Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Now Playing: Adv. of Brisco County, Jr.

This show brings up some pleasant memories from long ago. This aired back in 1993 while I was in high school, and it was on Friday nights before a little-watch sci-fi show called The X-Files. My sister and I watched this double-bill every week together and according to the Nielsen ratings it seemed, and felt, like we were the only two watching it. We kinda preferred it that way because while we were and remain close we didn't have a whole lot in common to talk about. I was a guy in high school and she was a girl in middle school. Simple human nature meant we'd have as much in common as an astronaut and OJ Simpson.

But we had Brisco County, Jr. each and every week and it was a fun time to be a Bruce Campbell fan.

At the time, I was new to the Cult of Bruce. I'd recently picked up Army of Darkness and heralded it for the genius that it was. That flick got me to go pick up the first Evil Dead which I quickly followed with the sequel. By this point I was hooked so when FOX announced they were doing a Western series starring him it seemed too good to be true. I have no idea how this managed to get a full 27 episode order from FOX because this is the kind of quirky and original show they tend to axe mid-way through the third episode.

It all starts when Brisco's father, legendary lawman Brisco County Sr. played briefly by R. Lee Ermy, is gunned down during a prison break by the evil John Bly (Billy Drago in full creepy mode) and his gang. So it falls to Brisco County, Jr., Harvard educated lawyer and professional bounty hunter, to track down the members of the Bly gang. He's aided by his horse Comet, who Brisco talks to more frequently than Wilbur did to Mr. Ed, and associate Socrates Poole nervously portrayed by Christian Clemson. Along the way he trades barbs and eventually becomes partners with the awesome Lord Bowler, brilliantly played by Julius Carry, and tempted by the luscious Dixie Cousins who caused me to fall head over heels in lust with actress Kelly Rutherford as she tries to out Mae West the infamous actress herself.

Oh, and since the story is set in 1893, there are constant references to "The Coming Thing" which is, essentially, the future. Brisco is an optimist by nature so he's always cheerful when greeted by something new that is an obvious forerunner to things we have today. Assisting him with these gadgets is Professor Wickwire, hilariously played by none other than the great John Astin. Wickwire is equally optimistic about the advances technology will make in the coming century and the combined glee both he and Brisco express over marvels is a lot of fun to watch.

Overall, the show remains entertaining after all this time, no doubt in part to the stellar casting of the main characters and the way the secondary characters are so hilariously fleshed out. I'm thinking about Pete Cutter in particular, with Aaron Viva a close second. Pete shows up in the first episode and recurrs throughout the season as a sort of constant nemesis for Brisco and he's always hilarious. Witness this brilliant exchange from the pilot once Brisco (masquerading as outlaw Kansas Wiley Stafford at the time) snatches Pete's gun away from him:
Scratchy: "Oh my God! He stole Pete's Piece!"

Pete: "You're... touching mah piece..."

Brisco: "It's alright, forget about it." He hands Pete back his piece.

Pete: "Forget about it? You mean... rip it from my memory like a picture from a book? Picture of a small boy, kinda shy, with big ears who only wanted to be liked. And the laughing faces of all his classmates, mocking him, just 'cause he forgot to wear his pants to school! Is that what you mean?"

Brisco: "Uh, you lost me Pete."

Scratchy: "You touched Pete's Piece. That's not something you wanna do."

Pete: "It's done. I'm calling you out, Kansas!"
I died laughing when I heard this exchange again recently and Pete's bizarre mindset just gets funnier as the season goes on. Not to mention his obsession with using painted rocks to derail his quarry is always good for a laugh.

As for Aaron Viva... well, the less said about him the better. While it's obvious who he's based on, he's played so perfectly that any hint on what to expect would ruin most of the fun. I spent most of the episode where he shows up holding my sides from laughing and it's the performance that sells it. He turns up again towards the end and is again painfully funny. I wish the series was renewed because it would have been so great seeing the further adventures of these people.

But the good news is the show doesn't truly end on a cliffhanger. Sure there are some unresolved issues, but the Bly gang is taken care of by episode 20 and no clear threat for the coming years has emerged by the final episode. Brisco and Bowler ride off into the sunset and I can accept that. But this is a great, fun show to check out and it is well worth your time.

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