CineFiles: Welcome Back, Kotter, The Birthday Boys and Low Winter Sun!


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Welcome Back, Kotter: The Complete Series (Not Rated)
Shout! Factory

Ooh ooh ooh, Mistah Kottah, Mistah Kottah! What a fun trip it’s been getting to know Mr. Kotter and the Sweathogs once again. Growing up with Nick at Nite, it was one of my appointment viewings and now, after 20 or so years, it’s been a blast to reunite and reformalize myself with the old gang on Shout! Factory’s 16-disc Welcome Back, Kotter: The Complete Series. It provides all four seasons of the groundbreaking sitcom that, among other landmarks, introduced a young John Travolta to the world. The premise of the show, about a former troublemaker who’s returned to his alma mater to teach the same very bastards he used to run with, was always ripe for laughs and lessons, but never preachy or cloying. Much more than a nostalgia purchase, Welcome Back, Kotter is truly a relic from a time when television tried just a little bit harder.

The Birthday Boys: The Complete First Season (Not Rated)
Anchor Bay Entertainment

An under-the-radar sketch comedy show trying desperately to be in the vein of Kids in the Hall or Mr. Show (Bob Odenkirk even acts as executive producer), The Birthday Boys is a mostly successful attempt, with more hits than misses. Mixing absurdist, surreal humor with some frat-boy dick jokes is always a fine line, and more often than not this troupe tries hard to straddle that line. Sketches such as the 1920s roots of rock ’n roll (lots of songs about grasshoppers) and computer enthusiasts who care too much about their garage clubhouse (the tennis-ball-and-string bit is priceless) are definitely on point. Then there are characters such as the Wacky Roofers, or the guy with too many shows on his DVR, which ring hollow. The Birthday Boys is altogether not a bad show, even if it's nothing you're likely to really seek out again, either.

Low Winter Sun: The Complete Series (Not Rated)
Anchor Bay Entertainment

Obviously lost in the shuffle of every other show on AMC about murder, deceit, corruption and revenge, the dirty-cop drama Low Winter Sun was actually one of the best, and it’s a shame it never got to find an audience. Two cops (including a compelling Mark Strong) murder a corrupt brother-in-blue; they think they've gotten away with the thing, but all hell breaks loose as one backfire after another casts them deep into the dark Detroit underworld, with very little promise of ever coming home. Based on the just-as-watchable British television series, this American take is pretty down-and-dirty, besting even classic efforts like The Shield, in my opinion. Too bad it didn’t catch on — I would’ve loved another 10 episodes to binge-watch this weekend.


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