You have to be pretty cool to get applause just for getting out of bed. Apparently Gabe Kaplan was that cool in 1975. The opening scene of the pilot (which is listed as episode 2) of Welcome Back, Kotter consists of his wife, Julie (Marcia Strassman — Is it me, or does she look like she could be a Deschanel?) attempting to fold him up in their hide-a-bed. He leaps up and the applause track roars.
When Robert Hegyes, aka Juan Epstein, died back in January I promised a post on this pilot, but never quite got around to it. (I do have a day job.) But I cannot let the passing of Ron Palillo, aka Arnold Horshack, pass unmarked. He may be the most memorable — certainly the most imitated — character from the show. Continue reading
With today’s passing of Robert “Juan Epstein” Hegyes, I am eager to review the pilot of Welcome Back, Kotter. I’m curious to see if I would even remember the pilot, because although I loved the show, I have only vague recollections of it. For the record, I always thought that Epstein was the cutest. (Sorry, John Travolta.) At the moment, I don’t have time to watch the whole thing and do it justice, so I thought I’d just mention a few details .
The show debutued in September of 1975. The pilot episode titled, appropriately, “Welcome Back,” was actually either the second or third to air depending on whether you believe Amazon or Wikipedia. The wacky order is a reminder of a time when sit-coms were totally episodic and you could figure out exactly what was going on by choosing any episode at random.
Here’s a clip:
The pilot is set on Gabe Kotter’s first day teaching at his alma mater, James Buchanan High School in New York City. He finds out that his students, the legacy of a gang he himself founded, are a bunch of aspiring young criminals. All of the main characters appear in the pilot, but I couldn’t say whether Epsetin shows up with a note signed “Epstein’s Mother” in this one. More later.
For even more fun here’s a “Where Are They Now?” for the cast.