Shout! Factory continues to resurrect cool old TV with this fantastic show that is as entertaining today as it was 30 years ago.
For kids who thought Mister Rogers' Neighborhood was a little creepy (sorry, Fred ... your sweaters scared me), and for those who felt a little too grown up for Sesame Street, The Electric Company was the way to go. Easy Reader, played by Morgan Freeman, remains one of the coolest learning tools ever employed in children's television. Bill Cosby made frequent guest appearances; Gene Wilder, Mel Brooks, Joan Rivers and Zero Mostel lent their voices; and Rita Moreno rocked the world throughout the series run.
As Joan Ganz Cooney points out in the DVD's liner notes, the show was similar in style and structure to The Carol Burnett Show, with skits, often musical, that could make audiences young and old laugh (a Moreno number called "Is This Love?" is absolutely insane).
I can honestly tell you that this show helped teach me how to read (I was but a very young fellow during the time it aired). Through song, comedy and bizarre animation not unlike Terry Gilliam's work for Monty Python, the process of learning became a blast. PBS really scored with this one, as opposed to the Teletubbies. I still don't get what that mess was all about.
PBS aired the program in the '70s (it played in reruns through 1985). My only complaint about this "best of" set is that it's not enough. I want every episode of this show on DVD and available to the public. It was that good.
Special Features: The aforementioned liner notes are a good read. Rita Moreno drops by for some intros and remembrances.
If you thought Team America: World Police was the foulest of puppet shows, check this one out. Director John Roecker used stop-motion animation and punk-rock artists to tell the story of Charlie Hanson (actually Manson) and his murderous ways. The likes of Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong and the Go-Go's' Jane Wiedlin provided vocals and music for the ultra-strange songs, including "Mechanical Man," in which Armstrong (voice of Manson) illustrates what makes Charlie tick.
The film is quite graphic and certainly not for everybody. It takes a lot of balls to re-enact the Sharon Tate murder (called "Sharon Hate" in the film) complete with lesbian sex and a severed head sucking his own dick. I'm not kidding; it happens.
As for the music, there's often a scary beauty to the numbers. While the animation work isn't anything close to groundbreaking, the eerie soundtrack is often so good that it enhances the primitive visuals and creates something quite chilling.
Special Features: A commentary with director Roecker, Armstrong and Wiedlin. Some behind-the-scenes stuff, a deleted scene and a CD of the soundtrack.
I have to admit, I never got Tom Snyder. I thought Dan Aykroyd's slanderous impersonation of him was dead-on. The guy is just so smug, constantly laughing at his own inane humor and insulting his guests whenever they don't conform to his boring format.
As it turns out, the guy did manage some breakthrough shows when it came to punk and new wave music during the run of Tomorrow With Tom Snyder in the '70s. This two-disc DVD collects some music-related bits, including interviews with Joan Jett, Patti Smith and Paul Weller, and live performances from The Ramones and Elvis Costello.
One of the more awkward interviews you are ever likely to see occurs when John Lydon (or Johnny Rotten) drops by to explain his "company," Public Image Ltd. Snyder tries to read off his cue cards, and Lydon is more interested in his cigarettes than the whole interviewee shtick. It turns into one of those many Snyder moments where he combats his guest, thinking he's oh-so-clever with his putdowns, but coming off as nothing more than a dinosaur. I was actually pissed at David Letterman for giving this zero-charisma host another shot during Letterman's early days at CBS.
Another uncomfortable Snyder moment occurred when a man named Kim Fowley dared to wear makeup and hold a pretty flower on Snyder's show. The host's treatment of the clearly good-natured Fowley was deplorable.
Still, as uncomfortable as some of the moments are to watch, it makes for interesting relic television. The world has become a bit more progressive since the days of Snyder's boring reign, and these discs are intriguing in how they illustrate the changing of the guard. He's a mundane, cigarette-huffing host made to look like a fool by visitors with tons more talent than he could ever possess.
Special Features: The disc contains entire episodes of Snyder's show, but a feature called "Just the Punks" allows you to sift through them for the good stuff.