“AAAAAHHHHHHHHHH!!!!” I screamed. Penelope turned to look at me, her smile erupting into laughter.
A few moments later I screamed again. Penelope laughed, then turned her head back to the TV. “What’s the secret word Penelope?” She looked at me then back to the TV. With the exception of a few minutes for a classic cartoon with butterflies eluding a cow, Penelope sat, fixated by the frenetic pace of the guy in a grey suit and his talking furniture and appliances. When I sat on the floor Penelope got in my lap. When I laughed she laughed.
I couldn’t resist, I had to call Jenn. “She finally watched something all the way through, completely entranced. Pee Wee’s Playhouse! Can you believe it?”
“Oh great” Jennifer replied. I couldn’t tell if it was general displeasure or if there was more to it, as though Jenn had transcended time and space and could see herself forced to watch Paul Rubens zaniness with Penelope, over and over and over again.
A year ago I found a special on the entire series, complete with Christmas special, for $15. How could I resist? I didn’t have a chance to watch them immediately but knew we would have a little one soon. Soon after our return trip from China I watched a few minutes of “Playhouse” with Penelope. She was intrigued though not enough to sit and watch.
Contrary to what many who know me might think, We are not keen on Penelope watching a lot of TV. Not yet anyway. We want her to interact with the world around her. We both want her to have a solid relationship with us.
Which means, when she is watching TV I want it to be quality. Some readers, including some in my own household, question the valuation of “Pee Wee’s Playhouse” as quality programming. I contend it is. Here’s why.
“Pee Wee’s Playhouse” immersed the viewer in a world of creative images and thoughts. A world where a man could live with talking furniture, a robot, dinosaurs, a genie that granted one wish per episode, and a magic screen that sent it’s owner through space or a supermarket. You just never knew. Pee Wee exhibited the same characteristics as his young viewers. He could be selfish, whiny, and compassionate, all in the same episode. He taught the viewer how to make things and stressed the importance of making things, whether it be food or finger puppets.
I have fond memories of watching the show at my dads house. My parents divorced when I was four or five. I spent the weekends with my dad. On Saturday morning we would watch cartoons, and when “Playhouse” came out, we watched it. From what I remember, we both laughed watching Pee Wee’s antics.
Years later I discovered Devo’s Mark Mothersbaugh wrote the theme music for the show. Before he was Furious Styles, Laurence Fishburn was Cowboy Curtis. Before Phil Hartman was a Saturday Night Live cast member I enjoyed his gruff, seafaring Captain Carl. Before I was fascinated by Peter Gabriel’s video for “Big Time” I was amazed by Wayne White’s artistry and puppetry on “Playhouse”.
At the root of the show was pure fun. For a child what can be better? Sometimes I think fun is the essence of childhood and what the adult version of me forgets all too often. Fun.
The years have not been kind to “Pee Wee’s Playhouse” since Ruben’s 1991 arrest for indecent exposure. Though many of his fans and friends spoke up for Rubens, the negative publicity tarnished his beloved character. I suppose it was hard for some parents to let their children watch a man playing a big kid when all the parent could think about was Rubens with his pants slung low in an adult theater.
I don’t have that problem. Rubens is an entertainer. He’s not Pee Wee Herman. He’s not a child molester. He didn’t harm anyone, unless you consider the reputation of his Herman character a person. He’s an example of the frailty we all experience. More importantly, he didn’t allow the incident to stop doing what he loved. I ask my readers, would “Mystery Men” be as entertaining without Ruben’s boil-faced, flatulent hero “The Spleen”? I think not.
When Penelope gets older she’ll find out about the sordid details. Rather than judge Ruben for his actions I hope Penelope will realize the temptations we all face and have a gracious heart.
For now I’ll enjoy screaming when the secret word is said or changing “Meka Leka Hi Meka Hi Meka Hiney Ho” when Genie grants Pee Wee his one episode wish.
Speaking of Wayne White, here is the preview for what looks to be an amazing documentary, “Beauty is Embarrassing”