Pee-Wee’s Playhouse: The Complete Series

Pee-Wee’s Playhouse: The Complete Series

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The beauty of Pee-Wee's Playhouse is that it was a show about an overgrown child indulging in whimsical flights of his imagination made by a team of people channelling their own inner Pee-Wee. By teaching kids a valuable lesson about the power of creativity that's even more relevant now in this technological age than it was when it initially aired, the program remains one of the finest of its kind ever made.

Those of a certain age will remember Pee-Wee Herman (Paul Reubens) hitting airwaves next to Saturday morning cartoons in the late '80s and immediately making an indelible impression. The playhouse itself was a marvel of inventive and idiosyncratic design, featuring an array of vibrant colours inside a small space. Everywhere you looked there was another carefully crafted and uniquely droll puppet character, whether it was a robot that dispensed secret words or an anthropomorphic chair with a soothing voice.

The structure of every episode, as a writer of the show notes in the supplemental material, was quite stringent due to the sheer number of recurring bits, but somehow also flexible enough to allow for pretty much anything to happen. This means that regular appearances from the likes of the King of Cartoons, the dinosaur family that lives in Pee-Wee's wall and adventures into the magic screen could all be squeezed into an eclectic collection of stories over the five seasons of its run.

While the show's silly sense of humour and lovingly hand-crafted visuals will still appeal to both the young and young at heart, the abundance of bonus features make this release even more essential. Through interviews with nearly all of the cast and crew that chart the character's origins and the show's evolution, we learn tidbits about the difficulties of shooting the first season in a cramped industrial building in New York, how the lengthy opening sequence and all of the show's music (largely by Devo's Mark Mothersbaugh) were painstakingly realized and that Laurence Fishburne (who portrayed regular visitor Cowboy Curtis) met his Boyz n the Hood director when John Singleton was working security for the show while going to film school.

If there's one disappointment, it's that even though he's discussed endlessly, Reubens doesn't appear anywhere. Perhaps he feels it's best to not intellectualize his character or simply doesn't care to divulge any details of how he kept a guiding hand over all aspects of the show. He succeeded in sustaining such a naive sense of wonder that his absence here might even be excusable and rather easy to explain. Pee-Wee and the playhouse he inhabits are such special creations that Reubens probably prefers to not let people see the man behind the curtain pulling all of the strings, letting the magic speak for itself.

(Shout! Factory)