The Best of the Electric Company, Volume 2
December 19, 2006
The folks at the Shout Factory continue to tap into Generation X nostalgia with a new volume of memorable episodes from the much beloved children’s educational program, The Electric Company. It was a rare show that attempted to teach kids the fundamentals in a cool and hip way. For example, one episode teaches the word, “you” with a disembodied hand that bears more than a passing resemblance to the same one in The Addams Family, complete with spooky, faux-horror film atmosphere.
The Electric Company used several formats to teach: early computer-generated animation (or Scanimation: an analog video-synthesizer system used to present words with specific sounds), catchy songs and sketch comedy that was always upbeat but never felt forced. It’s a testimony to the quality of the show that they were able to lure notable figures of the time to appear, with the likes of comedian Bill Cosby, basketball star Wilt Chamberlain, comedian Victor Borge (who extols the virtues of punctuation) and Archie Bunker and his wife Edith from the All in the Family television sitcom.
These celebrity cameos enhance the impressive collection of recurring and memorable characters such as Fargo North, Decoder (Hinnant), a bumbling decipherer of cryptic sentences. It often takes him some time to figure them out and in one episode, a client’s car runs out of gas while he waits impatiently for Fargo to figure out his cryptic note.
For those of us who can remember watching this show during our childhood, it appears wonderfully dated now, especially the trippy, almost kaleidoscope style of animation. In one segment, an “E” with legs adds itself to a word to change its meaning that is unmistakably evocative of the time period it was made in. Each segment in a given episode is just the right length, not too long so as to lose one’s attention span but long enough to make its point and impart an educational lesson in an entertaining fashion.
The Electric Company was a product of its time and one has to admire its belief that kids are hungry to learn and that a publicly funded television show could provide an outlet for this to happen. Along with Sesame Street, The Electric Company provided a hip, positive alternative to anything on commercial T.V. There was nothing like it before and nothing since.
The first disc includes the featurette, “Remembering The Electric Company” with select cast members from the show talking briefly about their background in performing and how they got on the show. The auditions were comprised of old Vaudeville routines because their repetitive nature lent themselves to a reading show. Everyone tells wonderful anecdotes about working on the show and with now famous alumni like Morgan Freeman.
The second disc features “The Electric Company Documentary (1975)” that takes a behind-the-scenes look at the show and how effective it was in educating children. At one point, researchers for the show took it to classrooms in Texas, Ohio, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, California and New York to show to kids and talk to teachers about its effectiveness. There is such refreshing idealism and hope contained in this documentary as these people really believe that T.V. can help educate kids.
The third disc features a brief excerpt of “Bill Cosby on The Dick Cavett Show (November 10, 1971)” promoting the show, complete with a clip from it. It’s pretty cool of Cavett to help promote The Electric Company as he did – you would never see that on a late night talk show today.