Series: Pee-Wee's Playhouse
The beginning of one of the wackiest title sequences ever.
In 1980, Paul Reubens
(after being turned down for a chance to be a Saturday Night Live
) created a stage show called The Pee Wee Herman Show
, parodying the children's live action TV shows of the 50s and 60s, with a subversive, often playfully risque twist. After a successful HBO
comedy special and years of performance, Reubens teamed with Tim Burton
to create the movie Pee-wee's Big Adventure
, based on the title character. The surprise success of the movie got CBS
interested in an animated version of the original stage show, with Reubens eventually negotiating for a Lighter and Softer
live action version.
Unusually, the show got a sitcom-level budget and creative control was left almost entirely to Reubens and his crew. Initially filmed in a converted New York loft for the first season (which, according to many past cast members, was a living nightmare to work in, as it was always hot), the show moved to a full-size set in Los Angeles for the second season onward (hence, why the playhouse in the first season looks so much smaller than in the second season and beyond).
The show focuses on Pee-wee's life at his luxurious playhouse, where everything is alive and anything could happen. It featured a large cast of colorful characters
including a talking chair, a robot, a magic computer screen, a talking globe, and all sorts of puppets. The show also featured plenty of stop-motion animation as well as Golden Age cartoons. Reubens was also able to cast several members of the The Groundlings who had worked with him on the original stage show including Phil Hartman
(Captain Carl) and Laurence Fishburnenote
(Cowboy Curtis), as well as future stars S. Epatha Merkerson,
(Reba the Mail Lady) and Natasha Lyonne (Opal, one of the members of the first season Playhouse Gang).
In its first year, the show won six Emmy awards. The show gained a following of both children and adults thanks to its nostalgia and excellent writing, prompting CBS to show some episodes during prime time as well as Saturday mornings. While Reubens tried to have the episodes based around moral lessons, heavy use of Rule of Funny
kept it from being heavy handed. The show ran on CBS from September 13, 1986 until November 17, 1990 and spanned five seasons, one of which (the third season) was comprised of only two episodes - three if you count the Christmas Special
- due to being affected by both the 1988 Writers Guild of America Strike and the production of Reubens' second Pee-wee movie Big Top Pee Wee
In 2011, Reubens staged a new live show
integrating elements from the original as well as the TV show. In late 2014, all five seasons (and the Christmas Episode
) have been added on Netflix.
This show provided examples of:
- Affectionate Parody: Of early TV kids shows, but especially The Soupy Sales Show and The Pinky Lee Show.
- Afraid of Dentists: Pee-wee gets a toothache in one episode, but resists with all his might to avoid going to a dentist until Miss Yvonne persuades him to do so.
- Alliterative Name: Many of the characters, including Captain Carl, Cowboy Curtis, Chairy the Chair, Globey the Globe, and Pterri the Pterodactyl.
- And Starring / Character as Himself: In the credits, the cast saves Paul Reuben's role as Pee-wee for last, in which he is credited as "And Pee-wee Herman as himself".
- Beatnik: The Puppet Band are a Funny Animal Affectionate Parody of beatniks.
- Beehive Hairdo: Miss Yvonne has sported this hairdo from time to time.
- Benevolent Genie: Jambi, who could grant Pee-wee (or whoever Pee-wee gave the wish to) one wish per day.
- Bishie Sparkle: Ricardo, the soccer player, makes his debut in "Open House." When he walks into the playhouse, we see him from Miss Yvonne's point of view—the background has a red filter-effect and there's lots of key lighting behind him.
- Bowties Are Cool: Before there was Bill Nye; before there was the Eleventh Doctor, Pee-wee Herman did it first.
- Christmas Special: And a very good one at that. Hanukkah is covered as well as the Nativity story.
- Clap Your Hands If You Believe: Literally in this case — whenever Jambi had to do something fairly difficult (such as restoring a magically-invisible Pee-wee), he implored viewers to join in with his incantation.
- Cloud Cuckooland: The Playhouse.
- Cloudcuckoolander: Penny rambled a lot, didn't she?
- Cool Scooter: Accompanied by an equally cool helmet after the first season ended.
