Pee-wee’s Playhouse was very much an integral part of my childhood viewing. I was the prime audience back in the day. Every Saturday morning I would get up, have my marshmallow-y cereal and watch my cartoons. Pee-wee’s Playhouse was always the very last show on in the morning. The networks usually transitioned by having some live action stuff on at the end of the morning, like say Saved By The Bell and California Dreams. Pee-wee’s Playhouse was all sorts of things to me. It was wild, hilarious, fun and even some of the things on the show made me uneasy and creeped me out. It was jam packed and loading me with all sorts of emotion. Watching the show was equivalent to a massive sugar rush. Everybody my age had themselves a Pee-Wee Herman doll with the pull string and we also constantly quoted him and had our own impressions of him finely tuned ready to dial up at the right moment. And now I get to relive all of that through this fantastic new Blu-ray release from the amazing folks over at Shout! Factory.
In Puppetland there is a wild and crazy playhouse. Inside there house everything was pretty much alive and zany. Coming to play in the house and fraternize with its inhabitants and the people of Puppetland was the eccentric and smart-alec Pee-wee Herman. Each week, Pee-wee would invite kids to come along with him in the playouse, encounter some sort of confilict. During that time, Pee-wee played with blue screens, interacted with puppets and robots, showed cartoons and had a secret word that would send everyone in to a big big frenzy as soon as another character would speak it.
Pee-wee’s Playhouse ran from 1986 until 1990 on CBS. The show aired 45 episodes and 1 Christmas special over that time. For a half hour every Saturday, kids were treated to a wild and crazy show like no other on television. Paul Reubens imagination ran wild with the show that brought a lot of unique humor (for all ages), art, design and talent to the airwaves. Pee-wee transformed from an adult stand-up and stage show to one of the iconic kids characters of all time. It followed on the heels of Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, and catapulted the character to an all-timer.
Contrary to popular belief, the show was not canceled due to Paul Reubens’ exposure incident in a Sarasota, Florida adult theater. The network, CBS, and Paul Reubens had agreed to have the show end following the last episode of its fifth season. His incident had only incited the network to discontinue showing reruns of Pee-wee’s Playhouse. Funny enough, it always struck my family as funny, because our spring break vacations were always to Sarasota, Florida, where Reubens’ little incident took place. For the life of me, I can’t remember seeing any adult theaters there, but then again I was really young and probably was not hanging around or being taken near where one would be.
I’m pleased to report that Pee-wee’s Playhouse still holds up. As an adult, its a bit on crack, but features some humor I never would have picked up on as a kid and has some good silly stuff. The show is also wildly enough imagined that its use of technology is crazy contraptions and doesn’t date the show at all. So, it will still work like gangbusters for kids today. If anything, the show was a success back in the day, but was still very much ahead of its time. As an adult, its also fun to see people like Laurence Fishburne and Phil Hartman here before rising to greater successes. I also wasn’t aware that the guy from Devo and Danny Elfman worked on music from the show as well. Pee-wee’s Playhouse is the full package and highly enjoyable. At 45 episodes the show ran such a length that it never got watered down or lost its luster.
For a complete series episode listing, CLICK HERE
Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.35:1
Clarity/Detail: Holy crap this show looks brand new on Blu-ray. The image is rather sharp and complete polished without any evidence of tampering. Detail is pretty high as you can see Chairry’s fabric and every little puppet and character’s brush strokes and nicks on their surfaces. I was pretty floored when I popped this in and saw how fresh and new it looked. The show contains some film elements from vintage material during some blue screen segments, and how that looks is sort of hit and miss, but the point of some of it is too look grainy and scratchy so it helps with how that was supposed to look overall in the first place.
Depth: Depth is pretty solid. Foregrounds are nice and visible while background detail is clear and light on the blurry end.
Black Levels: Blacks are rich and accurate. This is a bright show, so detail is never masked.
Color Reproduction: Colors are vibrant and popping. A crazy palette of clashing colors that is ever so harmonious when mixed in the bowl that is the playhouse.
Flesh Tones: Lifelike and consistent. Facial detail is high as you can make out all the makeup lines, facial cracks and wrinkles.
Noise/Artifacts: Absolutely clean
Audio Format(s): English LPCM 2.0
Dynamics: Pee-wee’s Playhouse blasts into your room with a boisterous track that knocks down the door and parties in your living room. While this may only be its natural 2.0, it sure does fill a room and sound full as hell. The music hits some nice impressive low beats. There is a fantastic saturation between voice, effect and score. Effects sound distinct and well rounded. I was really impressed with how crisp and clear this track was considering its age.
Low Frequency Extension: N/A
Surround Sound Presentation: N/A
Dialogue Reproduction: Dialogue is crisp, clean and clear. Sounds very up to snuff with modern shows.
Pee-wee’s Playhouse – The Complete Series comes in 2 multidisc Blu-ray cases, broken up by “Season 1 & 2 and Season 3-4-5, that both go into a nice hard shell case. Bonus materials are found on Disc 4 of each case.
Building The Playhouse (HD, 51:48) – Producers, marketing directors, writers, all sorts of produciton people, Laurence Fishburne, John Paragon, John Singleton, Lynne Marie Stewart, Danny Elfman, Mark Mothersbough, S Epatha Merkersen discuss the character of Pee-wee Herman from the ground up, cultivating it from a stand-up act to stage to film to kid’s TV show. This is crazy in depth and highly educational for the show. Lots of knowledge and history being discussed. A lot of this talks about the set design. Sadly, Paul Reubens is not a part of this.
Opening The Playhouse (HD, 10:53) – A retrospective look at the creation of the opening title sequence of the show.
Writing For The Playhouse (HD, 18:42) – A discussion on how the writing process worked on the show and how open and smart Paul Reubens was in crafting the show.
The Look Of The Playhouse (HD, 29:49) – Features some behind the scenes video with discussion on the costuming, make up, set design, props and special effects used on the show. It all came from Paul’s head, bu this is the story of the people brought it to life.
Music Of The Playhouse (HD, 17:39) – Focuses on scoring, writing and the appreciation for the music on the show.
The Cast Of The Playhouse (HD, 48:19) – A full on retrospective about the cast and characters of the show.
Puppets Of The Playhouse (HD, 30:19) – This one focuses on the puppeteering.
Animating The Playhouse (HD, 20:39) – A look back and talking heads session about the different animated portions of the show.
A Very Merry Christmas Special (HD, 10:02) – Retrospective on the Christmas Special.
Fans And Memorabilia Of The Playhouse (HD, 13:35) – All the people who have been discussing things this whole time talk about the fans of the show then and now.
Wow, this box set is the real deal. There are hours of retrospectives featuring interviews from most of the people involved with the show. I was tickled and surprised to see people like Laurence Fishburne and John Singleton returning. This stuff is an extensive and highly engaging look at crafting this extraordinary television program. Shout! Factory could have just done that and stopped there, just basically porting over the show and being done with it. But, no, this release features a fantastic video and audio transfer that has Pee-wee’s Playhouse looking lively as ever. For the cherry on top, the case which these season slide into is nice and hard-shelled, boasting even another impressive merit to the release. In a year with great cult television TV releases, Pee-wee’s Playhouse – The Complete Series stands up there with the best of them!