Sunday, May 17, 2009

Hey, You Guys!

Boomers who were kids in the early 70s probably remember The Electric Company best, and may even have learned to read watching it. Despite the fact that I was already out of college by then, I loved this show! And a couple of Best of the Electric Company DVDs I recently rented reminded me why.

What The Electric Company was doing--as original cast member Rita Moreno explains on one of these disks--was essentially vaudeville sketch comedy. This was about the last period in TV that the vaudeville tradition--essential to TV comedy from the start--was still alive. Even Moreno's signature "Hey, you guys!" cry came from Abbott and Costello, one of the great vaudeville-style comedy teams. Vaudeville also meant particular styles of song and dance, and there are several examples of that on these disks, too.

Some of the last great sketch shows were on the air then, so those skills were still alive. That vaudeville style is what made this show funny, along with more 60s-style parodies, like Rita Moreno doing a send-up of Tina Turner. So funny that I remember I did a review of comedy albums in the early 70s for the Boston Phoenix, and the one I rated as the funniest was...The Electric Company.

At the same time, the show--especially the first year-- was very late 60ish, with all the effects, color, designs, music, fast cuts and even the words. The very talented cast was pointedly multi-racial and the feel was very urban, since minority kids were a big target audience. The cast included Bill Cosby, Morgan Freeman (who can forget his Easy Reader song, or his appearances as Dracula?) and a very young Irene Cara as well as Moreno. Another regular was lovely, perky Judy Graubart, a Second City comedy alum. Lots of energy, fun and eye candy, too.

There's a new version on PBS now, but this is the one I love to watch. That it's basically about words is just more magic for me. At the same time, like the best comedy made for kids (from Bugs Bunny through Bullwinkle, etc.) the show never talks down, and there are some pretty funny levels that kids may or may not get but delighted the cast and writers, and perhaps the parents watching with kids, or boomers all these years later...

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