Welcome Back, Kotter—Season 1

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7.5 Overall Score
Story: 7/10
Acting: 7/10
Visuals: 8/10

Fun '70s throwback, the Sweathogs

Too much Kotter

 
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Transport yourself back to the ’70s!

Gabe Kotter (Gabe Kaplan) is right back where he started.  Returning as a teacher to James Buchanan High in Brooklyn, Gabe finds himself teaching the remedial class nicknamed the Sweathogs.  With his wife Julie (Marcia Strassman), Gabe tries to navigate teaching Vincent “Vinnie” Barbarino (John Travolta), Freddie “Boom Boom” Washington (Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs), Juan Epstein (Robert Hegyes), and Arnold Horshack (Ron Palillo) under the watchful eye of vice-principal Mr. Woodman (John Sylvester White).  Being in school has never been more fun!

Welcome Back, Kotter—Season 1 aired from September 9, 1975 to February 26, 1976 on ABC.  The series became an instant hit and was nominated for two Primetime Emmys for Outstanding Comedy Series and Outstanding Achievement in Video Tape Editing for a Series (“The Telethon”).  The hit song “Welcome Back” by John Sebastian (of the Lovin’ Spoonfuls) hit number one in spring of 1976 and actually lead to the title change from Kotter to Welcome Back, Kotter.

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John Travolta only succeeds if he can dance!

Welcome Back, Kotter was met with some controversy due to its subject.  Many complained that the show glorified underachieving (something that was also accused of The Simpsons) and Boston stations didn’t air the show due to problems with busing in the city.  Despite the initial complains, the show shot to popularity and made a star out of John Travolta.

The stories of the first season (like most sitcoms at the time) were one-offs and unrelated.  The pilot episode actually aired as the third episode and “introduced” Kotter to the Sweathogs.  Other episodes would have characters introduced (like Bambi in “California Dreamin’”) and would rarely be seen or referenced again.  Other issues include the inconsistencies in writing like John Travolta dating Judy Borden (in “Barbarino’s Girl”) but no reference occurring later or Boom Boom’s girlfriend Verajean planning on moving but never leaving.  It was ok in old series like this because they were never meant to be binge watched like they are today.

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Yes, Kotter…we realize you’re the star…tone it down

I do enjoy the cast…for the most part.  John Travolta is charming as Vinnie, Ron Palillo is a laugh maker as Horshack, and I always liked both Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs’ suave move as Boom Boom and Robert Hegyes as the conning Epstein (full name Juan Luis Pedro Felipo De Huevos Epstein).  John Sylvester White plays the typical school heavy as Mr. Woodman and Marcia Strassman is good as the ying to Kotter’s yang.

The biggest problem with Welcome Back, Kotter is Kotter himself.  I think Gabe Kaplan is rather annoying as Kotter and yells all of his lines.  While the kids manage to keep him in check, the stand-up comedian isn’t a very good actor and the series relies too heavily on him (he was the creator).  The opening and closing jokes are a bit too standup structured and only work when Julie throws a wrench in his delivery.  It is forgivable in the context of the series as a whole, but does take away from the enjoyment.

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The unsuccessful spin-off…”Woodman Sings!!!”

I remember it felt like Welcome Back, Kotter was always on when I was young with reruns filling the air.  Ironically, I rarely watched the show and it was good to sit and watch this season from start to finish.  It was a lot of fun to watch and I wish the makers would release the series as individual season…an expensive complete series was released, but for only four seasons, it seems overpriced.  I still can recommend checking out Welcome Back, Kotter…if you don’t at least enjoy the retro feel, up your nose with a rubber hose!!!

Welcome Back, Kotter—Season 1 Complete Episode Guide:

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“The Great Debate”

1.1       The Great Debate Airdate:  09/09/75

Kotter (Gabe Kaplan) challenges his Sweathogs against the Debate Team of Mr. Welles (James Woods).  With Mr. Woodman (John Sylvester White) as the moderator, the Sweathogs set to prove they can win!

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“Basket Case”

1.2       Basket Case Airdate:  09/16/75

When Boom Boom (Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs) fails a test, Kotter finds pressure to pass him.  When Kotter challenges Boom Boom to a basketball game, it could end up killing him.

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“Welcome Back”

1.3       Welcome Back Airdate:  09/23/75

Kotter remembers his first day back at James Buchanan High and debating quitting immediately…until he and his wife Julie (Marcia Strassman) got a visit at their apartment from the Sweathogs.

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“Whodunit?”

1.4       Whodunit? Airdate:  09/30/75

When Rosalie “Hotsie” Totsie (Debralee Scott) claims a Sweathog got her pregnant, Kotter sets out to find out who is responsible.

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“The Election”

1.5       The Election Airdate:  10/07/75

The Sweathogs have put Vinnie Barbarino (John Travolta) up for election with Epstein (Robert Hegyes) as his campaign manager.  When Kotter pushes for Barbarino to change his campaign, Vinnie threatens to drop out.

