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Welcome Back, Kotter - The Complete Series


TITLE: WELCOME BACK, KOTTER - THE COMPLETE SERIES


Info:

Release Date: August 26, 2014 (Shout! Factory)
Color/1975-1979
MSRP: $129.99
Packaging: Viva Cases in Large Cardboard Box
Number of Discs: 16
Number of Episodes: 95
Running Time: 2409 minutes
Running Time of Features: 34 minutes
Audio: English
Subtitles and Captioning: Closed-Captioned
Special Features: "Only a Few Degrees from a Sweathog" feature; Original Screen Tests


Introduction:

The Sweathogs have returned (and finished!) on DVD with Shout! Factory's release of Welcome Back, Kotter - The Complete Series. The 16 disc release brings all 95 episodes to DVD, with over 2/3 of them arriving on DVD for the very first time. For those unfamiliar with the series, it starred Gabe Kaplan as Gabe Kotter, the remedial social studies teacher at James Buchanan High School. It followed the comedic antics of Mr. Kotter and his students, Arnold Horshack (Ron Palillo), Freddie Boom-Boom Washington (Lawrence-Hilton Jacobs), Juan Epstein (Robert Hegyes), and of course, Vinnie Barbarino (John Travolta). Rounding out the cast were Marcia Strassman as Julie Kotter and John Sylvester White as the principal, Mr. Woodman.

The series was first released in 2006 with a "best of" release that didn't satisfy fans, and that was followed up in 2007 with a release of the first season, which did satisfy fans a bit until it became clear that further seasons weren't planned... until 2014, when all of them have finally arrived on DVD.


Episodes:

With 95 episodes, it is hard to talk about all of them, but we'll discuss as many as we reasonably can here. The series starts with the pilot "Welcome Back," where we first meet the Sweathogs and their new teacher. James Woods guest stars in "The Great Debate," where the debating class and the Sweathogs go head-to-head in a debate. A female Sweathog tells Gabe she is pregnant in "Whodunit?," and Gabe wants to know which of his Sweathogs is the father. Washington is ready to marry in "Classroom Marriage." A new student wants to learn, but what she wants to learn about is Mr. Kotter, in "California Dreamin." Horshack is moving up to the higher class in "Arrivederci, Arnold," and nobody wants him to leave. Hotter is taking his high school final exams in "Kotter Makes Good." The first season ends with "Father Vinnie," where Barbarino's dying grandmother's wish is for him to become a father... well, as in a priest.

Season two begins with "Career Day," where a Japanese inventor (guest star Pat Morita) offers Gabe a golden opportunity. Gave has to put the end to a Sweathog gang in "Sweatside Story." In "Sweathog, Nebraska Style," Julie's sister visits from Nebraska, and promptly hooks up with (and becomes!) a Sweathog. Dinah Manoff guest stars in "Sadie Hawkins Day." Epstein stands in the way of love in "A Love Story." In "Chicken a la Kotter," Gabe has a root canal and is forced to take an unusual job to pay for the procedure. Arnold is missing in the two-part episode "Whatever Happened to Arnold?" Gabe and Julie get some good news in "The Littlest Sweathog." In "Radio Free Freddie," Freddie becomes a successful DJ. George Carlin guest stars.

In season three, Julie's surprise is almost out of the oven in the two-part episode "And Baby Makes Four." Horshack falls for a cult in "The Deprogramming of Arnold Horshack." Hotter dreams big when Mr. Woodman's contract is up in "Kotter for Vice Principal." A nude mural painted by Epstein has Julie's face on it in "Epstein's Madonna." A girl wants to become an official Sweathog in "Angie." In "Epstein's Term Paper," Kotter recognizes the term paper that Epstein turned in as his own from eleven years earlier! Washington gets hooked on pills in "What Goes Up." In "Goodbye Mr. Kripps," Mr. Kripps drops dead while yelling at Barbarino, which leads to Barbarino turning himself in for murder.

And then there is, of course, the fourth season, a bit of a departure from the first three. This is obvious from the first episode, the two parter "The Drop-Ins," where new students have joined the Sweathogs and Kotter has been promoted to vice principal (Woodman is now principal). Barbarino misplaces Woodman at the hospital in "Barbarino's Boo-Boo." An X-rated film gets mixed up with a sex education film in "X-Rated Education." No sitcom would be complete without a "birth in an elevator" episode, which happens in "Barbarino's Baby." Della Reese guest stars in "Come Back, Little Arnold," where Horshack turns to alcohol. You won't believe who gets married in the two-part episode "Oo-Oo, I Do." The series ends with "The Breadwinners," where Epstein interviews for a job that has already been taken... by a Sweathog.

