- Apr 16, 2008
- Hawthorne, NV
- Real Name
- Todd Erwin
Named one of the top 25 cult TV shows of all time and winner of 22 Emmy Awards, Pee-wee’s Playhouse remains one of the most imaginative and creative series ever produced for Saturday morning children’s television. Shout! Factory, under series creator Paul Reubens’ supervision, has remastered the series in high definition, and this is the set fans have been waiting for.
Studio: Shout! Factory
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution and Encode: 1080I/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Audio: English PCM 2.0
Run Time: 18 Hr. 24 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-rayTwo 4-disc Blu-ray Keepcases housed in cardboard slipcover
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Release Date: 10/21/2014
After the success of his Los Angeles stage show, The Pee-wee Herman Show (later recorded for an HBO special) and the Tim Burton directed feature film, Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, CBS offered Paul Reubens the chance to bring his iconic, comedic man-child character, Pee-wee Herman, to the small screen for a weekly Saturday morning children’s show. Reubens took his adult-themed stage show, toned down the innuendos, created some more kid-friendly characters, and amped up the imagination factor with a few life lessons thrown in for good measure to create Pee-wee’s Playhouse.The series ran on CBS from 1986 through 1991, producing a total of 45 episodes, as well as a prime-time Christmas special that first aired in 1988. The series would quickly achieve cult status among college students who would watch the show, many creating a drinking game where instead of cheering whenever the weekly “secret word” was mentioned, they would down a shot of liquor. But the real charm of the show was its intoxicating creativity and eye-popping set design and animation (which is even more appreciated in this remastered set), as well as its supporting cast of wacky characters (and, in retrospect, the actors that played them). The late, great Phil Hartman would reprise his stage role as Captain Carl, as would Lynne Marie Stewart as the always beautiful Miss Yvonne and John Paragon as the wish-granting Jambi the Genie. But keep your eyes open for Laurence Fishburne as Cowboy Curtis, Law & Order’s S. Epatha Merkerson as Reba the Mail Woman, Jimmy Smits as Conky’s repairman, Leslie Jordan as Busby, and Calvert DeForest (better known as Larry “Bud” Melman) as Rusty. Much of the stop-motion animation on the series was created by a team of animators that included Phil Trumbo (who directed the eye-popping opening title sequence) and Aardman Animation founders Peter Lord and David Sproxton (responsible for the Penny shorts).The creativity and imagination of the series would be kicked into high gear with prime time Pee-wee’s Playhouse Christmas Special, opening the show with a musical number performed by the UCLA Men’s Glee Club as the Marines, as well as other numbers performed by Grace Jones (“Little Drummer Boy”), Del Rubio Triplets (“Winter Wonderland”), k.d. lang (“Jingle Bell Rock”), Dinah Shore (“Twelve Days of Christmas”), and Charo (“Feliz Navidad”). Other guest stars included Whoopi Goldberg (being told by Pee-wee that he did not have room for her in this year’s special), Cher (asking Pee-wee and Conky what the secret word is), Magic Johnson (who turns out to be Magic Screen’s cousin), Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon (demonstrating how to make your own holiday decorations and cards), as well as Little Richard, Zsa Zsa Gabor, and Joan Rivers.
The Production Rating: 3.5/5
Opening Title Sequence (Season 2)
Pee-wee Herman and Cowboy Curtis
As I had stated in my 2010 review of the Image DVD boxed set, “As with most television series produced in the mid 1980s, to cut costs the show was shot on film but post production was completed on standard definition analog video tape.” When it was first announced that Pee-wee’s Playhouse was going to be released on Blu-ray, I wondered if it was going to be a simple upconversion of the 480i broadcast masters (similar to Farscape) or if it was going to undergo a full remastering similar to Star Trek:The Next Generation. I’m happy (and relieved) to report that the latter is true. Shout! Factory has transferred the original film elements in 1080i and recomposited (and in many cases painstakingly recreated) the analog visual effects for all 45 episodes, including the one-hour Christmas special. While not quite at the same level as Star Trek: TNG, the results are still extraordinary, with the show never looking this good. The 1080i transfer, compressed using the AVC codec, retains the original broadcast aspect ratio of 1.33:1, and virtually breathes new life into the eye-candy this series was. Colors pop with vibrancy, and details previously lost in the analog 480i masters are front and center. The pattern on Pee-wee’s suit is clearly visible without that annoying moir pattern that plagued previous releases. The sets designed by Gary Panter have an added dimension to them, and the stop-motion animation segments no longer have a smeary look to them. Many of the segments featuring public domain footage (such as the classic cartoons and some of the chroma-key segments) were likely upscaled, as they appear somewhat soft (or at least the PD footage does while Pee-wee looks quite sharp). This is a major improvement over the Image DVD set.
