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Image Entertainment presents
Pee-wee's Playhouse #1: Seasons 1-2 (1986-1987)

Come on in, and pull yourself up a chair (like Chairry!)
Let the fun begin, it's time to let down your hair!
Pee-wee's SO excited,
'cause all his friends have been invited (that's you!)
To go wacky, at Pee-wee's Playhouse!

- Pee-Wee's Playhouse theme song

Review By: Rich Rosell   
Published: May 13, 2005

Stars: Paul Reubens
Other Stars: John Paragon, Johann Carlo, Phil Hartman, Gregory Harrison, Roland Rodriguez, Lynne Marie Stewart, Shirley Stoler, Gilbert Lewis, Diane Yang, Natasha Lyonne, Shaun Weiss, Laurence Fishburne, George Michael McGrath, Wayne White, Alison Mork, Rick Heitzman, William Marshall
Director: Stephen R. Johnson, Wayne Orr, Paul Reubens

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 09h:35m:00s
Release Date: November 16, 2004
UPC: 014381250923
Genre: television

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- B+C+B- D-

DVD Review

Nothing like a case of some questionably seedy charges to ruin a guy's career.

That was what happened to Paul Reubens in July of 1991 when he was popped in a Florida adult movie theater allegedly doing something that is a common practice in such places, but when you're a popular kid's show star it just doesn't bode well for the image. The burgeoning juggernaut that was Reuben's Pee-Wee Herman empire toppled quickly in the wake of his bust—and like a cicada—remained dormant for a very long time before it was deemed acceptable for any semblance of the bow-tied man/boy to reappear.

Thankfully Image has felt it right to help get the circulation flowing again by issuing two separate boxed sets of the full-run of the Emmy-winning Pee-Wee's Playhouse, the CBS Saturday morning series that ran for five seasons beginning in 1986. The first five-disc set (the one you're reading about right now) contains all 22 episodes of Seasons One and Two, as well as two "lost" shows never released, but the lack of any documentation about original air dates makes it difficult to identify exactly what's what, or if the eps are presented in the proper sequence.

The presence of some now familiar faces—Phil Hartman, William (Blacula) Marshall, Laurence Fishburne, even a young Natasha Lyonne—show up as recurring characters, and each half-hour episode follows the same manic basics, which appears to be barely controllable chaos with only a hint of normalcy. Pee-Wee flits about madly, attempting to resolve some vaguely innocuous problem while remembering to urge viewers to scream loudly anytime the daily "secret word" is uttered (which, of course, is often). This really was a bold experiment in weirdness that transcended being simply a children's show, and I know I wasn't the only adult setting the VCR to record every Saturday morning, because Pee-Wee represented some kind of hip, inside joke that was pulling the wool over the eyes of a big network. Or so it seemed.

Pee-Wee's mondo bizarro house is the main setting for the goings on, with its pair of oversized talking chairs, a stammering robot, a wish-granting genie head that lives in a box, an evil marionette, a globe that speaks with a French accent and a slightly effeminate pterodactyl. The neighbors are a totally odd lot, adding to the wackiness quotient, including big-haired Miss Yvonne (Lynne Marie Stewart), bare-chested Tito The Lifeguard (Roland Rodriguez), gruff Captain Carl (Phil Hartman), rope-twirling Cowboy Curtis (Laurence Fishburne) and mysterious King of Cartoons (played during most of the first and second season by Gilbert Lewis, and then replaced by William Marshall).

The premise of the series had its roots, strangely enough, as a rather adult (or perhaps "mature") act that Reubens had put together, and if you ever have an opportunity to see the randier (and less polished) version it makes the concept of morphing into a kid's show seem just plain wrong on so many levels it is amazing the transition ever happened. It's difficult to imagine a saucy nightclub act today getting tweaked into a network kid's show—especially in this overly politically correct and religious right-wing conservative culture we live in. The humor here works on many different levels, and the undercurrent of double entendres is nothing short of startling, and damn funny, too.

Trying to accurately describe the show is something of a challenge, because it was such a cacophony of strange characters and situations, peppered with a steady stream of odd animation, that it still stands as one of the most surreal Saturday morning shows to ever air; but it wasn't just a kid's show, despite the timeslot.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Image quality on the 1.33:1 transfers for the 23 episodes found here is a little on the loose side, and certainly isn't indicative of any major cleanup or restoration process having been done. It's all very grainy, with soft colors and a general level of detail that leaves quite a bit to be desired. Not awful if you simply consider it a Saturday morning kid's show from the mid-1980s, but it is less tolerable if you look at this show as being one of the most strangely inventive shows (kid or otherwise) to have come along.

Image Transfer Grade: C+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: The 2.0 stereo track is simple, offering a modicum of separation, though a largely flat transfer overall.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 110 cues and remote access
Packaging: Nexpak
Picture Disc
5 Discs
5-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: With a more elaborately loaded season set rumored to be on the horizon, this five-disc set (thin NexPak cases inside a cardboard slipcase) from Image serves strictly as a collection of episodes. No extras at all here (not even air dates), unless you count the inclusion of the two previously unreleased episodes.

Each episode is split into five chapters.

Extras Grade: D-


Final Comments

This might seem like a kid's show on the outside, but on the inside it is a wickedly inventive and bizarre series, and loaded with humor that plays as well as adults as it does for its allegedly intended audience.

Image has skimped on extras for this set, but even with the iffy transfers, this is worth picking up unless you can hold out for the deluxe set. Just don't hold your breath.


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