http://nyti.ms/1DdYfC7 from the New York Times by J. Hoberman Oct 15 2014 DVD
Pee Wee’s Playhouse for the uninitiated after a ten-year wait is now available on BLU RAY from SHOUT! Factory
PEE WEE was and always will be a mind-blowing fun romp of an ambiguous anarchic totally artsy children’s Saturday morning show that was wholly original. Something visually creative is juxtaposed with something else and everything is moving. It perfectly captures that age’s art movement in the late 80’s. If you want to be a big kid and HEH HEH like Pee- Wee you’ve gotta steep yourself in the Playhouse.
Some famous Pee Wee-isms- “I know you are but what am i?”
Some performers invent personas so boldly stylized that they refuse to break character, at least in public. Mae West was one. As were Harpo Marx and W. C. Fields. Stephen Colbert broke character only recently; but Pee-wee Herman -PAUL REUBENS held on for years.
Like Mr. Colbert, Mr. Reubens used a regular television show as a vehicle for his invented personality: a manic, nerdy man-child in a too-small gray suit, red bow tie and lipstick. “Pee-wee’s Playhouse” (broadcast for five seasons, starting in fall 1986, in the Saturday-morning cartoon ghetto) was a fully realized private universe. It was also, as demonstrated by the complete 45-episode series and one Christmas special out on Blu-ray from Shout! Factory, a series of strongly conceptualized pieces. As packed as each episode is with outlandish props, linguistic pranks — many based on each week’s meant-to-be-screamed “secret word” — and running gags, PLAYHOUSE is far too rich to binge-watch.
One of many Pee-weevian paradoxes was the instant popularity of Mr. Reubens’s hermetic spectacle, which made its debut, on CBS, the same month that Blue Velvet David Lynch’s darker but not dissimilar exercise in personal fetishes and weird Americana, opened in movie theaters to an equally passionate response. “Playhouse,” which originally cost a sizable $325,000 per episode and was shot at first in a cramped SoHo loft, took viewers to a candy-colored world of sexual ambiguity and a realm of total anthropomorphism.
Every object was potentially alive: the window, the chair, the floor. The creatures who called the Playhouse home included miniature dinosaurs, sentient machines and a refrigerator of foodstuffs that enjoyed an ongoing fiesta. The mise-en-scène was wildly cluttered, and the show offered a veritable taxonomy of animation styles, combining puppetry, clay animation and video effects, while excerpting Depression-era cartoons on the living TV monitor, Magic Screen.
As Pee- Wee was an adult who acted like a child, so the “Playhouse” aesthetic blended high and low tech, the avant-garde and the vulgar. Art world precursors and analogues include Betty Boop, Red Grooms, the underground animator Sally Cruikshank, the midnight movie Forbidden Zone, East Village performance art, neo-Pop painters like Kenny Scharf, and Raw magazine (an early publisher of the cartoonist GARY PANTER, who was one of the show’s three original production designers).
The Playhouse was further distinguished by its racial diversity and frisky gender bending. Jambi the blue-faced genie (John Paragon) and the elaborately be-wigged Miss Yvonne (Lynne Marie Stewart), “the most beautiful woman in Puppet Land,” each in their way evoked drag performers. Dixie the cabdriver (Johann Carlo) and Reba the mail lady (a pre-law & Order S. Epatha Merkerson) were notably assertive women, while Cowboy Curtis (Laurence Fishburne) and the various hunky beach boys who drifted in and out of the Playhouse were bashful and flirtatious.
Not surprisingly, “Pee-wee’s Playhouse” quickly attracted the attention of academics interested in what was not yet known as “queer theory” or “gender studies.”
“Perhaps what is most unsettling about Pee-wee is the way he straddles the line between sexual knowledge and ignorance, as if he were somehow pre- and post-pubescent at the same time,” Ian Balfour wrote in one of three scholarly articles on “Playhouse” published in the special “Male Trouble” May 1988 issue of Camera Obscura: A Journal of Feminism and Film Theory. Perhaps it was this ambiguity that caused a career-stifling public outcry during the summer of 1991 when, with the show in permanent reruns, Mr. Reubens was busted for indecent exposure in an X-rated movie theater. Pee-wee was post-pubescent after all!
Evidently, Mr. Reubens grew tired of “Playhouse,” and the Shout! box is unavoidably front-loaded. Mr. Panter moved on after the first season; the original King of Cartoons and his herald, Dixie, soon departed as well. Many of the most memorable bits of business occurred in the show’s second season, including Pee-wee’s giant underpants, the pajama party during which he marries a bowl of fruit salad and the appearance of the friendless alien Zyzzybalubah.
The cast thinned a bit during the final three seasons. Jambi and the King of Cartoons receded while the more conventional performers Miss Yvonne and Cowboy Curtis became increasingly central. (Truly, having played a teenage Army grunt, a villainous Ike Turner and the guru Morpheus, as well as this Jheri-curled buckaroo, Mr. Fishburne is among the most versatile actors of his generation.) Still, the show remained remarkably consistent.
First telecast on Nov. 3, 1990, “Camping Out”is a great episode, featuring a real-time bathroom break, a cameo by Sandra Bernhard, a seeming glimpse of Big Bird in the fridge, and excerpts from two classic animations, Oskar Fischinger’s “Alegretto.” and Ub Iwerks’s “The Pincushionman” (a.k.a.”Balloon Land”). It is also the show in which Pee-wee throws caution to the wind: His camping trip with Cowboy Curtis is largely a single-entendre discussion of “wieners” and “buns.”
Shown two weeks later, the final episode, “Playhouse for Sale,” is even more self-reflexive. The secret word is “word.” Magic Screen functions as the host, while, confounded by the obtuseness of either Globey the globe or Pterri the pterodactyl, the ever-sunny Miss Yvonne nearly breaks character herself: “I think I’ve taken one too many trips to Puppet Land!”
My husband Napoleon worked on building the props for the first season in New York in 1986. He built CHAIRY and the Fridge and the animated food props. http://www.napob.com/#!press—pdfs
Almost the Saturn Return of Pee Wee’s first broadcast September 13 1986. Saturn was at 4 degrees of Sagittarius. The North and South Nodes were almost virtually reversed. Jupiter is now exactly trining where Uranus was then at 18 degrees of Sagittarius.
PLEASE SHARE WIDELY if you want others to laugh