I can't speak with certainty as to whether or not the episodes are unedited, but for the most part they seem fine, with a few that are a little shorter (though they do not cause serious alarm, as every episode is still over 24 minutes). Runtimes are as follows:

Season 1, Disc 1
1. "Welcome Back" (25:20)
2. "The Great Debate" (25:11)
3. "Basket Case" (25:11)
4. "Whodunit?" (25:09)
5. "The Election" (25:14)
6. "No More Mister Nice Guy" (25:09)

Season 1, Disc 2
7. "Classroom Marriage" (25:09)
8. "One of Our Sweathogs is Missing" (25:11)
9. "Mr. Kotter, Teacher" (25:09)
10. "The Reunion" (25:10)
11. "Barbarino's Girl" (25:10)
12. "California Dreamin'" (25:09)

Season 1, Disc 3
13. "Arrivederci, Arnold" (25:12)
14. "The Longest Weekend" (24:47)
15. "The Sit-In" (25:10)
16. "Follow the Leader (Part 1)" (25:09)
17. "Follow the Leader (Part 2)" (25:11)
18. "Dr. Epstein, I Presume" (25:12)

Season 1, Disc 4
19. "One Flu Over the Cuckoo's Nest" (25:21)
20. "The Telethon" (25:10)
21. "Hotter Makes Good" (25:08)
22. "Father Vinnie" (25:09)

Season 2, Disc 1
23. "Career Day" (25:05)
24. "Inherit the Halibut" (25:05)
25. "Sweated Story" (25:07)
26. "The Fight" (24:23)
27. "The Museum" (25:06)
28. "Gabe Under Pressure" (25:06)

Season 2, Disc 2
29. "Sweathog, Nebraska Style" (25:09)
30. "Sadie Hawkins Day" (25:06)
31. "Hello Ms. Chips" (25:10)
32. "Horshack vs. Carvelli" (25:10)
33. "Sweathog Clinic for the Cure of Smoking" (25:08)
34. "Hark, the Sweat Kings" (25:07)

Season 2, Disc 3
35. "A Love Story" (25:10)
36. "Caruso's Way" (25:08)
37. "Sweatgate Scandal" (25:07)
38. "Kotter and Son" (24:15)
39. "Chicken a la Kotter" (25:09)

Season 2, Disc 4
40. "Whatever Happened to Arnold? (Part 1)" (25:01)
41. "Whatever Happened to Arnold? (Part 2)" (25:14)
42. "The Littlest Sweathog" (25:08)
43. "Radio Free Freddie" (25:08)
44. "I'm Having Their Baby" (25:08)
45. "I Wonder Who's Kissing Gabe Now?" (25:09)

Season 3, Disc 1
46. "Sweathog Back-to-School Special" (24:25)
47. "And Baby Makes Four (Part 1)" (25:07)
48. "And Baby Makes Four (Part 2)" (25:10)
49. "The Visit" (25:10)
50. "Buddy, Can You Spare a Million?" (24:56)
51. "Just Testing" (25:09)
52. "The Deprogramming of Arnold Horshack" (25:10)

Season 3, Disc 2
53. "What a Move!" (25:11)
54. "A Novel Idea" (25:07)
55. "Barbarino in Love (Part 1)" (25:10)
56. "Barbarino in Love (Part 2)" (25:11)
57. "Kotter for Vice Principal" (25:08)
58. "Swine and Punishment" (25:10)
59. "Epstein's Madonna" (25:06)

Season 3, Disc 3
60. "Sweathog Christmas Special" (25:10)
61. "Sweatwork" (25:10)
62. "Meet Your New Teacher: Batteries Not Included" (24:23)
63. "Angie" (25:08)
64. "Epstein's Term Paper" (25:09)
65. "There's No Business... (Part 1)" (25:08)
66. "There's No Business... (Part 2)" (25:09)

Season 3, Disc 4
67. "What Goes Up" (25:11)
68. "Goodbye Mr. Kripps" (25:11)
69. "Horshack and Madame X!" (25:05)
70. "The Kiss" (25:08)
71. "The Return of Hotsy Totsy" (25:09)
72. "Class Encounters of the Carvelli Kind" (25:09)

Season 4, Disc 1
73. "The Drop-Ins (Part 1)" (25:43)
74. "The Drop-Ins (Part 2)" (25:36)
75. "Beau's Jest" (25:36)
76. "Don't Come Up and See Me Sometime" (25:36)
77. "Once Upon a Ledge" (25:35)
78. "The Sweatmobile" (25:36)

Season 4, Disc 2
79. "Barbarino's Boo-Boo" (25:36)
80. "X-Rated Education" (25:36)
81. "The Barbarino Blues" (24:10)
82. "Washington's Clone" (25:21)
83. "Frog Day Afternoon" (25:36)
84. "A Little Fright Music" (25:31)

Season 4, Disc 3
85. "A Winter's Coat Tail" (25:35)
86. "Bride and Gloom" (25:04)
87. "Barbarino's Baby" (25:04)
88. "The Goodbye Guy" (25:37)
89. "Come Back, Little Arnold" (25:07)
90. "The Sweat Smell of Success" (25:04)

