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The Electric Company
EC logo 2009.png
Television logo
Format Children's television series
Comedy
Starring Priscilla "P-Star" Diaz
Jenni Barber
Josh Segarra
Ricky Smith
Ashley Austin Morris
Chris Sullivan
Country of origin United States
No. of episodes 40 (List of episodes)
Production
Running time 28 minutes
Broadcast
Original channel PBS
Original run January 19, 2009 (2009-01-19) – present

The Electric Company is an American children's educational program on PBS, derived from the classic 1971 series. The series premiered as a four episode mini-marathon on PBS on January 19, 2009, then became a weekly series with an episode shown each Friday. On September 7, 2009, it became a daily series. Like the original, this version is produced by Sesame Workshop.

The series is sometimes referred to as The New Electric Company to distinguish it from the 1970s series[citation needed].

Contents

Conception

The new version has similar short animations, sketches, and music videos to those seen in the original show, but each episode also features a story line designed to teach four to five vocabulary words. It also has more of an urban feel as some of the songs are hip-hop- or contemporary R&B-style. The narrative format of each episode is similar to those in the television series Ghostwriter. Each story revolves around the Electric Company, a group of four teenage literacy super heroes who battle a group of neighborhood villains dubbed the Pranksters. The heroes' headquarters is the Electric Diner, where their friend Shock, a beat-boxing short-order cook, works and also appears in short-form segments.

In the show's nod to the original series, each episode's opening has a Company member call to the others to assemble by yelling "Hey, you guys!!"—a line that (as yelled by Rita Moreno) led off the opening sequence in seasons two, five, and six.[1][2][3] Other nods to the original series include appearances by Paul the Gorilla and updated versions of the soft-shoe silhouette segments in which words are sounded out.

The revival includes interactive Web elements and is promoted and extended via community-outreach projects. Karen Fowler is executive producer on this version, which began production in May 2008. The first season consisted of 28 weekly episodes. And additional season of twelve more episodes began airing January 2010.

Characters

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The Electric Company

The Electric Company is a group of four friends who protect the neighborhood from the Pranksters. They all have the power to throw magical balls to create words on any surface. In addition, each member has a special skill:

  • Hector Ruiz: The oldest member of the Electric Company. He has the power to replay any image that he sees, much like a video camera. Hector is very athletic and coordinated but is sometimes slow on the uptake. He is portrayed by Josh Segarra.
  • Jessica Ruiz: Hector's younger sister. She has a power similar to her brother's—she can replay any word or phrase that she hears, much like a tape recorder. Jessica is occasionally brash, especially when it comes to dealing with the Pranksters. She is portrayed by P-Star (Priscilla Diaz).
  • Lisa Heffenbacher: A sweet, well-liked girl. She has the power to unscramble any anagrams that she finds at astonishing speed and can even change letters with enough concentration. Lisa is loved by everyone in the neighborhood, even though she is rather clumsy. She is portrayed by Jenni Barber.
  • Keith Watson: The youngest member of the Electric Company. He can generate images in mid-air, which comes in handy when explaining difficult words. Keith is logical and level-headed, and frequently creates solutions for dealing with the Pranksters' tricks. He is portrayed by Ricky Smith.

Allies

  • Shock: A short-order cook at the Electric Diner, where the Company converges when trouble occurs. Shock rarely speaks directly, instead beat-boxing and using his hands to act out ideas. Shock is portrayed by Chris Sullivan.
  • P.J. Watson: A very unusual cousin of Keith, played by Kyle Massey.

The Pranksters

The Pranksters are the Electric Company's rivals.

  • Francine Carruthers: The leader of the Pranksters. She has the same power as the Electric Company-the ability to generate "word balls" and throw them. Francine has a very high opinion of her own intelligence, and most of her plots involve making herself look good and defaming the Company. She is portrayed by Ashley Austin Morris.
  • Annie Scrambler: A girl who is frequently envious of the accomplishments of others. She has the power to scramble any word or sentence with a stomp of her foot. Annie is often jealous of the Electric Company's good luck, and usually works with her uncle Sigmund (Mark Linn-Baker), a hypnotist, to get back at her rivals. Annie is portrayed by Sandie Rosa.
  • Danny Rebus: A suave, sophisticated Prankster. He can turn any sentence into a rebus; most of his messages are made to make fun of the Electric Company. Danny is very proud, and often charges the Electric Company with making him look bad, prompting revenge. Danny is also very touchy. He is portrayed by William Jackson Harper.
  • Manny Spamboni: The largest and loudest of the Pranksters. He is the only member of the group that does not have any powers, but he is quite skilled in the art of robotics and mechanics. Manny is rude and crude, and uses his many gadgets to make trouble for the Electric Company. Manny is portrayed by Dominic Colon.

