Pee-wee's Playhouse Replay

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Pee-wee's Playhouse Replay

This is Associated Press TV writer Frazier Moore Watching Television for KCRW, and getting wacky at Pee-wee's Playhouse.

For some of you, references to Miss Yvonne or the King of Cartoons or Jambi the Genie chanting "Meka leka hi, meka hiney ho!" just might draw a blank. But anyone who a couple of decades ago was a kid -- or was an adult drawn to really trippy kids TV -- should recall Pee-wee's Playhouse with fondness.

Well, it's back. None other than Adult Swim, Cartoon Network's late-night program block for the over-18 set, is rerunning Pee-wee's Playhouse Mondays through Thursdays at 11pm.

As you'll be reminded starting tonight, Pee-wee is a brassy, somewhat hyperactive lad with a snug gray suit, red bow-tie, and a stuttering giggle that, come to think of it, President Bush sometimes seems to be channeling.

His Playhouse? Ah, it's a candy-colored pleasure dome, like the world's coolest tree house, without even having to bother with a tree.

Viewers watching Adult Swim will be happy to find that, after two decades, Chez Pee-wee has lost none of its hallucinogenic, campy charm, and its characters are as loopy and diverse as you remember.

An oversize armchair named Chairy can give its occupant a hug. Conky is a robot engineered from boom boxes. Food in the refrigerator can sing and dance. Even the Playhouse's window frame can carry on a conversation.

Pee-wee's many human friends include Cowboy Curtis, an African-American cowpoke played by pre-stardom Laurence Fishburne. S. Epatha Merkerson, later to become a regular on Law & Order, plays Reba the Mail Lady.

But none of this adequately conveys the helter-skelter pace of the series. On being introduced to it the past few days, my 11-year-old son called it "the most random show I ever saw," which from him I took to be high praise.

Created by and starring Paul Reubens, Pee-wee's Playhouse premiered on CBS' Saturday kids' lineup in September, 1986. But five years and 22 Emmys later, when Reubens was arrested inside an adult movie theater, CBS padlocked Pee-wee's Playhouse door.

Now it's open again, and visiting is as much fun as ever. Plus, the hours are more convenient. Maybe late-night is where the show always belonged.

Meanwhile, I find life experiences have added to my appreciation of the show, beyond its original run all those Saturday mornings ago. Since then I have passed from my former state -- call it arrested adolescence -- to my current status as a would-be adult and, as I mentioned before, a father.

And watching now I am struck by how right, how dead-on, Paul Reubens got his portrayal of a little boy. Never mind the, um, lipstick and those white bucks -- Pee-wee embodies universal traits of boyhood: He is irrepressible, silly, bratty, sweet, imaginative, always ready for fun, and always ready to be pleased with himself. Much like the little boy I've lived with since 1994.

And like him, Pee-wee is outspoken, passionate to put across important sentiments: "I love my toys," he declares. "But I'm not gonna marry 'em!" Understood.

As a father, I find Pee-wee's Playhouse isn't just funny and trippy, but also strikes pretty close to home. Long after I first met him, Pee-wee has been authenticated in a way I never could have dreamed.

This is Associated Press TV writer Frazier Moore Watching Television, sometimes with my son, for KCRW.

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Frazier Moore