- Earn Your Happy Ending: In the series finale (Playhouse for Sale), everybody is all upset about Pee-Wee supposedly selling the playhouse after discovering a "For Sale" sign. However, when Pee-Wee comes back, he replies that he is NOT selling the playhouse. It turns out that he had another sign that was loose which read "LEMONADE" (In other words, "LEMONADE FOR SALE!").
Chairy: You mean you are not selling the playhouse, Pee-Wee?
Pee-wee Herman: No of course not, Chairy. I would never sell the playhouse for a million, trillion, zillion dollars. And besides, A playhouse is a place where anyone can play. (Everybody cheers)
Dirty Dog: We don't have to travel.
Cool Cat: We don't have to rome.
Chicky Baby: Be it ever some humble...
All three together: There's no place like home.
- Edutainment Show: Though not in the way one would normally expect. Paul Reubens used his character to teach social skills—Pee-wee is sometimes an example of what not to do, but therein lies the humor.
- In its last two seasons, the show also featured Spanish lessons via the El Hombre animated shorts, thus doubling as a Bilingual Bonus.
- Every Episode Ending: Each episode ended with Pee-wee taking off on his motor scooter, with seasons 2 and beyond having him wear a one-eyed-monster helmet, and flying past Mt. Rushmore.
- Excited Kids' Show Host: Pee-wee, obviously.
- Fantasy Helmet Enforcement: Pee-Wee Herman started out not wearing a helmet on his scooter, but by Season 2 he got one. Appropriately, it was decked out with a cyclops eye and other impractical doodads.
- This may have been in part due to America beginning to pass helmet laws. California became the first state to do in 1987, which was also where production on the show moved to in that year (the first season was shot in New York).
- Flanderization: Pee-wee himself fell victim to this as the show went on. In the earlier seasons, there was a (paradoxical) maturity, as shown in the scene where he reprimands the original Playhouse Gang for being a bit too rambunctious (only to engage in said rambunctious behavior himself moments later). It also showed that he was capable of being 'quiet' at times, too. By the later seasons, however, the character's voice and mannerisms became just plain annoying — he'd lost the quieter moments and was reduced to shouting all the time, even when the secret word was said and thus screamed at, as in one episode where Pee-wee catches a cold and is greatly irritated by loud noises:
Pee-wee: STOP ALL THAT SCREAMING! CAN'T YOU PEOPLE HAVE ANY CONSIDERATION?!!
- In another episode, where they play library, including having to be quiet, Miss Yvonne blurts out the secret word. Naturally, everyone starts screaming, except Pee-wee as librarian, who is more than a little annoyed (whenever anyone makes the slightest bit of noise, he looks quite stern while shushing the offender) and yells, "SILENCE!"
- Actually, this is somewhat zig-zagged in other episodes when another character does something wrong and Pee-wee reprimands them for it, such as when Randy tries to take over the show and annoy everyone: Pee-wee tells him, sternly and solemnly, to apologize to everyone and never do it again.
- Gainaxing: In one episode, Miss Yvonne did a clog dance. The resulting jiggle was very restrained (her dress deserves an award), but quite visible.
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: This scene, for one.
- In the Christmas Special, Magic Johnson states that he and Magic Screen are cousins. For example, "Magic Screen" is the device's actual name—"Magic" is the given name, and "Screen" is the surname. One wonders what that implies for Magic Johnson...
- The best thing about the show getting crap past the radar was that it was done during a time when Moral Guardians weren't all over everyone's asses about keeping things safe and bland (unless it was for violence and/or dangerous stunts that can easily be imitated. The sexual innuendo and mild rude language was free to roam until at least the early 2000s, though there were issues over it when The Ren & Stimpy Show made the scene). Also, Paul Reubens wanted the show to be a kids' show that had a perverted undercurrent to it, as he felt kids' shows before it were too tame and asexual.
- Grande Dame: The Cowntess is a mild example.
- Hair-Trigger Avalanche: In the episode where they redecorating the Playhouse, Pee-wee looks into the fridge for something to serve with tea, but finds nothing. He notices that the food are in an avalanche area and they must be quiet. Pee-wee whispers that he promises to keep things quiet around the Playhouse, but it's part of the secret word ("house"), and of course, everyone screams. This triggers the avalanche and buries the food.