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“No More Mr. Nice Guy”

1.6       No More Mr. Nice Guy Airdate:  10/14/75

When Mr. Woodman begins to act strange, Kotter and his wife learn that he wants to return to teaching…leading to a spirited class about the revolution.  As Mr. Woodman gets popular, Kotter finds himself performing more like Mr. Woodman.

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“Classroom Marriage”

1.7       Classroom Marriage Airdate:  10/21/75

Boom Boom has decided to marry his girlfriend Vernajean (Vernee Watson-Johnson) when she is planning to move…and Kotter and the Sweathogs decide they better step in to stop it.

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“One of Our Sweathogs Is Missing”

1.8       One of Our Sweathogs Is Missing Airdate:  10/28/75

When Epstein loses a fight, the Sweathogs make fun of him.  Epstein runs away from home, and it is up to Kotter and the Sweathogs to find him.

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“Mr. Kotter, Teacher”

1.9       Mr. Kotter, Teacher Airdate:  11/04/75

Mr. Woodman objects to Kotter’s teaching method and brings him up on charges of not following the curriculum.  Kotter finds himself suspended and defending his job.

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“The Reunion”

1.10     The Reunion Airdate:  11/18/75

Mr. Kotter learns that his old classmate Lyle Flannigan (Michael Taylor) and his wife Mary (Bridget Hanley) are coming to visit…despite Kotter’s despise of Lyle and his perfect life.  When Kotter questions if he’s wasted his life, the Sweathogs crash the party to prove he’s wanted at James Buchanan High.

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“Barbarino’s Girl”

1.11     Barbarino’s Girl Airdate:  11/25/75

When Vinnie is failing Mr. Kotter’s class, Mr. Kotter sets him up with Judy Borden (Helaine Lembeck) to tutor him.  The Sweathogs learn that Judy and Vinnie are spending time together, and Vinnie decides he has to end it.

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“California Dreamin”

1.12     California Dreamin Airdate:  12/02/75

A new Sweathog named Bambi (Suze Lanier-Bramlett) arrives at James Buchanan High and despite getting all the Sweathogs attention, Bambi only has eyes for Kotter…but Bambi has secrets.

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“Arrividerci, Arnold”

1.13     Arrividerci, Arnold Airdate:  12/16/75

When Horshack (Ron Palillo) tests out of remedial class, the Sweathogs set out to get him back against Woodman’s wishes.

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“The Longest Weekend”

1.14     The Longest Weekend Airdate:  01/06/76

When Julie goes on a weekend skiing vacation, the Sweathogs decide Mr. Kotter has been dumped, and Mr. Kotter finds himself alone for the weekend.

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“The Sit-In”

1.15     The Sit-In Airdate:  01/1/76

The Sweathogs object to the cafeteria’s serving of liver.  When Kotter suggests a sit-in, the Sweathogs and Mr. Kotter plan for a long night in the classroom.

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“Follow the Leader: Part 1”

1.16     Follow the Leader:  Part 1 Airdate:  01/20/76

Julie objects to Gabe’s constant tending to his students and joking.  A class vote leads to Boom Boom taking over the Sweathogs…and a declaration that Vinnie intends to drop out of school.  When Gabe invites Vinnie to stay at the apartment, it could be the breaking point for Julie.

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“Follow the Leader: Part 2”

1.17     Follow the Leader:  Part 2 Airdate:  01/22/76

Barbarino tries to find work without school and Boom Boom struggles with leading the Sweathogs.  Julie’s moved out, and Gabe finds himself fighting for his marriage.

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“Dr. Epstein, I Presume”

1.18     Dr. Epstein, I Presume Airdate:  01/29/76

Kotter convinces Epstein to try to be a veterinarian due to his love of animals.  When the school career counselor (Laura Zucker) tells him that he doesn’t have the grades, the Sweathogs take it out on Kotter.

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“One Flu Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”

1.19     One Flu Over the Cuckoo’s Nest Airdate:  02/05/76

A flu epidemic is hitting James Buchanan High and the Sweathogs’ class is merged with the smart kids…leading the Sweathogs to question if their education is pointless.

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“The Telethon”

1.20     The Telethon Airdate:  02/12/76

James Buchanan High’s budget is shot.  With Mr. Woodman threatening to close down the remedial class and separate the Sweathogs, the Sweathogs set out to make money with a telethon.

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“Kotter Makes Good”

1.21     Kotter Makes Good Airdate:  02/19/76

Woodman can’t find any records that Kotter passed his classes and orders him to take the tests again or lose his teaching license.  It is up to the Sweathogs to get Kotter ready for the class, but Kotter might be a tough student.

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“Father Vinnie”

1.22     Father Vinnie Airdate:  02/26/76

Vinnie’s grandmother’s death leads to a problem for Vinnie when he feels he must honor her last wish for him to become a priest.

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Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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