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Welcome Back, Kotter: The Complete Second Season

Shout Factory // Unrated // January 20, 2015
List Price: $29.93 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Kurt Dahlke | posted February 4, 2015 | E-mail the Author
Welcome Back, Kotter: The Complete Second Season:
For those of us who grew up in the ‘70s, glued to the set, Kotter is a fond memory. Combining the most threadbare of concepts with a distinct Borscht Belt sensibility, the show never failed to deliver dozens of easy laughs per episode, while maintaining a somewhat cool air of detachment and armchair rebellion entirely relatable to kids and teens of Middle America. It's a sure bet that viewers in New York's Projects didn't buy into Gabe Kaplan and crew's version of a tough inner city high school, but for a kid in Portland, Oregon, that credits sequence (complete with a sign announcing Brooklyn as America's 4th Largest City) was an invitation to the ‘cool kids' table in the cafeteria; exotic and dangerous. Luckily all the toughs assayed therein were in truth loveable, laughable, and kind. Now, the senescence of those to whom this collection is marketed renders merely listening to the hit theme song the equivalent of climbing into a warm bath.

We all know the set-up, both ‘meta' and literal: Stand up comic Gabe Kaplan plays a teacher brought back to manage unruly students in the very same high school he fought to escape as a youth. "Your dreams were your ticket out. […] Who'd have thought they'd lead ya, back here where we need ya?" Kotter was Kaplan's bid for mega-stardom and an estate worth leveraging into a career as a professional poker player. Kotter's startlingly thin wife Julie (Marcia Strassman) put up with his jokes each morning, (the intro to each episode) before the teacher went to meet the usual subjects: Vinnie Barbarino (John Travolta in his break-out role), Freddie ‘Boom Boom' Washington, (Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs) Juan Epstein, (Robert Hegyes) Arnold Horshack, (Ron Palillo) and of course Vice Principal Woodman (John Sylvester White).

These guys are toughs, The Sweathogs, in the most nominal sense. They might have been called ‘Sweet-hogs' for all their dangerous ways. Yes, they mouth off to Kotter, but that's about it. In reality, they are all naïfs representing various aspects of a typical personality. Barbarino is vain, preening and clueless, Washington is smooth and clueless, Epstein is sneaky and clueless, and Horshack is innocent and clueless. Stereotypes are rolled out and acknowledged openly. Epstein probably states that he's a Puerto Rican Jew in every episode, and the situations that form the ‘sit' in sit-com are mostly generic, (for instance, the Sweathogs have trouble dealing with the Sadie Hawkins Dance) though ‘very special episodes' are trotted out upon occasion, in particular Kotter and Julie discovering they are going to have a baby, or Horshack trying to be the man in his family.

As each Sweathog's quirks are delivered to us by rote memorization, we also learn of their individual shortcomings. Horshack just wants to be respected, for instance, but the emphasis is heavily weighted towards set-up and delivery of jokes, simple ones that do less than tie-in to the plot most of the time. Much of the show seems to be in service of Vaudeville; the jokes are obvious, they come at you fast, and generally hit the mark, thanks to the expert timing and delivery of every cast member. So, in Season Two, we get these gag-filled episodes, silly, sometimes serious, and always super:

"Career Day" Pat Morita guest stars as a goofy inventor who tries to woo Kotter from the Sweathogs.
"Inherit The Halibut" The Sweathogs' rainy day fund goes missing, and naturally everyone blames the black guy.
"Sweatside Story" The Sweathogs try starting a gang. Kotter and Woodman add some muscle.
"The Fight" The Sweathogs start hating each other for no particular reason.
"The Museum" Goofy hijinks ensue when the Sweathogs get trapped with a mummy overnight. Guest-starring John Astin.
"Gabe Under Pressure" Kotter tries anything to avoid seeing the doctor about his stomach pains.
"Sweathog, Nebraska Style" Julie's cute sister drops in, drops out (by joining the Sweathogs) and dates Epstein.
"Sadie Hawkins Day" Barbarino is clueless as to what might happen if a girl asks him to a dance. Dinah Manoff (Grease) guests.
"Hello Ms. Chips" The Sweathogs get a woman teacher, everyone is confused.
"Horshack Vs. Carvelli" When the High School boxing tournament arrives, Horshack feels the need to prove himself to his peers.
"Sweathog Clinic For The Cure Of Smoking" The Sweathogs make their own Stop-Smoking clinic to help Epstein kick the habit.
"Hark, The Sweat Kings" The Sweathogs befriend a homeless man.
"A Love Story" Epstein's hot sister becomes a Sweathog causing pretty much everyone to lose their cool.
"Caruso's Way" The Sweathogs tackle teacher-student violence in the only way they know how, with jokes.
"Sweatgate Scandal" Office thefts and mystery meat find the Sweathogs doing investigative work for the school paper.
"Kotter And Son" A visit from Kotter's dad causes confusion and delay.
"Chicken A La Kotter" Expensive dental work forces Kotter into taking a job as a restaurant mascot.
"Whatever Happened To Arnold, Part 1" The Sweathogs mock Arnold's acting chops one too many times, leading him to disappear.
"Whatever Happened To Arnold, Part 2" Horshack has been dealing with the loss of his fifth stepfather.
"The Littlest Sweathog" John Astin guests as Kotter learns he's going to be a dad.
"Radio Free Freddie" George Carlin guests as ‘Boom Boom' becomes a famous D.J. and unrest foments.
"I'm Having Their Baby" The Sweathogs try cheering a pregnant Julie up, while Gabe is out of town.
"I Wonder Who's Kissing Gabe Now?" Conclusions are jumped to when Epstein espies Kotter snogging a hot art teacher.

That's 23 episodes of Sweathog goodness, with all the "Ooh! Ooh!" and "Hi there!" you need to lead you down the nostalgic hallways of Buchannan High. Slapstick comedy, for instance Barbarino doing his dance, mostly takes a back seat to traditional set-up and punch-line joke structures, delivered perfectly by the Sweathogs and of course Gabe too. Some serious plotlines are introduced as well, and each star in turn gets a chance to show some depth. Kaplan does most of the lifting as he trades jokes with thoughtful life lessons according to the Sweathogs' needs. He doesn't have all the answers, which he freely admits, grounding Welcome Back, Kotter in a reality sometimes belied by all the joking. Season 2 finds the Sweathogs really hitting their stride, with plenty of gags that still feel fresh, making you laugh out loud. Only a lack of extras drags this release down to a mere Recommended level.


Delivered in a 1.33:1 format matching the original broadcast ratio, this shot-on video program looks semi-shabby, with a soft and fuzzy appearance at times. Colors, which seemed drab when the show was originally broadcast, have an institutional beige-colored air, and details are pretty basic. Does the DVD look better than the show did when it originally graced the airwaves? I don't know, our sets weren't nearly as good then, so many of the deficiencies were masked.

Dolby Digital Mono Audio is adequate, the theme song sounds nice and warm, and all dialog is clear and distortion free.

Sadly, extras don't expand past Play All, Episode Selection, and Closed Captioning.

Final Thoughts:
Welcome Back, Kotter: The Complete Second Season is vintage Kotter. The gags come fast and furious, the stereotypes are openly acknowledged, and every actor fully inhabits his or her role with glee. Everyone has expert timing with the gags, making the episodes sometimes seem like stand-up comedy routines, but serious plotlines come into play too. Without any extras, four-disc set, featuring all 23 episodes, still earns an enthusiastic Recommended rating for TV nostalgia junkies.

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