The Best of the Electric Company

1/23/2006

ElectricCompany_TheBestOfShout! Factory, four discs, color, NR, 10 hours plus supplements, stereo 2.0, fullscreen, Street: Feb. 7, $49.98; First Run: PBS, 1971

Packaged to appeal to thirty- and forty-something viewers who grew up with the relentlessly groovy children’s series, this four-disc collection contains 20 episodes from the show’s 1971-77 run and a quartet of featurettes that shed light on its production process. The Electric Company‘s phonics-based approach is still extremely valid, but its variety show structure and mock-vaudeville musical numbers might cause blank stares and restlessness in younger viewers, who are used to the less educational style of Nickelodeon shows such as All That. For older viewers, Electric Company is a trove of good-natured silliness and ultra-catchy melodies such as Tom Lehrer’s immoral ditty “Silent E” (featured here in its original version and as a karaoke sing-along). The publicity-shy Lehrer supplies a short reminiscence about his songs for the program in the package’s booklet, and writer Dave Eggers adds his memories of being a diehard Electric Company viewer. The show’s male cast members are absent from the featurettes, most notably first-season star Bill Cosby and series regular Morgan Freeman, whose hipster character “Easy Reader” became one of the show’s best-remembered bits. Interestingly, family-friendly Cosby supplies the package’s only adult moment with a joke about Tampax included in an outtakes supplement. Cast member Rita Moreno shares her very positive memories of the show in an interview featurette and hosts intros and outros for every episode in the collection. Her reminiscences are complemented by others, including former Children’s Television Workshop head Joan Ganz Cooney and head writer Tom Whedon (father of Buffy‘s Joss). The best bonuses in the package, though, are found in the episodes themselves. Guest stars who show up in taped segments or as voice talent include Rowan and Martin, Big Bird, Mel Brooks, Joan Rivers and, reuniting for the “Letterman” cartoon, Producers duo Gene Wilder and Zero Mostel. – Ed Grant