Season 4, Disc 4
91. "The Gang Show" (25:07)
92. "Oo-Oo, I Do (Part 1)" (25:05)
93. "Oo-Oo, I Do (Part 2)" (25:05)
94. "I'm Okay, But You're Not" (25:06)
95. "The Breadwinners" (25:04)


Packaging:

I really like the packaging on this set. The set comes packaged in four Viva cases (one for each season) inside of a larger outer box. On the cover of the outer box, there is a very nice cast photo, with a few more cast photos and a brief description of the series on the back. But where this set gets nice on the packaging is when you get to the four Viva cases. Each one is designed to look like a textbook. Season 1 is the "math book," Season 2 is the "social studies book," Season 3 is the "science book," and Season 4 is the "English book." And when you open each case, you'll even find one of those standard high school textbook "THIS BOOK IS THE PROPERTY OF" stamps with the names of a different character on the show in the "ISSUED TO" column, and the years that the episode aired in the "YEAR USED" column. It's a very nice touch! Also, the series title is printed on each case in a way that looks like an imprint from one of the old label makers from the 70s. The back of each case has a description of the season, along with a listing of episodes by disc. And the disc have basic artwork, with silhouettes of Kotter and the student who "owns" the textbook for the season on each disc on what appears to be a background of crumpled paper. Finally, a nice episode booklet is included with descriptions of all of the episodes on the set.


Menu Design and Navigation:

The menus are rather basic, but they do the job. The main menu on each disc has the theme song playing, with options of Play All and a listing of all of the episodes on a green chalkboard background. Once you select an episode, it plays right away.


Video and Audio Quality:

This is a videotaped show from the 70s, so you can't really expect a whole lot of greatness from the video. The video isn't as sharp as one would hope (but it is as sharp as one would expect), and the audio can be a tad bit low at times, but I'm not sure that these are really valid complaints. It is worth noting that at the beginning of Disc 2 of Season 3, Shout! has included a disclaimer regarding the video and audio quality of the episodes. This is the only disc where this appears. I'm not completely sure what they're even referring to here, although the episode "Epstein's Madonna" does seem to have a few minor video defects, but nothing to be too concerned about. It is entirely possible that I missed something bigger, but I didn't notice any major issues. Finally, each episode is closed-captioned.


Special Features:

Shout! Factory usually does pretty well on these special features, but not quite so much this time. In fact, the only special features that we have on this set are the same ones that were included on Warner Home Video's release of the first season, so if you own that set, there are no new special features to be found on this set. Both are found on Season 1, Disc 4.

The first special feature is "Only a Few Degrees From a Sweathog" (23:26), which is a series of interview of the entire cast (sans Travolta...) as they share their memories of the series. We even have the members of the cast who have died in recent years in this feature since it was recorded in 2007. Among those in the interviews are Gabe Kaplan, Marcia Strassman, Robert Hegyes, Lawrence-Hilton Jacobs, and Ron Palillo. Additionally, Alan Sacks and Eric Cohen participate in this feature.

The other special feature is screen tests, which are (as the name suggests) the original screen tests for the cast members (11:23), including John Travolta, Lawrence-Hilton Jacobs, Marcia Strassman, Robert Hegyes, and Ron Palillo.


Final Comments:

I never believed that we would see this series released on DVD, much less a complete series. And to top it off, it is even more surprising that Warner Home Video actually licensed this out to Shout! Factory, considering how little licensing Warner actually does. Nonetheless, we have all of the episodes on DVD. It sort of surprised me how few of these episodes I actually remembered. There were a handful of episodes that I remembered very clearly, but most were sort of a fuzzy memory, especially in the fourth season (which, by the way, wasn't nearly as bad as I remember it being). I didn't get a chance to watch all of the episodes before writing the review, but I really do look forward to doing a thorough viewing of the series from the very first to very last episode soon to watch how everything progressed over the series.

While I am disappointed that Shout! Factory put out a complete series with essentially just episodes (reusing Warner Home Video's already produced special features is sort of cheating, though I'm glad they did at least include them), I am glad that they at least did a great job of putting together the entire series in what appears to be unedited form. Shout! Factory also did a nice job with the packaging on this release. It is perhaps one of the nicest packages I've ever seen for a DVD set that doesn't go to extremes (toolboxes, shag carpet, houses, and cars, anybody?). I'm really appreciating this new strategy that Shout! is taking by pushing complete series, because it gives fans the chance to get everything all at once without worrying about whether or not the series will be finished, and it is getting a lot of classic series wrapped up once and for all. If you're a fan of this show at all, this set is definitely worth picking up.


Final Numbers (out of 5 stars - How our point system works)

Video Quality: 4/5
Audio Quality: 4/5
Special Features: 1/5
Menu Design/Navigation: 4.5/5
Overall: 4/5

-- Reviewed by skees53 on 08/24/14

To purchase the DVD, click below and help support SitcomsOnline.com:

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00JHH1VDC/ref=nosim/happydaysonline4-20

Questions or comments about this set? Post on our message board:

http://www.sitcomsonline.com/boards/showthread.php?t=327757


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