Pee-wee's Playhouse: The Complete Collection

Pee-wee's Playhouse: The Complete Collection
Pee-wee's playhouse always looked like it was hastily thrown together with bits and pieces found in the recycle bins in Michel Gondry and John Waters' subconscious. Add a touch of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood and a mega-dose of LSD and you have Pee-wee's Playhouse, the beloved children's show hosted by bow-tied man-child Pee-wee Herman (Paul Reubens) from 1986 to 1990. Let's start with the architecture: on the outside, the playhouse is an impossible, gloriously tacky mash-up of a house, ice-cream cone, swimming pool, playground, warehouse and monument, all plastered together precariously in the middle of an idyllic, claymation meadow. On the inside, there's a red plush door shaped like something from Bedrock; wallpaper that changes from tacky stripes to garish polka dots to eye-stinging pinks and purples; random patterns and painted tiles on the floors; and randomly arranged pieces of furniture that range from practical to retro-futurist to plain-old thrift store kitsch. In the later episodes, a new set and (slightly) higher production values only increase the pastel, neon, day-glo, multicoloured, candy-coated supercalifrajilisticness of the set design and art direction. Pee-wee's playmates, breathlessly enumerated by Cyndi Lauper in the theme song, include a pterodactyl, ant colony, tiny dinosaur family and robot, as well as an anthropomorphized window, kite, chair, fish, magic screen, food and just about any other household item you could name, and I'm not even counting the humans. (Hey! Who's that as Cowboy Curtis? It's Laurence Fishburne!). As for the show, it too feels cobbled together from pop culture detritus that Paul Reubens and his collaborators saw beauty in: there are visits from cowboys, sea captains and beatnik puppets, stand-alone claymation shorts and clips from terrible old cartoons (courtesy of a certain mister King of Cartoons) for no particular reason. Each episode has a moral, I guess, but Reubens is more like the anti-Fred Rogers, inhabiting a land where reality and fantasy are interchangeable, and it is of paramount importance that you scream as loud as you absolutely can if you hear the secret word. Such hyper-paced, anything goes whimsy would seem impossible to sustain for 45 episodes, but the show has a strong anchor in Reubens, who is so completely committed to the character that within the context of this strange world Pee-wee actually seems sort of, kind of plausible. Released to coincide with Pee-wee's Broadway revival, Pee-wee's Playhouse: The Complete Collection gathers two previously-released standalone collections (together containing all 45 episodes), along with the Pee-wee's Playhouse Christmas Special, where our man rubs shoulders with a guest list as jarringly eccentric as the playhouse's wallpaper (Frankie Avalon, Annette Funicello, Little Richard, Dinah Shore, Cher and Oprah Winfrey, among others). Extras are limited to a pair of commentaries on the special. Still unresolved: the potent will-they-or-won't-they? tension between Pee-wee and Miss Yvonne. (eOne)