Critic’s Pick: TV Picks: ‘Pee-wee’s Big Holiday,’ ‘Ice Age’ Easter, eagle-cam
“Pee-wee’s Big Holiday” (Netflix). The third Pee-wee Herman film finally arrives, following the second, “Big Top Pee Wee,” by only nearly three decades. (It’s the first new Pee-wee material since the 2010 stage show and subsequent HBO special, and the best new Pee-wee material since “Pee-wee’s Playhouse” went off the air in 1991.) On the one hand, there’s something quixotic about this enterprise, something a little mad in Paul Reubens, at 63, playing a character he first wore at 30; on the other hand, hurray! We are living in a Why Not moment in which crazy ideas can find purchase, where new media companies with cash are willing to fund films and series that the old school finds too weird, risky or uncool to seriously consider. And so Netflix, which has already brought you “Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp” and “Fuller House,” has made itself the instrument of Pee-wee’s return.
As much as “The Force Awakens” was made in the spirit of “A New Hope,” “Holiday” has been forged in the episodic, road-movie image of “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure,” set not in the magic land of “Pee-wee’s Playhouse” but in a comic-book America knocked up from grade-school primers, pre-multicamera sitcoms, genre films and an old joke about the farmer’s daughter(s). The present film is not a sequel, any more than “Big Top” was one to “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure,” but rather a fresh context for an old friend (the catch phrases get their airing). This Pee-wee is in some ways new, an initially timid sort fearful of travel and averse to change; he has not yet entered the multicolored, multicultural, super-expressive nonconformist world of the “Playhouse” but lives a white-bread life in a white-bread town. This all changes when “Magic Mike” actor Joe Manganiello (playing “himself”) walks through the door of the diner where Pee-wee works, finds a soul mate and inspires a journey.
Whatever felicities of diet, makeup, photography, lighting and post-production digital wizardry have been applied, there is no sense, after a minute, that Reubens is too old to be doing this; there is less cognitive dissonance here between actor and role than in a late-period Jerry Lewis comedy, say, or a Rolling Stones concert, where septuagenarian millionaires impersonate rock ‘n’ roll bad boys and make millions more in the process.
Pee-wee is in any case a special case. It’s not just that he’s not a man and not a boy, but that he’s not not a man, and not not a boy, and that he’s all those things at once — ageless in a very special sense. Everything about him confounds your sense of the usual, leaving you left with his singular Pee-wee Hermanity. Neither does the film as a whole exist in a particular time; there are hints of 2016 — a selfie is taken — but as he travels from West Coast to East, Pee-wee moves in and out of decades past, and from town to country to wilderness to city. In Pee Wee’s New York City, the Empire State Building is still the tallest building in the world.
Also playing with one’s sense of time is the franchise’s peculiar brand of pre-sexual sexual tension, its chaste eroticism. (In one scene male strippers are hired — for a pillow fight.) “Pee-wee” has always been a strange mixture of the old-fashioned and the forward-thinking, the juvenile and the adult, the fixed and the fluid — “Playhouse” was perhaps the most (madly, casually) diverse television series of its time, even more than “Sesame Street,” which made a point of it. And surely this is the rare, if not only, family film ever to have taken major cues from the work of exploitation auteur Russ Meyer.
Judd Apatow produced it. Reubens wrote it with Paul Rust (currently co-writing and costarring in the Netflix series “Love,” also produced, and co-written, by Apatow). John Lee, whose other projects have tended toward what we used to call transgressive — MTV’s twisted twist on “Sesame Street,” “Wonder Showzen,” Adult Swim’s supernatural Southern Gothic soap opera parody “The Heart, She Holler” — directed it. Look for old friends Lynne Marie Stewart (Miss Yvonne of “Playhouse” fame) as the proprietress of a snake farm and Diane Louise Salinger (Simone in “Big Adventure”) as a Katharine Hepburnesque aviatrix, with a name out of “Sky King.”
“Ice Age: The Great Egg-scapade” (Fox, Sunday). Easter is just a springtime party for the prehistoric mammals and birds of the “Ice Age” franchise, whose digitally encoded carcasses are once again roused from hard-drive hibernation to populate a holiday special. It’s a kind of origin story for painted eggs, chocolate animals, the Easter bunny. Given 22 minutes of screen time, it opts for action and comedy over character relationships, with Ray Romano and Queen Latifah’s woolly mammoths and Denis Leary’s saber-toothed somewhat to the side of things and John Leguizamo’s hapless, paradoxically antic Sid the sloth at the center; here, he opens a daycare center for the pre-hatched. (“When we work together, we can fix any mistake I make,” he says, pretty much summing up the whole business.) With Taraji. P. Henson and Wendy Williams adding new voices to the starry mix, and Seth Green taking over from Aziz Ansari as Squint the pirate bunny, the special’s nutcase antagonist. I don’t like the way the filmmakers habitually torture Scrat, the saber-toothed squirrel, but apart from that gratuitous violence, it should be a pleasant use of your pre-Easter Sunday Sunday. (More so than “The Passion.”) Fun fact: Mark Mothersbaugh, who scored “Pee-wee’s Big Holiday” also scored this. Sample dialog: Clint, the not-a-pirate bunny (Blake Anderson, from “Workaholics”): “My family’s made its home in this valley for 13 generations — that’s almost four years.”
Washington D.C. Bald Eagle Nest Cam (dceaglecam.eagles.org). Live from a relatively remote corner of the National Arboretum in Washington, D.C., two 24-hour cams focus on the nest of the mated bald eagles known since 2014, when they first arrived, as Mr. President and the First Lady. One egg hatched Wednesday; a second is expected to hatch this weekend. It’s as if, as national birds, they’re trying to remind the body impolitic that there’s more to this country than the weird noises emanating from the current presidential campaign, halls of Congress, etc., something that predates and hopefully will survive human fecklessness. (Still, it was people who put these cameras up; there may be hope for us yet.)
Follow Robert Lloyd on Twitter @LATimesTVLloyd
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