Entertainment :: Theatre

The Pee-Wee Herman Show

by Jay Laird
Contributor
Tuesday Jul 18, 2006
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I came late to the whole Pee Wee Herman craze. The product of such sedate shows as Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, the wackiest I got was the original Zoom, and maybe The Electric Company (which, in hindsight, was the best educational show ever!). So Pee Wee Herman, with his word of the day and the screaming and, oy, the randomness, didn’t make a lot of sense to me when I first saw it. But then again, I was looking at it as a children’s show, and not the subversive adult entertainment that many of my peers recognized it for before I did.

I finally got clued in with the first Pee Wee Herman movie (Pee Wee’s Big Adventure,) which is still one of the funniest things in my collection. Maybe it was because I had a crush on a boy who was a living Pee Wee Herman (yes, if you’re thinking it’s probably best we didn’t date, you are probably right...), but somehow, seeing that movie with him just clicked for me. I then started enjoying the TV show and hoped for more from Paul Reubens, although I didn’t expect the "more" would be the possibility of seeing his wang in a porno house. Poor Paul. And to have that happen when you’re known as Pee Wee, too!

So when I was offered a chance to review a DVD of the original live, onstage Pee Wee Herman Show, I was excited. Given all the subversion he managed to throw into a network television show, how much more could he put into an uncensored live show? The answer, unfortunately, is "not very much." In fact, it was only about halfway through this show that I realized I had seen it before - twice - and I had fallen asleep before the ending both times!

The show is only 55-minutes long, but unlike the children’s television show, there’s no commercials to break up the mayhem. You’d think that would be a benefit, but no - at Pee-Wee’s pacing, a little break now and then is welcome. And indeed, this live show does have some attempts at slowing things down a bit, including a rather feeble attempt at a plot running through the "episode". The idea of doing a stage play as a children’s show is fantastic, and I’m glad that the producers of Pee-Wee’s Playhouse saw the potential. However, although this is a treasure for those who have loved Pee Wee from the beginning, it’s rather like collecting the early works of certain artists who only matured later in life.

Yes, yes, I realize it’s funny to say anything about "maturity" when we’re talking about Pee Wee Herman. The entire schtick is based on immaturity and freeing us to be silly little boys (and girls). However, Pee-Wee’s man-child act doesn’t wash down so easily with this early script, despite the presence of numerous characters that would later make the television series so memorable.

Special features about the early days of the Pee-Wee character and the folks who helped to develop the show (the cast is credited with co-writing the script) would improve the DVD’s value. I often bemoan the "shovelware" nature of today’s DVDs, promising "special features" that are no more special than that time Tootie almost starred in a porno on The Facts of Life, but this is a "what you see is what you get" sort of product. You get the original Pee-Wee Herman show, and that’s it. So if you like it, then you get exactly what you wanted - and you, too, can feel like the luckiest boy (or girl) in the world.

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When he’s not writing reviews, Jay Laird writes games, comics, and the occasional Z-grade suspense film like "The Strangler’s Wife". He is the founder of Metaversal Studios, a Boston-based entertainment company.

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