Video Rating: 4/5 3D Rating: NA
Audio is presented in uncompressed PCM 2.0 at 2.3 Mbps, with the series in its original mono mixes and the special in its original stereo. Dialogue is clear and understandable, and the music score by Mark Mothersbaugh (of Devo) and a host of other guest composers (that included Danny Elfman, Todd Rundgren, Mark Snow, Dweezil Zappa) benefits from the wider dynamic range and higher fidelity.
Audio Rating: 4/5
The set contains ten newly created documentaries featuring key members of the cast and crew (on discs four and eight), but for some reason series creator and star Paul Reubens is notably absent, with the exception of one of the audio commentary tracks for the Christmas special that has been ported over from the previous DVD release.Disc Four:Building the Playhouse (1080i; 51:48): A look at the beginnings of the show, the set design, music, writing, and production (especially shooting the first season in New York in a very cramped converted loft).Opening the Playhouse (1080i; 10:53): A more detailed look at creating the opening sequence for the first season.Writing for the Playhouse (1080i; 18:42): A look at the writing team, both the scripts and the music.The Look of the Playhouse (1080i; 29:49): A more detailed look at the show’s production design (although some of the interviews are duplicated from the first documentary).Music of the Playhouse (1080i; 17:39): A more detailed look at the music for the show, including samples from some of the guest composers (Danny Elfman, Mark Snow, Dweezil Zappa, Todd Rundgren, etc.).Disc Five:Audio Commentary with Paul Reubens, John Paragon, Prudence Fenton, and Lynne Marie Stewart on Pee-wee’s Playhouse Christmas Special: Ported over from the Image DVD release, Reubens and co-writer John Paragon (who also plays Jambi), animation producer Prudence Fenton, and co-star Lynne Marie Stewart (Miss Yvonne) discuss how this was a last minute and very fast production due to a pending writer’s strike and the actual holiday less than a month away, and how they managed to get all of the guest stars on the show.Audio Commentary with Alison Mork, Wayne White, Ric Heitzman, Kevin Carlson, George McGrath, and John Paragon on Pee-wee’s Playhouse Christmas Special: Also ported over from the previous DVD release, this track focuses more on the design of the episode and the work of the puppeteers.Disc Eight:The Cast of the Playhouse (1080i; 48:19): Interviews with the cast and many of the puppeteers, including a retrospective to the late, great Phil Hartman.Puppets of the Playhouse (1080i; 30:19): A more detailed look at the design and operation of the many puppets used on the show.Animating the Playhouse (1080i; 20:39): Many of the animators discuss their work on the show.A Very Merry Christmas Special (1080i; 10:02): A look at the making of the Christmas special.Fans and Memorabilia of the Playhouse (1080i; 13:35): A look at the merchandising created for the show and the meticulous detail and care that went into designing them, as well as the shows long-lasting appeal.
Special Features Rating: 4.5/5
This is the set that fans of the show were promised many years ago, with lots of interesting bonus content, and a major improvement in the video aspect of the series. Pee-wee’s Playhouse has never looked better, and highly recommended for fans of the show and its star, although Paul Reubens is noticeable absent from the new documentaries.
Overall Rating: 4/5
Reviewed By: Todd Erwin
Support HTF when you buy this title: