STUDIO: Warner Brothers Home Entertainment
MSRP: $29.99
RUNNING TIME: 553 minutes
• Actor screen tests
Only a Few Degrees from a Sweathog featurette

The Pitch

Up your nose with a rubber hose!

The Humans

Gabe Kaplan, John Travolta, Robert Hegyes, Ron Polillo, Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, Marcia Strassman, John Sylvester White.

The Nutshell

Gabe Kotter (Kaplan) is just beginning his first year as the new teacher at James Buchanan High School in Brooklyn, New York, and things aren’t looking good from the start. The Vice Principal, Mr. Woodman (White) thinks Kotter is a bit of a goof, and has stuck him with teaching the schools remedial class. Teaching slow learners is one thing, but Buchanan High’s remedial class is also the home of the notorious juvenile delinquents known as the “Sweathogs”.

More intimidating than the "Sweathogs" themselves were their barbershop quartet abilities.

Members of the “Sweathogs” include Arnold Horshack (Polillo); a lanky, simpleminded fellow who’s most distinctive feature is his wheezy laugh. Juan Luis Pedro Phillippo DeHuevos Epstein (Hegyes), the Puerto Rican Jew with an interesting lineage and a penchant for bringing letters from his mom signed “Epsteins Mother” to get him out of various classroom exercises, Freddy “Boom Boom” Washington (Hilton-Jacobs), the suave, athletic member of the “Sweathogs” , and Vinnie Barbarino (Travolta), the leader of the pack who, while he may seem dimwitted, is always quick to spout off a “Get off my Case, Potato Face!” to announce his displeasure with someone.

How will Mr. Kotter deal with these less than admirable students? Well, what the class doesn’t know about ol’ Gabe Kotter is that he went to James Buchanan High when he was a student, and it was he that formed the original “Sweathogs”. So with that kind of street cred, Mr. Kotter is bound and determined to teach this new generation of miscreants a little something about the world around them, and maybe even a little something about themselves in the process.

Evidence that Welcome Back Kotter prophesied the future
for young John Travolta? You be the judge.

The Lowdown

Is there really a more perfect sitcom than the first season of Welcome Back, Kotter? I don’t think so. Everything about it is spot on for the time that it was created.

I used to love to watch Kotter when I was a kid growing up in the late seventies. Back then I was probably just into the hokey jokes that the cast would riff off at a breakneck pace, or maybe it was bra-less fashions that Marcia Strassman would appear in every so often. I’m not quite sure what it was back then that kept me tuned in when I was younger, but it was definitely “must see” T.V. in my youth.

The opening of "Arnold’s Whoreshack" had completely changed the
nebbish student into a pimped out playa!

Now, a little over thirty years later, the first season of Welcome Back, Kotter is out and while I was a little worried about the culture shock that would ensue before my eyes after I hit play on the DVD machine, all my fears of smiling quaintly for only nostalgia’s sake at my T.V. screen, wondering what in the hell I was thinking as a kid, were assuaged almost as soon as that theme song started.

Kotter holds up beautifully, and still surpasses many sitcoms produced since. It was a short lived series, only going about four seasons, but you can see, at least in this first season, the show burned brightly within the boundaries of “recorded live in front of a studio audience” television.

What struck me as most impressive was just how much it seems more like you are watching a light, breezy theater performance captured on tape than a sitcom. There are few shows that have pulled this off to the same degree as Welcome Back, Kotter, and certainly none in the last ten years that I can think of off hand. Sure, many of the jokes are kinda cornball, but c’mon you bitter bastard! The show is thirty years old! The cast seems so sure of themselves and each other that even though the acting is sometimes stilted (especially from Gabe Kaplan, who breaks character about once an episode, trying to stifle his laughter from the cast and audience), it never weights the show down.

"Up my nose! My Nose!"

And there are lessons to be learned as Mr. Kotter educates his students on not only social studies, but life as well. Just of the few precious things that can be gleamed from watching this premiere season is that being yourself is good, being a good student is as important as being a star athlete, and if the whole school thinks that “Hotsie Totsie” is a slut, then its okay for her to accuse one of the “Sweathogs” of getting her pregnant to get them all to admit that they were lying when they told their friends they scored with her.

Every episode of the first season of Kotter has a message, but unlike the sitcoms of today, a big deal wasn’t made about them. The format of the show wasn’t changed to accommodate a serious issue the show was dealing with. Every episode starts and ends with a joke from Mr. Kotter, no matter how delicate the subject matter of the episode.

And, to top it all off you get to hear one of the best T.V. show theme songs ever made a few dozen times if you play the discs straight through!

A mere coincidence…or once again, a future foretold?

The Package

Kotter gets a solid “C” in the extras department. I could have done with some commentaries from the cast (c’mon Ron Palillo, I need to know Horshacks various motivations), or a little deeper insight into how Kaplan helped create the show. But instead I will settle for the decent, but generic featurette and screen tests of the “Sweathogs”.

Okay class, who can tell me which actor was so typcast by his role in Welcome Back,
Kotter that he was reduced to taking a job that entailed him stepping into the ring with
Saved By the Bell
‘s Dustin Diamond to get his ass kicked on National Television?

The transfers to DVD look quite crisp for being over thirty years old, with only a little bit of video noise from the tapes that are only noticeable when titles appear on the show.

8 out of 10