Paul Reubens, Laurence Fishburne, Phil Hartman. The madcap adventures of Pee Wee’s Playhouse charmed a generation of kids with its incredibly inventive and hilarious characters, including Miss Yvonne, Cowboy Curtis, Reba the Mail Lady, Captain Carl, the King of Cartoons and so many more. Includes all 23 episodes from the first two seasons on 5 DVDs. 1986-87/color/9 hrs/NR/fullscreen.The secret word is overdue in regard to a DVD release of the delirious Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, but this boxed set, packaged with the assistance and approval of series creator and star Paul Reubens, brings back all the bizarre charm and energy of this terrific Saturday-morning series. In creating Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, Reubens blended the innocence of early children’s television shows with the surreal visual style of music videos and Reubens’ own gleefully manic creation (Pee-Wee grew out of Reubens’s stint with the legendary comic improv group the Groundlings). The end result was the rare ’80s children’s program that encouraged creativity and individuality (and screaming, which was the proper response whenever the “secret word” was uttered) in its younger viewers, and delivered sly, subversive humor for Pee-Wee’s older fans that had seen his live shows and movies. Critics were tickled by his antics as well, and gave the show the Television Critics Award for Outstanding Children’s Program in 1987 (it would also pick up numerous Emmy awards and nominations for writing, editing and art direction through its five-season run).
The five discs in Playhouse #1 include all of Pee-Wee’s first- and second-season adventures (including two unaired episodes) with his puppet pals Chairry, Conky the Robot, and Pterry, as well as a host of offbeat human performers like the late Phil Hartman (who played Captain Carl and served as one of the show’s writers), Laurence Fishburne (Cowboy Curtis), Natasha Lyonne (the precocious Opal), William (Blacula) Marshall as the King of Cartoons (Marshall replaced Gilbert Lewis, who reigned as the King from 1986-87), Shirley Stoler from The Honeymoon Killers as Mrs. Steve, and Law and Order‘s S. Epartha Merkerson as Reba the Mail Lady. Highlights include the first episode, “Ice Cream Soup,” which introduces most of the Playhouse crew; “Playhouse in Outer Space,” which teaches a sweet (if thoroughly cracked) lesson in friendship; and the frantic “Party,” which culminates in a rousing game of Pin the Tail on the Globey. PW faithful, take note: the 1988 Christmas Special is not included here, but fret not–it’s available as a separate disc. This set has no supplemental features. –Paul Gaita