Pee-wee Herman fell from grace awfully hard. Much like Hugh Grant’s dalliance with a prostitute while dating Elizabeth Hurley cast a grim shadow over public perception of the dreamy Brit, Paul Reubens’ 1991 arrest for masturbating in a Florida adult theater changed the way we thought about Pee-wee. The pasty man of shrunken suit and kooky bow tie we knew and loved from “Pee-wee’s Playhouse” now just seemed creepy.
Reubens’ career skidded to a stop after CBS canceled “Pee-wee’s Playhouse.” Since then, he’s had a bumpy road back to redemption, with roles on “Murphy Brown” and in the Johnny Depp flick “Blow.” Child pornography charges against him were brought then dropped in 2004.
Still, he’s Pee-wee. And so, you may not be able to resist “Pee-wee’s Playhouse: The Complete Collection,” an 11-disc collection that drops on Tuesday, Oct. 19.
Basically everything remotely related to “Playhouse” is in the collection: Forty-five episodes of the show, which ran from 1986 to 1990, as well as the prime-time Christmas special from 1988, with guest stars like Magic Johnson and Whoopi Goldberg. With more than 1,000 minutes of material, the collection is for the most diehard of Pee-wee fans. But even decades after the show graced our TV screens and despite Reubens’ numerous shady challenges, the show’s messages about friendship and loyalty are still pretty spot-on. If you don’t believe it, just watch these three episodes.
Monster in the Playhouse
Much like “Sesame Street” focuses on letters and numbers to drive home its educational lessons, “Playhouse” used a “secret word” to teach viewers. In the beginning of each episode, Pee-wee received the secret word from a robot named Conky, and it always ended up tying into a later moral message. In “Monster in the Playhouse,” the series’ ninth episode, the word was simple enough: look. But Reubens put a spin on the typical more-to-a-book-than-its-cover idea with an episode featuring a giant monster that goes around horrifying Pee-wee’s friends and unexpectedly shows up at Pee-wee’s playhouse. Made of a humongous eye and a similarly large foot, the monster is pretty gross. But Pee-wee realizes the secret word may be applicable to understanding more about the monster. And it is: Turns out the green guy is really named Roger and has a family that loves to eat spaghetti. Weird is in the eye of the beholder, Reubens points out with this episode.
Why Wasn’t I Invited?
Look, not everyone can get along; not even someone as charming and accommodating as Pee-wee can please his friends all the time. But friendships must be maintained to last, demonstrates Reubens in this second season episode, which sees Pee-wee and his friends Chairry (yes, a chair) and Magic Screen (yes, a giant Etch-a-Sketch-like screen) lacking invitations to Cowntess’s (yes, a cow) birthday party. Though everyone else has been invited, Pee-wee’s confused about why someone he considers his friend would fail to invite him to a party. He writes to Advice Lady for guidance. She suggests he ask Cowntess, and it becomes clear it was all a mix-up. Pee-wee not only reaffirms his friendship with the birthday cow but acknowledges that relationships constantly evolve. It may be a little too metaphysical for younger viewers, but if they can accept a variety of inanimate objects having the ability to talk, why not lessons about friendship?
In the final season of “Playhouse,” Reubens kept trying to make kids more worldly: An episode focused on the role of newspapers in our society, while another taught kids about Japanese culture. But all that knowledge is useless if someone isn’t true to themselves, a message the show reinforced in the episode “Mystery.” As Pee-wee discovers that some of his stuff is missing — a few suits that had to be cleaned, his cereal bowl and spoon, a photo album — he suspects each of his friends. He later learns a new neighbor was swiping his stuff to become more like him and be more welcomed by the community. Mimicry is the highest form of flattery, but “Playhouse” doesn’t linger on that, instead focusing on the new character, Busby, and showing how important it is for people to be upfront about their personalities.
Just ask Paul Reubens.
Written by Express contributor Roxana Hadadi
Photos courtesy Sue Procko Public Relations