Pee-wee returns! ‘80s TV, film icon to star in original Netflix flick

Burning question? Will now 60-something Pee-wee, AKA Paul Reubens, bring old fans and new ones back to his one-time quirky and (mostly) lovable character?

Pee-wee video intro shot.
Screen shot, YouTube video intro to vintage "Pee-wee's Playhouse" TV show.

WASHINGTON, February 24, 2015 – It’s long been rumored but is now a fact. In a story that just broke this afternoon, Deadline Hollywood reports that actor-comic Paul Reubens’ once phenomenally popular character Pee-wee Herman is absolutely for certain returning to the silver screen, more or less.

Paul Reubens, circa 1988.
Paul Reubens, aka Pee-wee, was still a big star back in 1988 when this photo was taken. (Via Wikipedia)

“Some 30 years after he first brought his bow-tied eternal boy character Pee-wee Herman to movie screens in the superb Tim Burton-directed ‘Pee-wee’s Big Adventure,’” enthuses the gossipy online pub, “Paul Reubens will be reviving the character in a movie for Netflix. The streaming service has announced it will release globally ‘Pee-wee’s Big Holiday,’ a film that producer Judd Apatow has been cooking up with Reubens for some time.

“Said Reubens (channeling Pee-wee): ‘Judd and I dreamt up this movie four years ago. The world was much different back then— Netflix was waiting by the mailbox for red envelopes to arrive. I’ve changed all that. The future is here. Get used to it. Bowtie is the new black.’”

Reubens’ quirky, original character, modeled partially on old kids’ TV show hosts—including “Pinky Lee,” which aired in the 1950s—started out on the comedy and late night circuits before attracting the attention of TV producers who marshaled in Reubens’ phenomenally popular kids’ show “Pee-wee’s Playhouse,” an ‘80s mainstay on the tube.

The following YouTube intro clip is a good way to re-create the mood of this genuinely off-the-wall kids’ favorite. (Unavoidably begins with boxed set Blu-ray commercial and launches annoying pop-up ad, BTW):

“Pee-wee’s Playhouse” led to equally popular movie spinoffs, and Reubens’ continued success seemed assured. That is, until the early 1990s, when some snoopy cops in Sarasota, Florida, caught Reubens in a theater watching porn films and getting a bit more personally involved in the action than local statutes allowed.

Paul Reubens Sarasota mugshot.
Oops. Pee-wee gets a mugshot. This overblown Sarasota, Florida incident wrecked Paul Reubens’ career. (Via Wikipedia)

The cops subsequently booked a rather disheveled-looking Reubens for that victimless indiscretion. His mugshot was leaked and quickly—even for the Twitter-deprived ‘90s—went whatever “viral” was in the media back then.

Given Pee-wee’s kiddie fan-base, that kind of scandal proved too much for Reubens’ TV and film producers, and he was essentially blacklisted, his promising career utterly destroyed. It was a sad and seemingly unfair comedown for an actor whose TV series had copped a total of 22 Emmy Awards over its initial five-season run.

But even after this catastrophic setback, Reubens never gave up, in spite of another dubious encounter with kiddie porn charges in the early 2000s—charges for which his involvement or guilt were never directly proved.

We first recollect Reubens’ initial attempt to re-introduce himself to the public, showing up (not as Pee-wee) in a tiny role as the fastidious and horrified dad of a little monster named Oswald Cobblepot—aka the future Penguin—in “Batman Returns,” the second Michael Keaton film in the 1990s Batman reboot.

Reubens thereafter periodically appeared in other cameos and cartoon voiceovers in the following years, his slow rehabilitation and return aided by his many sympathetic friends and co-workers in the entertainment industry.

As for Pee-wee’s new Netflix streaming flick, Deadline notes:

“Reubens and Paul Rust wrote the script, and making his feature directing debut is John Lee, whose credits include ‘Inside Amy Schumer’ (with whom Apatow teams on the upcoming comedy ‘Trainwreck’). This becomes the latest feature project to bypass theaters for a straight run on a streaming service….

“Reubens has occasionally reminded the world of his comic talent in [brief TV] stints like [TV series] ‘Murphy Brown,’ but this will be the biggest thing for him in a long time. [Previously] he revived the Pee-wee character in a stage run that started in Los Angeles in 2010 and moved to Broadway and got rave reviews.”

Paul Reubens and friends.
More recent 2006 photo featuring (L) Michael Rugg, curator of the Bigfoot Discovery Museum, (R) Paul Reubens, and (C) something that looks more like a bear than Bigfoot. (Via Wikipedia)

As for the premise of Netflix’ new Pee-wee film, Deadline notes, “In ‘Pee-wee’s Big Holiday,’ a fateful meeting with a mysterious stranger inspires Pee-wee Herman to take his first-ever holiday in this epic story of friendship and destiny.”

The big question here is just what combination of nostalgia and curiosity from millennials might re-kindle this one-time cult figure. Netflix’ first attempt to bring back an oddball early 2000 TV comedy series, Fox’s former “Arrested Development,” largely fell flat, due in this reviewer’s opinion to a dull, uninteresting series of scripts as well as half-hearted performances by the show’s original (and now older) cast members.

But Netflix pioneered a new way of doing films and shows and now has many successful efforts to show for it.

So, will “Pee-wee’s Big Holiday” end up as the latest lucrative feather in Netflix’ cap? It’s impossible to say, but it looks like we’ll find out fairly soon.

In the meantime, we’ll keep you posted if we hear of further developments.


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