For those of us born between the years of 1967 and 1972, this collection is a throwback to the days when all we had to worry about were the monsters under our beds. At that time, Children’s Television Workshop, creators of Sesame Street, were focused on making learning fun and accessible. Yet The Electric Company wasn’t just for kids because the producers, cast, and crew made sure that the parents who watched were entertained as well.
It all came back as soon as the music started, and each episode I watched I remembered vividly. There were two streaks that ran through these shows; one was an emphasis on learning, the other on fun. Some of the best minds in the Education Department of America were brought in to set the curriculum and to make sure that the show stuck to it. Each actor knew what had to be taught. They understood the rules and knew where the boundaries were. They were still given the freedom to adlib, and being actors, they took advantage of this opportunity as much as they could. This is what made The Electric Company entertaining.
All the members of this all-star cast are present among the twenty episodes, which are spread over four DVDs. Morgan Freeman as Easy Reader, Bill Cosby parading around like a Musketeer, and of course, Rita Moreno yelling her trademark, “Hey You Guuuuuuyyyys!!!” The show also boasted appearances by Mel Brooks, Wilt Chamberlain, Victor Borge, Gary Owens, Carroll O’Connor, Jean Stapleton and even Spider-Man. Satirist Tom Leher wrote several songs for the show, such as “Silent E.” It was a community effort to teach the children. The early years of The Electric Company gave the cast and crew little sleep and even less money, but they loved doing it.
The producer/actors Jim Boyd, Skip Hinnant, and Judy Graubart created the show with old vaudeville routines in mind. Rather than having one storyline to follow, each episode contained a multiple sketches, both live and animated, that ran about three to five minutes. Some of the lessons were repeated throughout. This was a smart way to run things due to the fact that most kids have short attention spans. The little vignettes taught them something, made them laugh, and then moved on before the child knew it. It was a winning formula and would probably work today with all these ADD and ADHD kids.
My favorite a couple of years ago when I was still into hospitality jobs, on these discs aren’t the shows, but the extras. There is a remembering of The Electric Company by Skip, Jim, Judy, and Hattie Winston. These four were the roots of the show and they were there from beginning to end, explaining how they did it and the joy they feel even today by being a part of this show. There is a short documentary made in 1975 about the show on disc two, and best of all, an interview with Bill Cosby on The Dick Cavett Show that was broadcast in 1971.
The Shout Factory has given us another great gift with The Best of The Electric Company, Vol.2. Whether you want to get back to the kid deep inside of yourself or you want to turn your kids on to what you were watching back in the day, these four DVDs are a treasure to have. This show was and is a true classic. It taught us how to read and write with smiles on our faces as well as theirs. Written by Fumo Verde