The Best of the Electric Company (review)

Oh my god, I can’t believe how much of this stuff I remember from my very youngest childhood: the silhouettes pronouncing syllables that come together to form whole words! the tiny scuba guy swimming in alphabet soup looking for letters! the adventures of Letterman and his archenemy, who takes a T from “train” to make it “rain”! the toons riffing on 2001: A Space Odyssey to teach us vowels and stuff! Like Sesame Street, this PBS learn-to-read series was a primal influence on an entire generation, not just its individual members but its personality as a cohort: surely Xers learned not only to read but to be snarky and clever and so very self-referential and postmodern from this show, which is probably why it’s still wonderfully entertaining now, long after I conquered my ABCs. It’s fun to see how much of the humor here is stuff we were never gonna get as kids — the guy who calls into the show to complain about how dumb and arbitrary the rules of grammar are is called “J. Arthur Crank” — and how many later-famous faces appear here: Bill Cosby, Rita Moreno, Morgan Freeman. Why does the theme song sound like a missing tune from Rent? Probably because Jonathan Larson grew up with The Electric Company too. Totally groovy!

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