THE BEST OF THE ELECTRIC COMPANY
Review by Michael Jacobson
Stars: Rita Moreno, Morgan
Freeman, Bill Cosby, Luis Avalos, Jimmy Boyd, Lee Chamberlain, Judy Graubart,
Skip Hinnant, Hattie Winston
Creator: Joan Ganz Cooney
Audio: Dolby Mono
Video: Full Frame 1.33:1
Studio: Shout! Factory
Features: See Review
Length: 570 Minutes
Release Date: November 14, 2006
“There’s a banana in your ear.”
“THERE’S A BANANA IN YOUR EAR!”
“I’m sorry, I can’t hear you…there’s a banana in my ear.”
Wishes sometime come true…ever since The Best of The Electric Company hit DVD earlier this year, I’ve been keeping my fingers crossed that it wasn’t a once-only deal. Maybe I wasn’t the only one, because now Shout! Factory has answered our prayers and come up with a four disc Volume 2 set.
I’ve always said The Electric Company was the best children’s show ever. It had a brilliantly entertaining approach to teaching kids how to read. Day after day, as a young tyke, I would sit in front of the TV, laughing to the comedy, singing along to the stream of great songs, and learning all the rules that helped make reading a fun and viable part of my life. In fact, at age 4, I was being sent to reading class with the 1st graders. But I was hardly a prodigy…I’m telling you, it was that magically wonderful show called The Electric Company.
With a terrific ensemble cast featuring past Oscar winner Rita Moreno, future Oscar winner Morgan Freeman, Bill Cosby and more, the show’s approach was scientific and well-researched. But that was behind the scenes. In front of the cameras were song and dance numbers, hysterical sketches, amusing bits of animation and a parade of unforgettable characters like Fargo North, Decoder, Jennifer of the Jungle, Easy Reader and more. Even Spider-Man would join in the fun in later years!
This set even features something that was sorely lacking before, and that’s the legendary Victor Borge and his world-famous punctuation marks. Man, that was brilliant and funny stuff. But he’s not the only big star to lend an appearance. Over the course of these shows, you’ll see Lorne Greene, Michael Landon, Carol Burnett, Carol O’Connor, Jean Stapleton, Dean Martin and others. Plus in the animated segments, you’ll hear the voices of Gene Wilder, Zero Mostel, Joan Rivers and Mel Brooks. Seems like everybody wanted to be a part of this groundbreaking show!
I loved it as a kid, but what’s great fun is that I also love it as an adult. I’m amazed at how well the show is structured, giving solid lessons through comedy, and even addressing the more confusing aspects of reading through the grumpiness of the J. Arthur Crank character. The endless parade of gags, skits and songs make me marvel at the talent that was involved in the show…not only Moreno, Freeman and Cosby, but the equally stellar Luis Avalos, Jimmy Boyd, Lee Chamberlain, Judy Graubart, Skip Hinnant and Hattie Winston. Laugh-In may have marked the decade, but really, was there a better troupe in the 70s than these folks?
The Electric Company simply combined education and entertainment better than any show ever did. It’s no wonder kids were learning words better than ever in the decade President Nixon labeled the “Right to Read” decade. If these DVDs take off with parents who grew up on the show buying them for their own kids, we could see the biggest surge in young reading this side of Harry Potter.
BONUS TRIVIA: Love of Chair’s famous end line “What about Naomi?” was for show producer Naomi Foner…who is also the mother of actors Jake and Maggie Gyllenhall!
It was the 70s, it was PBS, it was video…despite being a very colorful show, there are limitations in the source material compounded by years of aging that just don’t go away very easily. Don’t get me wrong, it looks fine for what it is, and remains very watchable…just with some inherent flaws that you probably already expect.
Likewise, the mono audio is adequate but not overly impressive. Dynamic range is fairly flat, but spoken words are clear and the music makes the soundtrack hum along quite nicely.
The first time around, Rita Moreno got all the fun. Now, there’s a retrospective look back with the other cast members: Luis Avalos, Jimmy Boyd, Judy Graubart, Skip Hinnant and Hattie Winston all share their memories of the show and working with each other…it’s impressive how much work went into the show, what with the sketches, costumes, and song and dance numbers! Each episode is also introduced by a cast member with some factoids, and each episode concludes with a bit of trivia about the show, also presented by a cast member.
There is a 1975 documentary on the positive effects of The Electric Company in teaching school children to read., plus a classic appearance by Bill Cosby on the Dick Cavatt Show. And each disc has sing-alongs for all the songs on that disc. A nice package!
It was sad for me when I first learned The Electric Company was going off the air. More than 20 years later, I think children’s television is still looking for something to fill its void. I don’t have kids myself, but I’d rather them get into this show than into Barney, TeleTubbies or heck, even the great Sesame Street. That’s just because for me, that void can only be filled by these terrific DVD releases.