Before the pesky 1991 "incident" that nearly killed his acting career---not to mention his more recent legal troubles---Paul Reubens was on quite a roll, wasn't he? His background in entertainment, mostly forged through performances at comedy clubs, led to work with LA improv group The Groundlings. While part of the group, he and late member Phil Hartman developed the character Reubens would become forever associated with: Pee-Wee Herman. The character's child-like personality was a hit with audiences, leading to a pair of feature films and a successful children's show, Pee-Wee's Playhouse. Reubens even supplied prominent voice-acting work to another childhood favorite, Flight of the Navigator (1986).
Before the movies and the TV show, though, Reubens polished the character in comedy clubs and the like. The Pee-Wee Herman Show (1981) ran for five straight months at LA's Roxy Theatre, selling out every time. The performance found on this DVD was filmed during the end of the show's run on September 11, recorded by HBO and presented as a stand-alone special. Pee-Wee's popular peak was still a few years away, so this was perhaps the first national exposure for the character and hopeful young performer. His brandy of comedy certainly proved to be a successful yet unorthodox formula.
Those with fond memories of Pee-Wee's Playhouse will spot a few familiar faces, including Jambi the Genie (fellow Groundling John Paragon, below left), Miss Yvonne (Lynne Marie Stewart) and Kap'n Carl (Hartman, below right). Everything else is basically true to form as well, from the oddball set design to the episodic, character-driven comedy; in fact, one of the only differences is the slightly more adult overtones of a few gags. It's nothing much more "offensive" than what you'd see during the big screen adventures, but still a bit more potent than the TV series.
Any way you slice it, The Pee-Wee Herman Show is still a lot of fun and should amuse fans of goofball comedy with a slight edge---and thanks to Image Entertainment, this relatively rare gem is finally available on DVD. Don't expect any bells and whistles, though: this is a strictly bare-bones affair, but the technical presentation is at least up to par. Either way, it's an interesting novelty release that fans of most ages should enjoy. Let's take a closer look, shall we?
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
Not surprising for a 25 year-old TV special, The Pee-Wee Herman Show is presented in a 1.33:1 aspect ratio---but what is surprising is how good it looks. Don't get me wrong: this isn't an eye-poppingly great visual presentation, but it's better than I was expecting. The colors are bold and bright, though some scenes are bit soft and suffer from mild edge enhancement. Overall, though, it's a pleasing effort that won't disappoint fans of this seldom-seen special. The plain-wrap English Mono mix is simple but gets the job done, offering clear dialogue and music. Unfortunately, no Closed Caption or subtitle options have been included with this release.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
The menu designs (seen above) are basic but serviceable, offering a simple layout with easy navigation. The 58-minute main feature has been divided neatly into a dozen chapters, while no layer change was detected during playback. The final packaging was not included with this screener, but I'd expect a fairly standard presentation.
No extras are included with this release. A commentary track would've been nice, or at least a retrospective interview with Paul Reubens. Most fans will be happy to have this on DVD in any form, but it's still hard not to be disappointed.
Obviously, your enjoyment of The Pee-Wee Herman Show rests squarely on your opinion of the title character. Those weaned on Pee-Wee's Playhouse, Big Adventure and the like will certainly enjoy this relatively unseen special; if anything else, it's neat to see the same brand of material on a slightly smaller scale. Image's DVD presentation gives us the main feature with a decent technical presentation and…well, not much else. While more casual fans of P.W. should rent this one first, most should find this rare gem worth hunting down. Recommended.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey based in Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects and works in a local gallery. When he's not doing that, he enjoys slacking off, general debauchery, and writing things in third person.