A sitcom beloved by many, "Welcome Back, Kotter" aired on ABC from 1975-1979 and starred Gabriel Kaplan (a feature film remake is reportedly in the works starring Ice Cube) as Gabe Kotter, a teacher who finds himself returning to the school he graduated from - James Buchanan High in Brooklyn, New York. Upon arrival, he finds that he's been assigned to teach a group known as "the Sweathogs", a group of misbehaving students lead by one Vinnie Barbarino (John Travolta, in a star-making performance prior to "Grease") and also containing Epstein (Robert Hegyes), Arnold Horshack (Ron Palillo) and Freddie Washington (Lawrence-Hilton Jacobs). Kotter is initally reluctant to take the job, but he and his wife, Julie (Marcia Strassman), need the money.
Soon enough, Kotter has managed to warm up to the bunch, who are an amusing group of misfits. Travolta's early effort is charming, funny and the actor delivers his hilariously dim lines with perfect timing. It's a reminder of what the actor once showed himself capable of, as he turned Vinnie Barbarino into a classic television character.
Kaplan was also terrific in the role, able to shut down the Sweathogs' mischief with his superbly deadpan delivery, which played off the other characters perfectly. Palillo, Hegyes and Jacobs also boasted excellent supporting efforts, as well. The series didn't differ much from episode-to-episode, but manage to vary the situations up a bit and move the focus to the supporting characters on occasion. While the series appears quite dated in the looks department, the writing still remains snappy and the show holds up pretty well as a fun, light sitcom.
Some of the highlights of this first season include: "The Great Debate" (Kotter's class takes on the school's debate team), "Welcome Back" (the pilot episode - which actually aired third - has Kotter first returning to his old high school), "The Election" (Vinnie runs into trouble when he runs for student body president), "Follow The Leader" (after being ousted as leader of the Sweathogs, Vinnie moves into the Kotter apartment and Julie moves out), "Kotter Makes Good" (a mix-up has Kotter taking his high school finals again) and "Father Vinnie" (Vinnie decides to become a priest.)
1st Season 1975
1- 1 9 Sep 75 The Great Debate
1- 2 16 Sep 75 Basket Case
1- 3 23 Sep 75 Welcome Back (pilot)
1- 4 30 Sep 75 Whodunit?
1- 5 7 Oct 75 The Election
1- 6 14 Oct 75 No More Mr. Nice Guy
1- 7 21 Oct 75 Classroom Marriage
1- 8 28 Oct 75 One of Our Sweathogs Is Missing
1- 9 4 Nov 75 Mr. Kotter, Teacher
1-10 18 Nov 75 The Reunion
1-11 25 Nov 75 Barbarino's Girl
1-12 2 Dec 75 California Dreamin'
1-13 16 Dec 75 Arrividerci, Arnold
1-14 6 Jan 76 The Longest Weekend
1-15 13 Jan 76 The Sit-in
1-16 20 Jan 76 Follow the Leader (1)
1-17 22 Jan 76 Follow the Leader (2)
1-18 29 Jan 76 Dr. Epstein, I Presume
1-19 5 Feb 76 One Flu Over the Cuckoo's Nest
1-20 12 Feb 76 The Telethon
1-21 19 Feb 76 Kotter Makes Good
1-22 26 Feb 76 Father Vinnie
VIDEO: "Welcome Back, Kotter" is presented by Warner Brothers Home Entertainment in 1.33:1 full-frame, the show's original aspect ratio. Presentation quality is just okay, as the series certainly looks its age. Sharpness and detail are not so hot, as while the picture doesn't look blurry or hazy, the shot-on-video production certainly looks noticably soft throughout the running time. Colors looked a bit flat and occasionally somewhat smeary, as well. Overall, the series doesn't look too far off from how it originally looked when broadcast, but it still would have been nice if a little restoration work had been done.
SOUND: Average mono audio, sounding about as good as one would expect from a 70's sitcom - in other words, nothing great, but at least no considerable problems were noticed.
EXTRAS: "Only a Few Degrees From a Sweathog" is a 23-minute featurette that features new interviews with Gabriel Kaplan, Marcia Strassman, Robert Hegyes, Ron Palillo and others (not surprisingly, no Travolta.) The featurette doesn't go into great depth, but it does provide a warm, entertaining "look back" from the participants. We also get screen tests from some of the participants. Hopefully, future season sets will provide more features (commentaries, etc.)
Final Thoughts: "Welcome Back, Kotter" does look quite dated at this point, but the humor still stands up well, as the performances and writing remain just as entertaining today. The DVD presentation offers so-so image quality, satisfactory audio and a couple of minor extras. Recommended for fans.