- Hair Trigger Sound Effect: While it changed Once per Episode, and was clearly invoked, you better believe that at some point, the whole house would go berserk when someone said the secret word. *AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!!!!!!!*
- Hostile Show Takeover: In "Sick? Did Somebody Say Sick?", Pee-wee leaves to buy groceries. While he's gone, Randy takes over the show — getting the secret word, demanding everyone bark instead of scream when it's said and annoying everyone. He also tries to connect the dots on the Magic Screen, but gets locked in jail and is only let out once Pee-wee has returned to reprimand him.
- Jerkass: Randy, with his classic schoolyard bully persona (with a Joisey accent to match). His appearances are usually met with a scowl from Pee-wee.
- Keet: Pee-wee, the very embodiment of this trope.
- Large Ham: Just about the entire cast.
- Late to the Punchline: The show's entire appeal for those who laughed as small children and are rediscovering it as adults.
- Leaving Food For Santa: In his Christmas Special, Pee-wee attempted to bribe Santa with a large platter of milk and cookies. Ultimately subverted when Santa revealed that the Christmas list was so all-encompassing that Pee-Wee had to give back all of the presents so that the children of the world could have some!
- Lighter and Softer: The TV show is a child-friendly adaptation of the adult-oriented stage show.
- Literal Genie / Jackass Genie: Jambi, at times. In "Restaurant," for example, Pee-wee says, "I wish I knew what to wish for." Jambi grants him that wish, but not what he actually wished for. When Pee-wee learns his mistake and calls Jambi out on it, the genie simply holds him to the rule of only one wish per show. Cue a Big "NO!" from Pee-wee.
- In another episode, Pee-wee wishes that someone would come over to alleviate his boredom. Jambi grants his wish and someone knocks at the door, but it turns out to be the Salesman. Pee-wee scowls in Jambi's direction afterward.
- Literal-Minded: A typical example...
"Boy, Chairry, I sure got a lot of pen pal letters!"
"Why don't you read one?"
"I don't know, Chairry! Why don't I?"
- Loads and Loads of Characters
- Mind Screw
- Ms. Fanservice: Ms. Yvonne. One episode featured a "Super Pee-Wee" dream sequence in which she was pinned under a too-heavy barbell and needed rescuing; the barbell had taken the shape of her breasts! And yes, Super Pee-wee boasted X-ray vision among his other powers.
Super Pee-wee: Floral print.
- Mundane Made Awesome: Anything Pee-wee does for snack time, in which he really has fun showing off how to make a relatively simple snack.
- Nice Helmet: Pee-Wee's overly-decorated red helmet, which featured after Season 1.
- No Fourth Wall: Pee-wee regularly spoke directly to the audience, as did Miss Yvonne, Cowboy Curtis and Jambi the Genie, among others.
- Oculothorax: Roger the Monster, who only appeared in a few episodes but earned himself a place in the Colorforms playsets.
- Odd Friendship: Pterri and Globey.
- Once per Episode: Pee-wee played Connect the Dots with Magic Screen in nearly every episode. This is the idea behind Jambi's wishes, the King of Cartoons' arrival and the Penny cartoons, too.
- Only Sane Woman: Reba the Mail Lady in the later seasons. Earlier on, she was just as enthusiastic as the others.
- Overly Long Gag: In one episode, Pee-wee fed his dog Roosevelt some dog food, and for about a minute and 40 seconds, the camera simply stays on Roosevelt eating his food.
- Panty Shot: Implied. Pee-wee turns himself invisible, lifts Miss Yvonne's skirt and says "I see London, I see France!"
- Parental Bonus: Miss Yvonne's dialogue with the male human characters easily springs to mind, but Cowboy Curtis, Captain Carl and even Pee-wee had their moments.
- Parody Magic Spell: Jambi's incantation. "Repeat after me, in Jambese..."
- Psycho Strings: Heard whenever the Salesman comes to Pee-wee's door.
- Pun: In the episode where Jambi gets sick, Pee-wee consults an expert in "genie-ology" (read: genealogy, or the study of family trees.) The Cowntess, too, got quite a few "cow" and "moo"-based puns. (Example: when attending a pool party, she wore a "moo-moo.")
- Railroading: Attempts at working the Secret Word into dialogue sometimes got a bit like this.
