It sounds strange to say, but “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” is truly fearless TV, starting with its sweetly lo-fi aesthetic, co-starring a host of well-loved puppets. The fearlessness extended to the content, addressing issues of the day head on, from the RFK assassination to racism and segregation. The show made bold political statements about tolerance, and it helped children understand grief and the darker sides of life in a way that showed respect and dignity for their feelings, which he described as both “mentionable and manageable” in testimony before a Senate hearing for PBS funding.
Through interviews with the producers and crew of the show (his “playmates” as he called them), his wife, sons, colleagues and friends, we come to know Mister Rogers, who yes, was a lot like what we saw on TV — warm, empathetic, guileless, open-hearted. But he was also sly, funny, a prankster and a person who had to learn how to deal with or “tame” his own feelings in different ways.