rogers made sure to show that Perlman walked with crutches because of a bout with Polio at age 4.
A memorable, tear-jerker episode was the one with Rogers' young friend Jeff Erlanger, then 10. Erlanger was a quadriplegic who showed off his electric wheelchair on the show. They then sang It's You I Like together.
While Rogers encouraged children to imagine and pretend, he also explored harder issues like death, divorce and even birth during his "Important Talk" time.
"He never lied to kids, he always leaned into it and told the truth," Silverman says in the special.
Silverman tears up — as many probably will while watching this special — when she listens to Rogers sing Did You Know? (It's Alright to Wonder) through archival footage.
The special also shows footage from the time Rogers visited Koko the gorilla, who's known around the world for her skills with communication through sign language. She and Rogers were instant friends and spent the majority of the meeting playing and looking at each other. It's the most heavenly thing you'll probably ever see.
Even before his death, Rogers was considered saint-like in the way he treated and taught people. It's still remarkable to see that he talked to adults in the same way as he talked to children. When he listened, he looked at people's faces as if they were the only ones in the world.
Everyone's life goal should be to find another person who looks at them the way Rogers looked at every single living creature he ever met — with pure love.
Contact Chelsea Tatham at [email protected] Follow @chelseatatham.
Mister Rogers: It's You I Like
8 p.m. Tuesday, PBS