- Real Life Writes the Plot / Painting the Medium: The show marked its move from New York to Los Angeles with its second season premiere, in which the Playhouse Gang cleaned and redecorated the Playhouse, which now looked comparatively larger and more open than the Playhouse in the first season.
- Rhymes on a Dime: The Puppetland Band does this all the time.
- Robot Buddy: Conky. Especially hilarious in that he foreshadows GPS in the first episode (Cpt Carl is lost at sea and Conky, Magic Screen and Globey all team up to track/locate him to save his life).
- Rule of Funny: The show runs on this.
- Running Gag: The show took great advantage of running gags throughout its run, such as each day's Secret Word and Jambi's one wish for each episode.
- The door-to-door salesman in the first season.
- The foil ball in the pre-Clocky era and the rubber-band ball in the post-Clocky era. Justified, too, in that he gave the foil-ball away because it got too big.
- Secret Word: At the start of every show Pee-Wee informed the audience what "the secret word for today is". He would try to make his guests say it, but they were not always that easily fooled and so sometimes Pee-Wee accidentally said it himself. When the secret word was said all children were allowed to "scream real loud" while in Pee-Wee's house itself an alarm went off.
- Shout-Out: Jambi's incantation—"Meka-leka-hi-meka-hiney-ho" and "Meka-leka-hi-meka-channey-ho"—appeared in "Weird Al" Yankovic's parody song "Pretty Fly for a Rabbi."
- Magic Screen is said to claim inspiration from a segment on the '50s kid's show Winky Dink And You, in which children could "connect the dots" by applying a sheet of static vinyl to the TV screen.
- In the episode where Jambi gets sick, the doctor that comes to help him is a wish doctor, Dr. Jinga-Janga, who is played by Bernard Fox, in a role that alternately parodies and pays homage to Fox's character Dr. Bombay, the witch doctor from Bewitched.
- Shot for Shot Remake: The intro to seasons 2, 3, and 4, is very similar to the original one from the first, just simply redone for the purpose of the newer Playhouse. Post-1990 airings of the season 4 episodes replaced the season 2 opening with the one from season 5.
- Show Within a Show: The King of Cartoon's classic cartoons as well as the original Penny cartoons and the later El Hombre.
- Sick Episode: Three episodes in all:
- Pee-wee in "Pee-wee Catches a Cold"
- Jambi in "Sick, Did Someone Say Sick?"
- In a way, Conky in "Conky's Breakdown".
- Spiritual Successor: The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson is almost — almost — a spiritual successor to Pee-wee...you can almost imagine Secretariat bounding through that jagged red door, or Craig jumping into Magic Screen and playing Aquaman.
- Sugar Bowl: The entire show takes place in one of these.
- That's All, Folks!: The end of every episode where Pee-wee is on his scooter about to leave the playhouse.
- Theme Tune Roll Call
- This Is Gonna Suck: Ricardo's reactions to Pee-wee trying to hit a pinata during the "Feliz Navidad" segment of the Christmas special.
- Tin-Can Telephone: The Picturephone. Notable in that it works as an actual telephone, and, like Conky, seems to be a consumer good in the show's universe (the Christmas Special indicates that even Whoopi Goldberg and Dinah Shore have one, or else they're calling from a pay phone). Pee-wee's overlaps with Bland-Name Product — the can is clearly a can of Del Monte mixed fruit, but the words "Del Monte" have been painted out of the logo!
- The Tooth Hurts: The entire premise of "To Tell the Tooth", in which Pee-wee has a doozy of a toothache but tries to resist going to the dentist — even after he informs the gang about the importance of good dental habits.
- Two-Part Trilogy: The final two seasons, despite airing during the fall of 1989 and fall of 1990 respectively, were actually filmed in succession. Season 4 was filmed from April to August 1989, and Season 5 was filmed from September 1989 to January 1990. Normally, there would be a year-long break in between seasons. Paul Reubens was offered two more seasons by CBS, for a 65-episode Syndication deal, but he declined.
- Video Phone: Again, the Picturephone is this kind of phone.
- World of Ham
- World's Most Beautiful Woman: Miss Yvonne, "the Most Beautiful Woman in Puppetland".