Meka leka hi, meka hiney ho.
Watch Adult Swim on the Cartoon Network? Recently it was announced that, in part due to the high ratings its reruns receive on the late night segment, new episodes of Futurama will begin production. Could a similar resurrection be in the works for Pee Wee’s Playhouse?
Pee Wee Herman’s landmark 1980’s Saturday morning TV show joined the lineup of Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim in mid-July. Pee Wee Herman, as portrayed by Paul Reubens, was a nerd extraordinaire, the successor to Andy Kaufman’s Foreign Man and the precursor to Jaleel White’s Steve Urkel. (In fact, the whole idea of the playhouse came from Andy Kaufman and Bob Zmuda, but Kaufman died before he could make it a reality and the story goes that Reubens got permission to do it while Kaufman was on his deathbed.)
Pee Wee Herman first came to attention in the comedy club circuit in the early 80s before making a huge splash on the big screen first with Pee Wee’s Big Adventure and then, to a lesser extent, with Big Top Pee Wee. Following those successes, Pee Wee became a permanent fixture on Saturday morning TV. Even more importantly, Pee Wee’s Playhouse became one of the most taped shows of all time, his early morning weekend time slot making it a necessity for his college-aged fans to actually purchase a VCR.
Pee Wee’s Playhouse came to an abrupt end following Paul Reubens’ arrest for lewd behavior inside a porno theater in Florida. In all honesty, however, the nerdy alter ego and the not-ready-for-Saturday-morning actor who played him didn’t have all that much of a difference between them. Anyone who was lucky enough to see the original Pee Wee’s Playhouse performed on stage in Los Angeles, or to see the video edition that was a staple during HBO’s earlier and edgier days was hardly surprised to find that Paul Reubens had a somewhat darker side to him than most people imagined.
The fact is that the Pee Wee Herman not watered down for mass consumption always had a strain of sexual deviance to him. And the show-which featured such Pee Wee faves as Captain Carl and Miss Yvonne-was far darker and sexually tense than the movies or the Saturday morning show.
And yet even Pee Wee’s Playhouse managed to be much more sexually precocious than most people realize. Stay up or set your VCR for Adult Swim on Cartoon Network when Pee Wee’s Playhouse airs and watch carefully whenever Miss Yvonne and Captain Carl appear. The sexual energy running through their relationship is hardly the stuff of typical Saturday morning cartoon fare; even Fred and Daphne never set off erotic sparks like these two. And then there’s Pee Wee’s propensity to dance with green-screen 1960s go-go dancers in miniskirts.
It is appropriate that Pee Wee’s Playhouse is receiving its reprieve from obscurity on a segment called Adult Swim. Pee Wee was never really for kids specifically. Although there is plenty for kids to enjoy, the show was always enjoyed more from a surrealist perspective than from any other level. There is a self-consciousness about Pee Wee’s Playhouse that could provide for several serious academic treatises. One could easily write college-level papers from a Freudian, Lacanian, Dadaist, Marxist, Postmodernist, or even a Feminist perspective.
From the bizarre sets to the talking furniture to visits from-aaaaaahhhhh!!-salesmen to the just exceptionally odd King of Cartoons, from the devilishly entertaining Penny cartoons to wonderful climax of the old retort when somebody says they love something (Why don’t you marry it?) when Pee Wee does, in fact, marry a fruit salad, this show is just one insanely surreal image after another.
Pee Wee’s Playhouse is also worth watching for some early television appearances by some actors who would go on to become very big names. Laurence Fishburne, for example, plays Cowboy Curtis. Also appearing on the show were S. Epatha Merkerson, Jimmy Smits, the late, great Phil Hartman, Sandra Bernhard and Natasha Lyonne. Oh, and that’s actually Cyndi Lauper singing the opening theme.
And what do we do when we hear the secret word? Screeeeeeeeaaaaaammmmm!