WELCOME BACK, KOTTER:
Yeah we tease him a lot
cause we've hot him on the spot, welcome back,
Only in the sitcom world would one believe in high school students who looked like they approaching thirty- heck, even the New York City education system, wouldn’t hold students back that long. Anyhow, what WELCOME BACK, KOTTER lacked in educational institution creditability, it made up for in good humor. Based upon the stand up comedy of Gabe Kaplan, WELCOME BACK, KOTTER places the comedian in the role of new teacher Gabe Kotter, who is assigned to James Buchanan, the very same high school he attended in his younger days. In an ironic twist, vice-principal Woodman (John Sylvester White) places Kotter back in familiar territory- namely remedial studies, the position he occupied while he was a student. The former "Sweathog" teaching a new generation of "Sweathogs" provides the opportunities for the show’s humor. Sure, some of the episodes seem slightly silly and dated by today’s standards (the series premiered circa 1975), but WELCOME BACK, KOTTER was a rating success when it initially aired more than three decades ago. A lot o the show’s appeal stems from the over-aged actors playing the "Sweathogs," starting with John Travolta as their current leader Vinnie Barbarino, as well as Robert Hegyes as Puerto Rican Jew Juan Luis Pedro Phillipo de Huevos Epstein, Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs as the smooth Freddie "Boom Boom" Washington and Ron Palillo as the nebbish Arnold Horshack. The cast of WELCOME BACK, KOTTER also features Marcia Strassman as our favorite teacher’s wife Julie Kotter.
WELCOME BACK, KOTTER: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON ($30) comes to DVD in a four-disc set that features the following twenty-two episodes that were aired during its freshman year: The Great Debate, Basket Case, Welcome Back (Pilot), Whodunit?, The Election, No More Mister Nice Guy, Classroom Marriage, One Of Our Sweathogs Is Missing, Mr. Kotter, Teacher, The Reunion, Barbarino's Girl, California Dreamin', Arrividerci, Arnold, The Longest Weekend, The Sit-In, Follow The Leader, Part 1, Follow The Leader, Part 2, Dr. Epstein, I Presume, One Flu Over The Cuckoo's Nest, The Telethon, Kotter Makes Good and Father Vinnie.
Warner Home Video has made all twenty-two episodes that comprise WELCOME BACK, KOTTER: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON available on DVD in the proper full screen aspect ratios of their original television broadcasts. Shot on videotape, WELCOME BACK, KOTTER is one of those series best viewed on a vintage 1970s television set. The video quality is pretty mediocre, even for the decade in which the show was produced, and today’s displays are far too unforgiving; so don’t expect much, especially if you blow up the picture to scary proportions. Image sharpness, clarity and detail are a bit on the low side. Colors are adequate for the task, but suffer from the obvious instabilities of the now ancient NTSC video format. Hot colors like red are especially problematic, plus almost all strong hues can be somewhat smeary. Blacks and whites are passable, while mediocre contrast adds to the sitcom flatness of the image. Digital compression artifacts never cause large concerns.
The Dolby Digital monaural soundtracks are pretty much what one would expect from a late 1970s sitcom. The dialogue is always intelligible, however everything sounds rather flat and under-whelming. Fortunately, the soundtracks are free excessive hiss or any major distortions. No other language soundtracks or subtitles are provided on the DVD.
Music underscores the basic interactive menus, which allow one access to the standard episode selection and set up features, as well as Only A Few Degrees From A Sweathog a twenty-three minute retrospective, plus some Original Screen Tests.
Although slightly dated at times, WELCOME BACK, KOTTER offers enough fun to remind one why the show was highly popular in its day. The presentations are a victim of the broadcast technology available at the time, so one isn’t going to pick up this set for the visual quality. If you are feeling nostalgic, you’ll want to WELCOME BACK, KOTTER into your TV on DVD collection.
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