Judge Eric Profancik says that Kotter is definitely not welcomed back.
I remember watching Welcome Back, Kotter when I was a kid, or at least I think I remember watching it as a kid. I was only five when it premiered, which explains why I don't remember the show itself. I don't remember a single episode, plot, or situation from the run of the series. However, I clearly remember all of the major characters: Mr. Kotter (Gabe Kaplan), Vinnie Barbarino (John Travolta, Swordfish), Arnold Horshack (Ron Palillo, Celebrity Boxing 2), Juan Epstein (Robert Hegyes), Freddie "Boom Boom" Washington (Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs), and Mr. Woodman (John Sylvester White). Why this dichotomy? Why do I clearly remember the characters and nothing else? Were the people really that exceptional, so that thirty years later I can still clearly hear Horshack's "Oh! Oh! Oh!," Barbarino's "Up your nose with a rubber hose," and Washington's "Hi there"? Or is it something else?
I think it is something else. Maybe it's Travolta's rebirth in Pulp Fiction that stirred up the nostalgia for his early days. Maybe it's the show's reruns on TV Land, or maybe it's been the subject of numerous articles in Entertainment Weekly. Whatever it may be (or may not be), it really can't be the show. In watching this disc, any fond memories I may have had evaporated by the second episode.
Why's that? Consider this blurb from the packaging: "Finally! Welcome Back, Kotter is welcomed to DVD with a collection of six A+ episodes from the beloved series." Hence, unlike the previous "Television Favorites" DVD I watched (The Drew Carey Show), this disc is clearly meant to be a "best of" collection. And if these are six of the best episodes the show put together, I don't know how it lasted four years. (Did it really last four, or just three—since Kaplan and Travolta jumped ship after year three.) The six episodes on this DVD are: "One Flu Over the Cuckoo's Nest," "Father Vinnie," (Season One) "Sweatside Story," "I'm Having Their Baby," (Season Two) "The Deprogramming of Arnold Horshack," and "Goodbye, Mr. Kripps" (Season Three).
I'll admit that I was tickled as I watched "Flu." As this was the first time I'd seen the show in thirty years, I was ready to bask in the nostalgia. It started off well with that brilliant opening song by John Sebastian, and I enjoyed getting reacquainted with the Sweathogs. Then I went into the second episode, "Father Vinnie," and I was instantly bored. As I plowed through the remaining episodes, I realized this show took the same gag and rehashed it in every episode. How many times can we listen to Gabe tell a bad joke? How many notes do we have to watch Juan read? How many times can Washington change his voice and say "Hi there"? How many times is too many for Barbarino to say "Up your nose with a rubber hose" or for him to play the dumb act? How long before we want to kill Horshack and his insufferable hand raising accompanied by the "Oh! Oh! Oh!"? And just how gruff can Mr. Woodman be? Will he ever offer an encouraging word?
Kotter is a one-joke-per-character show (well, two for Kaplan, since he opens and closes each episode with a joke), and since the same joke is told every episode, it gets stale very quickly. Now I know why I don't remember the show but I remember the characters.
I also need to state that Welcome Back, Kotter has not aged well. In addition to everything else, it doesn't help that nobody can act in the show; it's hammy overacting and weak line recitation. And Kaplan's opening and closing familial jokes have long gone flat.
I am not recommending this disc, and I'm also making a blanket statement that you should avoid the future complete season releases as well. But if you find yourself with this DVD in your mitts, know that the quality of the transfers is wholly unspectacular. The episodes certainly look their age, with blanched colors, muted details, and weak details. In Episode Three, "Sweatside Story," things are a bit worse and most colors are washed out (due to too much lighting?) The mono audio track is hit and miss, but you won't miss any of the old jokes. Besides the episodes, it's a bare bones release.
If you have fond memories of the show, you'll revel in Kaplan's schlumpy glory. For everyone else, you need to be rude.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
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