DVD Review: Welcome Back, Kotter (The Complete Second Season)



The sophomore slump is notorious. After the first year of school, kids get a bit cocky thinking they know everything. Eventually they discover that familiarity doesn’t make you a repeat success. Of course in order to be a sophomore, you have to graduate from your freshman year. This was never a measure of achievement that the Sweathogs never had to worry about at Buchanan High School in the Brooklyn. They were freshman for life. Welcome Back, Kotter: The Complete Second Series maintains the gruff charm of the quartet of not-quite threatening students and their comic history teacher.

Those that were around in 1976 remember how the Sweathogs for the had become superstars that spent time on the cover of Dynamite magazine. Most of the time is was John Travolta for his portaryl of the dimwitted yet hunky Vinnie Barbarino. But that other three members of the non-offensive high school gang got their share of attention. Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs’s Freddie Boom-Boom Washington was a smooth talker that had made his mark in Cooley High. Ron Palillo became the most annoying voice on TV as the nasal and excitable Arnold Horshack. Robert Hegyes turned Juan Luis Pedro Felipo de Huevos Epstein into a slightly dangerous hoodlum who always had an excuse note from his mother. The foursome were kept in check by Gabe Kaplan playing a version of himself as Gabe Kotter, a former Sweathog who went to college and is now back in his old high school. He has hope that he can help these teens do more than spend their life hanging out at the corner. Vice-Principal Woodman (John Sylvester White) thinks Kotter is wasting his time with the eternally flunking Sweathogs. What keeps him together is his wonderful wife Julie (Marcia Strassman). The formula holds up for the second season since Travolta wasn’t yet the major movie star of Saturday Night Fever. He was only the evil student in Carrie at this point.

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The season starts with a backdoor pilot in “Career Day.” Pat Morita (Happy Days) shows up to talk to the loser kids about what a success his life is. He eventually offers Kotter a job with his company, but it would involve a move to Chicago. Of course Kotter turns down the gig otherwise Pat’s show wouldn’t have been Mr. T and Tina. It was produced by James Komack, the creator of Kotter and was canceled after five episodes with four left unaired. Sadly the complete Mr. T and Tina isn’t a bonus feature here. “Inherit The Halibut” fears deception in the Sweathogs. They think Washington has been stealing from their treasury. “The Museum” features a field trip with John Astin (The Addams Family) giving a tour. “Horshack vs. Carvelli” features Charles Fleischer (Roger Rabbit) throwing down with Arnold. Later this would be repeated in real life when Horshack battled Screech in Celebrity Boxing. That real fight was sad. This episode is funny. “Has Anyone Seen Arnold?” is a two-parter that deals with Horshack having to support his family when his mom’s fifth husband dies. He must find a long lost relative to land a good job. “Radio Free Freddie” seems to find the perfect job for Washington. But can he handle the fame from being behind the microphone? The real star of the episode is George Carlin as the hot disco DJ. Fred Gandy plays Carlin’s gopher before he’d get steady work on The Love Boat as Gopher.

For casual fans of Welcome Back, Kotter, the second season is the peak. The third season has the Sweathogs getting way to old to remain in high school without being older than their teachers. Travolta’s film career takes off and he cuts back his episodes. This is a happy time for the series. These are the episodes people want to remember and rewatch. Welcome Back, Kotter: The Complete Second Season is a prime time for a group of students with no plans for the future.

The video is 1.33:1 full frame. The series was shot on standard definition video so there’s a fuzzy edge to the image. The audio is Dolby Digital mono. You can hear all of Horshack’s responses.

No bonus features.

Welcome Back, Kotter: The Complete Second Season is the best of the show’s four year run. The Sweathogs and Gabe are basking in the glory of the show and not eager to jump for better opportunities.

Shout! Factory presents Welcome Back, Kotter: The Complete Second Season. Starring: Gabe Kaplan, John Travolta, Marcia Strassman and Ron Palillo. Boxset Contents: 23 episodes on 4 DVDs. Rated: Unrated. Released: January 20, 2015

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