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Shout Factory presents
The Best of The Electric Company (1971-77)

"Top to bottom, left to right, reading stuff is out of sight!"
- Easy Reader (Morgan Freeman)

Review By: Jeff Wilson  
Published: February 05, 2006

Stars: Morgan Freeman, Bill Cosby, Rita Moreno, Skip Hinnant, Judy Graubart, Hattie Winston, Luis Avalos, Jim Boyd, Lee Chamberlin, Juna Angela, Irene Cara, Todd Graff, Douglas Grant
Other Stars: Ken Roberts, Gene Wilder, Zero Mostel, Joan Rivers
Director: Various

MPAA Rating: G for tobacco use
Run Time: 10h:30m:00s
Release Date: February 07, 2006
UPC: 826663512199
Genre: television


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B+ A-CB B+

DVD Review

One of my fondest TV childhood memories was of watching The Electric Company on Channel 9 in St. Louis. I retain several vague memories of different bits from the show, my favorite being the Spider-Man sequences. I suppose the years I spent as a diehard comic book collector are owed in some small part to the exposure to Spider-Man received here. And, I would imagine it helped me learn to read, which was the ultimate goal of the show. The series ran for 700-plus episodes over six years of production, and starred such big names as Rita Moreno, Morgan Freeman, and Bill Cosby, and the voices of Gene Wilder, Mel Brooks, and Zero Mostel. Following in the wake of Sesame Street, and more or less commissioned by the Department of Education, the show is generally acclaimed as a landmark of children's programming. Shout Factory, who have specialized in bringing out classy releases of older programs, have put together a colorfully packaged collection of 20 episodes, beginning with the first (October 25, 1971) and spanning the show's entire six-season run, with the final episode (April 15, 1977) also included.

To be honest, I was as much interested in my son's reaction to this, given his diehard love of letters and nascent reading skills, as I was in my own nostalgia trip. I was quite surprised by the opening episode, which introduced the cast by gathering them on the set and greeting the viewer with casual lines of "How ya doin'," "What's shakin'," and so on. The show had a very chummy quality that didn't talk down to kids. And the sight of Bill Cosby chewing on a cigar in more than one scene certainly sends one back to a different era. The show blended different skits, musical numbers and animated sequences, focusing on a specific letter or phonetic sound. The cast were able comedic actors, with Skip Hinnant, Judy Graubart, Hattie Winston, Luis Avalos, Jim Boyd, and Lee Chamberlin making up the rest of the cast beyond the big names. The show made an effort of being racially inclusive, featuring white, black, and Hispanic actors, though that would no doubt be expanded if the show were being made today. The show's only Asian presence, for example, was a member of the kids group.

If you were a regular viewer of the series during its initial run, you'll likely find many of your favorites in at least one of the episodes here. Freeman's Easy Reader makes several appearances, as does his Mel Mounds disc jockey character. The soap opera spoof "Love of Chair" is here, as is "Letterman" (with the voices of Wilder, Mostel, and a hardly recognizable Joan Rivers) and a couple Spider-Man segments. You'll find J. Arthur Crank, the silhouette word construction segments, musical numbers by the kids who were group-billed as Short Circus, and Jennifer of the Jungle. I could go on, but you get the idea. With twenty episodes, there's bound to be something you remember. Some viewers may be able to date their exposure to the series based on the opening credits, which changed over the years; I watched during the later seasons, when each cast member would walk onscreen in costume, and then morph into their everyday appearance.

The show remains entertaining as well, despite the dated nature of the clothes and slang used at times; I enjoyed seeing these again, and my son immediately loved them, and I think he's already watched the entire set twice through. He reads the onscreen words and is pretty much riveted. For a 30-year-old show, that's something to be proud of.

And what about Naomi??

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: A-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: The show was shot on video in the early '70s, so it looks about as average to mediocre as you would expect. The video effects look dated and smeary, and there is an occasional dullness to the image, but it's about what I expected. If you like the show, you'll overlook the video quality and take it for what it is.

Image Transfer Grade: C

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglishno


Audio Transfer Review: The original mono soundtracks are presented here, and they sound perfectly fine. The sound is free of hiss and there isn't really any distortion that I could hear. You'll be able to enjoy every wakka-chikka guitar and squirrelly synthesizer effect in perfect comfort.

Audio Transfer Grade: B

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
4 Other Trailer(s) featuring Freaks and Geeks, Undeclared, Dick Cavett: Rock Icons, America's Funniest Home Videos
4 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Digipak
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Outtakes
  2. "Silent E" Karaoke
Extras Review: Within the foldout packaging is included a compact booklet featuring essays by Tom Lehrer, Children's Television Workshop co-founder Joan Ganz Cooney, writer Dave Eggers, and television historian Walter J. Podrazik. The essays range from appreciations to historical in nature and are well worth reading. The booklet also contains a rundown of the episodes included within the set and the skits within each episode. The booklet and the packaging feature breezy designs taken from the show's groovy look.

Each discs itselves features something of interest. The first disc includes Rita Moreno discussing her memories of working on the show (09m:55s); it's a pleasant chat, and Moreno remains very happy with being a part of the show. She also provides a very brief introduction to each episode in the set, usually amounting to a sentence or two. Also on Disc 1 are ten outtakes, one of which you'll want to keep the kids from, unless you care to explain what Bill Cosby means when he gets a bit off color in one sketch.

Disc 2's only feature focuses on Jean Gantz Cooney, one of the main people involved in developing the show as a part of CTW. Her interview (10m:29s), intercut with footage of her explaining the show prior to its debut, discusses the making of the show and its impact on kids.

On Disc 3, writer Tom Whedon and producer Sam Gibbon discuss their memories of working on the show 09m:37s). It's an interesting discussion, as they touch on topics such as how to handle black English and the research done on kids while watching the show. Also included is the option to perform the song Silent E, as it is included in karaoke form.

On Disc 4, June Angela provides her memories of working on the show as a member of Short Circus (05m:32s). She was on the show for the entire six-season run, and discusses how she got the job and the day to day work on the show.



Extras Grade: B+

 

Final Comments

A fondly remembered show from my own childhood and certainly many others as well, The Electric Company makes its debut on DVD with an initial batch of twenty episodes covering the breadth of the show's several year run. Video quality is fairly mediocre, given the video equipment of the time, but this is easily overlooked, at least by this viewer. The DVDs have a small selection of extras and the set includes a booklet with essays discussing the series.

 


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