DVD slight return: Rehab Edition
The greatest trick television ever pulled was convincing the world that television was great. I never saw Welcome Back, Kotter back when it ran in the 1970s because that was when I was in school and didn’t watch the telly. So imagine my joy as I ripped open Welcome Back, Kotter: The Complete Series (Shout! Factory, 8/26), which contains all four seasons as well as audition outtakes and a nice booklet that has the graphics of a spiral notebook.
The joy was short lived. Watching random eps from all four seasons it becomes apparent that there are shows that we watch because we like the actors involved and not the actual content of the show. Gabe Kaplan and Marcia Strassman have a great chemistry as the Kotters. Mr. Kotter teaches at his alma matter high school. When he tells his wife corny jokes the moment can be endearing. Of course Welcome Back, Kotter is the show that discovered John Travolta, who’s all but gone by the fourth season making inroads into his movie career. The title song was sung by John Sebastian and it ranks with some of his best work, which would include songs from The Lovin’ Spoonful. When you think about it, rocksters writing television themes were a thing in the ’70s; consider Harry Nilsson’s “(People Let Me Tell You About My) Best Friend” from The Courtship of Eddie’s Father.
Some of the highlights include George Carlin playing a DJ in an episode during the second season. And there’s a supporting character, another random high school student, played by Charles Fleischer who would go on to the be the voice of Roger Rabbit. In conclusion this series is a son only a mother could love.
Portlandia: The Complete Fourth Season (VSC, 8/26) finds the skit comedy based show going fast yet running out of steam. The laughs are less frequent as a lot of the humor has already been mined to good effect previously. In addition to Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein guest include Olivia Wilde, Jeff Goldblum, and back as the mayor Kyle MacLachlan.
A devilish black comedy from Norway, Jackpot (Music Box, 8/26) follows a group of hapless men who win joint custody of a winning lottery ticket. One by one they turn on each other to increase their share. The humor consists of bloody shoot-outs and quirky incidents like how to bury the ever-mounting bodies. The story unfolds as a flashback as the survivor recounts his story to the police. Not quite on the level of say Big Bad Wolves from earlier this year or Headhunters from a few years back, yet the pacing and gore are handled quite well.
Richard Lewis: Bundle of Nerves (VSC, 9/4) bundles four different aspects of Lewis’ personality. I’ve always liked Lewis and his neurotic comic timing, but this two-disc set catapults him to one of my favorite comedians. Included are the television special Diary of A Young Comic, a late-70s television movie that was run in the Saturday Night Live time spot. Lewis plays Billy Goldstein an aspiring comic who moves to L.A. to make it big. Only when he gets there he pretty much runs the gamut of weird Southern California characters. For instance his one lady friend who only speaks half of each word because she’s into minimalism. Includes lots of cameos.
The 1995 movie Drunks, in which Lewis stars kicks off the second disc. Never even heard of this film but its actually a damn good tale of recovering alcoholics with a great supporting cast like Faye Dunaway, Sam Rockwell, Parker Posey, Calisto Flockhart, and many others. Also, a new 40-minute feature, House of a Lifetime, where Lewis gives the audience a tour of his house and all the photos and decorations that adorn the walls.
Set also includes Lewis’ fourth cable special Magical Misery Tour (1997). Lewis introduces each of the four offerings. As he explains about MMT, it was the first special he did after he became clean and sober. The package features original cover art by Ron Wood.
– Michael Bergeron