After three years of Sesame Street, the creative minds at the Children's Television Workshop set upon a new task: develop a show for slightly older kids who had memorized their ABC's but needed a hand shaping them into words and sentences. Thus in 1971, The Electric Company—featuring such headline names as Bill Cosby and Rita Moreno, as well as talented unknowns including a young Morgan Freeman—was launched and became an instant hit, teaching reading fundamentals at home and in the classroom. It continued to air in repeats through the mid '80s before falling victim to the changing landscape of children's TV; of those '70s trailblazers, only Sesame Street survived, and today even that show bears little resemblance to what most of us thirtysomethings grew up with.
Swooping in to save the day—just like Letterman!—is Shout Factory, who continue a fab track record of bringing TV to DVD (Freaks & Geeks, SCTV, and more) with a four-disc Electric Company retrospective out this week. And it's as innovative and witty as you remember, from the catchy songs ("Greeeedy Greg, graaaabbed the green grapes!") to the smartly written vignettes that made watching fun for our parents as well as us. (The entire cast is tremendous, particularly Moreno, Freeman—whose Easy Reader is still the coolest cat to ever sound out a verb—and Second City alum Judy Graubart). Those daft animations are top notch, too, from "The Adventures of Letterman" (voiced by Gene Wilder and Zero Mostel—who knew?!) to "Silent E."
Truly the best of both worlds, you can watch The Best of the Electric Company on your own (preferably in footy pajamas while eating a bowl of Lucky Charms for full effect) or share it with your kids, if you've got 'em, as its educational value is still enormous. And dig those bonus features, man; intros to each episode by Moreno, remembrances from cast and writers (including Tom Whedon, father of Buffy creator Joss); a surprisingly off-color gag reel (Did Cosby just say "Tampax"?!); and more.
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Also recommended this week: The Audrey Hepburn Collection; The French Connection: Collector's Edition; M*A*S*H: Collector's Edition; Moonlighting: Season 3; The Unbearable Lightness of Being; Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit