The Show (4/5)
Classic Nick at Nite was one of the things that changed the course of my pop culture addicted life. I never felt exactly part of my generation. I would stay up late at night watching PBS re-runs of older Britcoms, and Sci-Fi shows, and Nick at Nite re-runs of classic television alongside TV airings of weird horror, cult, and sci-fi movies. I still remember when Nick at Nite got the rights to show Welcome Back Kotter being a child of the 90's I had never heard of it previously, and thought it sort of looked ridiculous, but a friend convinced me to watch it, and that one episode was it. I was sold, and I don't think I missed an episode while it was at that 11 pm time slot.
I try to avoid my childhood obsessions, usually I end up disappointed in shows that have dated badly (at best) or become 30 minute TV commercials (mostly 80's cartoons). However, when Kotter was announced, I knew I had to revisit. The show gave me so many laughs as a kid, I had a feeling it would hold up, and for the most part it does. There are elements of the humor and writing that date it, but the physicality of the performances, and the timelessness of the writing really had me laughing for the most part through the episodes. The performances across the board from the main cast are as fun today, as they were when I first saw them. These aren't Oscar worthy portrayals, but these are great comic actors doing great comic performances, and what more can you ask for in a show like this? The writing from Kaplan and company interjects social issues into the high school setting, but never overly dramatizes them and allows humor to seep into any situation (no Saved by the Bell dramatics here folks). Allowing the show to sneak in some social subtext, but without sacrificing quality entertainment.
Welcome Back, Kotter is based on the stand up of former comedian (and current professional poker player) Gabe Kaplan. It is based on his experiences taking remedial classes in Brooklyn’s New Utrecht High School, and was developed out of one of his very popular stand up routines. The premise is simple Kaplan plays Kotter a teacher and former student at James Buchanan High School, he is assigned to teach the remedial high school class (also misfits) known as the Sweathogs. Kotter, himself was one of the founding members of the Sweathogs when he attended Buchanan and held a negative reputation with the school's assistant Mr. Woodman due to his former antics with the group. Kotter knowing that he is the last step before these teenagers step into the real world decides to befriend the Sweathogs, most specifically a group of them Juan Epstein (Robert Hegyes), Freddy "Boom Boom" Washington (Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs), Arnold Horshack (Ron Palillo), and Vinnie Barbarino (John Travolta), toward the end of the run when Travolta's star was on the rise, and his appearances became infrequent there would also be Beau LeBarre (played by Stephen Shortridge). Kotter would befriend these students both in and out of school, allowing them to come over to his apartment at times much to the chagrin of his wife Julie (Marcia Strassman).
Welcome Back, Kotter in keeping with Shout Factory's other complete series DVD releases is released in the shows OAR (1:33:1) in a very standard transfer. There doesn't look to have been much remastering done here, but the show altogether looks fine. It's an upgrade from TV re-runs and VHS. The show has a consistent image throughout, and while it's not going to wow A/V enthusiast out there fans of the show will certainly be pleased with the upgrade. The audio sounds fine as well with dialogue coming, score, and theme tune coming through nicely. I did not detect any issues with the audio.
Not much here just a behind the scenes featurette called Only a Few Degrees from a Sweathog, and the actors screen test for their roles. We also get a booklet with an episode guide.
Shout! has done it again releasing another DVD set of a series that needed completion into the world, in this case the classic 70's high school comedy Welcome Back, Kotter. The A/V is certainly an improvement over other sources, and the extras are slim, but a nice addition, however just having the whole show on the disc format is enough to RECOMMEND this release.