Best of the Best 21993

Each episode was an explosion of creativity. From 1971-1977, The Electric Company made learning to read not just fun, but downright hip. Designed more as a complement than an alternative to Sesame Street, that means skits, animated segments, musical interludes, and funky fashions--always a plus. (Dig those fringed jackets and snakeskin stretch pants.) The cast includes Emmy winner Bill Cosby, Oscar winner Rita Moreno, Fame star Irene Cara (a member of the Short Circus), and a skinny beanpole named Morgan Freeman, who would pick up his own Academy Award a few decades later. In this 20-episode set, cast members Judy Graubart, Luis Avalos, Skip Hinnant, Jim Boyd, and Hattie Winston provide introductions. In addition, pop-ups dispense fun facts, like the show's original title: The Reading Program. As in the first four-disc collection, episodes appear out of sequence, but work fine as stand-alones--although it would be nice to have all of them available at some point. Musical highlights include Freeman's hobo lament "Shoo Shoo Sunshine" (episode 12), Short Circus funk jam "Knock Knock Rock" (35A), and let's not forget that "empowering" theme: "We're gonna turn it on / we're gonna bring you the power!" Watch carefully or you'll miss quick-as-a wink cameos from the likes of I Dream of Jeannie's Barbara Eden (150), Bonanza's Lorne Green (223), and All in the Family's Carroll O'Connor and Jean Stapleton (166). Other notables to contribute their talents include Tom Lehrer, author of the "Silent E" song, Mel Brooks, voice behind "Blond-Haired Cartoon Man," and Producers pals Gene Wilder and Zero Mostel, voices behind The Adventures of Letterman (with Joan Rivers as narrator and Mostel as the evil Spell Binder). The Electric Company set its sights on children aged 7-10, but there's plenty of fast-paced fun here for younger kids and adults, too. --Kathleen C. Fennessy

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