Cast

Cast members include P-Star as Jessica, Jenni Barber as Lisa, Josh Segarra as Hector, Ricky Smith as Keith, and Chris Sullivan as Shock.

Celebrities who have appeared on the show include Pete Wentz, Samantha Bee, Ne-Yo, Mario, Sean Kingston, Marc Ecko, Jack McBrayer, Tiki Barber, Whoopi Goldberg, Kyle Massey, Common, Jimmy Fallon, and Wyclef Jean. Besides his briefer appearances in season 1, Kyle Massey has had a recurring role in Season 2 as PJ, Keith's cousin

Mark Linn-Baker appears occasionally as Annie's uncle Sigmund. Broadway actor-composer Lin-Manuel Miranda does occasional guest appearances and contributes music to the show.

Tommy Kail, the director of Miranda's In the Heights, is one of the musical directors with Bill Sherman and the actor-musician Chris Jackson, a star of the original Broadway production of that show. Members of the hip hop comedy troupe Freestyle Love Supreme (of which Miranda, Sherman, Jackson, and Sullivan are members) make sporadic appearances in the musical segments as well.

Outreach

Educational content for the series is overseen by Scott Cameron, Director of Education of Research. The show's curriculum is aimed at struggling readers ages 6–9, which focuses on four major educational goals: phonics, vocabulary, connected text, and reading motivation. Vocabulary development and motivation were not part of the original show, but literacy experts advised that they be added to the new version. The addition of the narrative in each episode allows for 4 to 5 related vocabulary words to be introduced and reinforced per episode. Online games and downloadable PDFs provide additional vocabulary reinforcement and encourage children to discuss aspects of each episode's story line.

In addition to the weekly broadcast of the television series, extensive community outreach is planned in communities around the US. Partners include the Boys and Girls Clubs of America and Urban Libraries. Educational activities and games are provided for free online and to community partners.

PBS promoted the revival of this series through special previews shown at the end of WordGirl, a new Web site, and the purchase of an advertising billboard in New York's Times Square, which was seen on all major TV networks during coverage of 2009 New Year's Eve celebrations.

Portions of the new show have been shot on-location throughout New York City, including the Harlem School of the Arts and Coney Island, and Newark, New Jersey.

Episode descriptions

Critical reception

Positive

The show received generally positive reviews from critics, and currently has a 74/100 score on metacritic.com, based on eight reviews. The best came from Newsday, which said "With a visual sensibility that mimics a video game, Web browser and iPhone, as well as a hearty online presence with a social-networking bent, the new Electric Company seems to deliver."

Entertainment Weekly said "Though the hip ’n’ urban vibe seems overly calculated, did studies show that eight year olds respond to beatboxing white dudes?, and the cast is aggressively up with people, you gotta love new characters."

Negative

Reviews that cited negative aspects of the show compared it to the 1970s Electric Company. Interestingly, despite the general consensus that the average attention span has decreased since the 1970s, the new version uses much longer segments and story arcs compared to the 1970s series (which always consisted of both long and short segments {some only running a few seconds}, with very few story arcs).

  • The New York Daily News said "The only problem here is that once in a while the producers and cast get so enthusiastic about their production numbers [that] their words become almost unintelligible."
  • The New York Times stated[4] that although the new series is respectable, "it all feels a little corporate somehow" and "today’s children will certainly find it watchable and will have better language skills after spending time with it. They just aren’t likely to still be holding it in their hearts 35 years from now."
  • The Los Angeles Times called the story aspects of the show "unnecessarily complicated and off the point",[5] citing that the 1970s series "spent more time teaching, at no cost to entertainment".
  • The Washington Post praised the new series, but stated that it reminded them of Ghostwriter, not the 1970s Electric Company. "The original show; low concept, high energy, knew that words didn't have to have literal superpowers in order to be worthwhile and, occasionally, magical."[6]

References

External links


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