was the most forcefully innovative and original television personality since Ernie Kovacs, period.

“Pee Wee’s Playhouse” lasted five seasons, ending in 1990.  It was a show created by artists, and television has not been as bright since. Of course, TV still has clever programs occasionally, but it lacks the pronounced aesthetic that Reubens and company brought to a medium, which  has traditionally been artistically undemanding .

A Wikipedia editor says:

The creative design of the show was concocted by a troupe of artists including Gary Panter (the art director), Craig Bartlett, Richard Goleszowski, Gregory Harrison, Ric Heitzman, Phil Trumbo, and Wayne White. The first day of production, right as Panter began reading the scripts to find out where everything would be situated, set workers hurriedly asked him, “Where’s the plans? All the carpenters are standing here ready to build everything.” Panter responded, “You just have to give us 15 minutes to design this thing!” When asked about the styles that went into the set design, Panter said, “This was like the hippie dream…It was a show made by artists … We put art history all over the show. It’s really like … I think Mike Kelly said, and it’s right, that it’s kind of like the Googie style – it’s like those LA types of coffee shops and stuff but kind of psychedelic, over-the-top.” Several artistic filmmaking techniques were featured on the program including chroma key, stop-motion animation, and clay animation.[1]

Still from Pee Wee's PlayhouseAn erroneous explanation for the show’s demise has entered the ranks of urban legend, as has Reuben’s fall from grace.  Feeling burnt-out, Reubens had declined the option to produce a sixth season and wanted to take a sabbatical. His arrest for indecent exposure in 1991 happened after “Playhouse” had already been canceled. [2]

Despite being tainted by a posthumous scandal, “Pee Wee’s Playhouse” became, and remains, a cult hit. DVD releases were best sellers. In 2004, Image Entertainment announced a special edition collection, which fell through once Shout! Factory picked up distribution. Ten years later, a “Pee Wee’s Playhouse” special edition has come to Blu-ray. A pristine video and audio transfer with extensive supplements justify the decade-long wait.

Accessible, educational and entertaining slapstick surrealism were the tenets of the Playhouse.  Mantling the man-child person originated by , Reubens, along with the cast (both human and animated), share the role of a psychedelic  promoting empathy for societal misfits, teaching ethical choice-making, and promoting creative thinking, all through a zany, frenetic language that was never sermonizing, and unlike anything before or since.

“Pee Wee’s Playhouse” was like Shangri-la.  Death, or lack of life, is forever banished with everything, from the floor to a window, kite, chair, map, fruit salad (whom Pee Wee marries) and clock alive with personality. No theme, even adulthood, is ignored. In addition to making Christmas cookies, Pee Wee and company (the macho Cowboy Curtis, an amorous Captain Carl, a slinky Cher, and k.d. lang paying homage to Elvis in Jingle Bell Rock) even implicitly champion the purity of sexual ambiguity.

This was homogeneously blended with inimitable spirituality (Penny), ecumenical tradition (Grace Jones singing “Little Drummer Boy” in indescribable attire and Mrs. Renee singing “The Dredel Song” in the “Christmas Special”), rock n’ roll ice skating (Little Richard), geography lessons (Mappy), fairy tale mythology (Jambi), nostalgia (Magic Screen and the Del Rubio Triplets), racial diversity, feminism (Reba, Miss Yvonne), giddy prehistoric history with Pterri and the dinosaur family, Saint Nicholas, and even Blacula himself as the second King of Cartoons.

Even a bully like Billy isn’t irredeemable, and eventually joins in the egalitarian fun. All comes wrapped in an avant-garde kitsch package that absorbs everything and filters it through a Skittles palette. The show appealed to academics and Saturday morning cartoon junkies alike. The only people immune to the day’s Secret Word were constipated right wing kooks and their illiterate redneck kin who are always provoked by beauty.

“Building the Playhouse,” “Opening the Playhouse,” “Writing for the Playhouse,” “The Look of the Playhouse,” “Music of the Playhouse,” “The Cast of the Playhouse,” “Puppets of the Playhouse,” “Animating the Playhouse,” “A Very Merry Christmas Special,” and “Fans and Memorabilia of the Playhouse” are included in the plethora of extras in the Blu-ray edition (with the only notable absence of commentators being Reubens himself).

[1]’s_Playhouse#The_art_of_the_playhouse, quoting an episode of “Art Talk” by VICE magazine

[2] Additionally, an urban legend that has held sway with the muggles of the land that Reubens was arrested for child molestation. He was arrested for allegedly masturbating in an adult theater. However, Reubens, who initially pleaded no contest, has since disputed that claim. The police report describes him as using his left hand. Reubens is right-handed. This was not Reubens first arrest. He was arrested in 1971 for loitering in an adult theater. He was also arrested in 2002 on charges of child pornography. The charges were dropped when law enforcement discovered Reubens’ collection of vintage erotica included adult homosexual acts and Rob Lowe’s sex tape, but not child pornography.





  1. The Sunset Strip show with Capt. Carl and Miss Yvonne is brilliant. Some of the jokes were really raunchy, but always impossible for kids to decipher. <3

  2. I’m so stoked that Pee Wee’s Playhouse is on blue ray and I am glad you are getting the word out on this amazing series. Pee Wee Herman has always been very entertaining with his man-child like persona.

  3. ohhh!I have been nostlagic.Pee Wee Herman has been my children’s favourite and one of the longest ran playfor years. I still remeber it used to run on saturday morning. I am so amazed it is on blu ray.The plot was really fascinating and it has got many well known faces.

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