It was with great hesitance that I began to watch Pee Wee's Playhouse: Volume 1 over my holiday break. When it comes to childhood favorites, I've been burned before. Ren and Stimpy, for instance, was a tedious watch on DVD all these years later. The Super Mario Brothers movie certainly leaves something to be desired today.
It is with much aplomb that I can announce: Pee Wee's Playhouse was brilliant television. It took me a bit to get drawn into the drama of the playhouse. The first episode began, of course, with the amazing main titles as performed by Cyndi Lauper, but the credits were followed by character introductions that, I thought, served no purpose. After all, I'm fairly certain that we all can figure out on our own that Globey is, in fact, a talking globe, while Chairy is a sentient chair.
There is a moment in the pilot that makes it all so very clear, though. Pee Wee, our hero, screams, "It's time to dance!" and then proceeds to dance in front of stock dance footage. It comes out of nowhere and has no relevance to whatever semblance of plot the episode had going for it. It's the first moment of the classic Pee Wee humor in the episode, and I actually laughed out loud (LOL'd), which I rarely do when I watch anything.
The first thirteen episodes of the series are done on a smaller scale. That's not to say that they were done on a tiny budget, as time-consuming claymation, blue screen, and set design was par for the course in the first season. However, the Playhouse was tiny compared to its future incarnation. Some characters were played by different actors (or different puppets), some were entirely absent, while even others were not long for the playhouse world. Tito the Topless Pool Boy was one such loss, but much greater was the loss of my beloved Dixie.
Oh, Dixie! We will be wed under a wreath of flowers one day!
The show follows a fairly strict formula, but somehow manages to be fresh, funny, and entirely random at every episode. The show always starts by getting the Word of the Day (AHHHHHHHHHHHH) from Conky 2000. We will see the dinosaurs in Pee Wee's wall. We'll see a Penny Cartoon and some public domain animation that the King of Cartoons probably got in a compilation in the Dollar Bins at Wal Mart. Pee Wee will play with Magic Screen. He'll visit his fridge to watch the food play. In the end, he'll ride his scooter into the sunset. However, Paul Reubens is never at a loss for funny pronunciations, mannerisms, or quips, and the show never seems like a routine. It always seems like what it's supposed to be: a [man]child making pretend.
Some of the kiddy crap doesn't make the grade, but Playhouse gets my definite recommendation. Buy it.
Link: The Official Pee-Wee's Playhouse Site
Link: Progressive Boink's Favorite Pee-Wee's Playhouse Moments