Gabe Kotter, formerly a Sweathog, returns to James Buchanan High as a teacher and is assigned the remedial class to which he once belonged. Mr. Kotter is an involved and caring teacher, which one would have to be in dealing with a certain four students in his class, who end up in trouble on a regular basis -- lady's man Vinnie Barbarino, the always cool Freddie "Boom-Boom" Washington, the tough Juan (Luis Pedro Phillipo de Huevos) Epstein, and the sheepish Arnold Dingfelder Horshack. Welcome Back, Kotter was based on Gabe Kaplan's own high school experiences with remedial education and a teacher who cared dearly for her students.]]>
Along with What's Happening, Welcome Back, Kotter was what the cool kids were watching--just as their kids would turn to Freaks and Geeks in the years to come. Unlike the teens of Happy Days, Buchanan's remedial students aren't polite preppies, but slang-slinging hooligans. Gabe Kotter (Kaplan) serves as home-room teacher to a "pack of howling baboons" led by Vinnie Barbarino (Travolta), Arnold Horshack (Ron Palillo), Freddie "Boom-Boom" Washington (Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs), and self-described Puerto Rican Jew Juan Epstein (Robert Hegyes) Their adversary: Vice Principal Woodman (John Sylvester White), who lives to put a kibosh on their high jinks--just as he did when Kotter was a Sweathog in the 1960s.
Other regulars include Kotter's wife, Julie (Marcia Strassman, who hosts the featurette "Only a Few Degrees from a Sweathog"), and Rosalie "Hotzy" Totzy (Mary Hartman's Debra Lee Scott). At the time, Welcome Back, Kotter was more than just a show. It was a cultural phenomenon, spawning lunch boxes, schoolyard taunts, and the like. In retrospect, the jokes are cornier than ever, but the anything-goes spirit--crazy costumes and musical numbers--is hard to resist. At least that's true of the first three seasons. By the fourth, Travolta and Kaplan became scarce, and Kotter ran out of steam. Rest assured, though, that John Sebastian's clap-happy, chart-topping theme remains as catchy as ever. --Kathleen C. Fennessy