Thursday, June 9, 2011

Ten Statements About....THE ADVENTURES OF BRISCO COUNTY JR. Episode One: 'Pilot' (1993)

If you can resist the sight of Bruce Campbell
dressed as Bat Lash riding a Rocket--with a
saddle, no less--then you can no longer be
my friend....
"You're not quite what I expected, Mr. County."
"Well, expectations lead to disappointment, Socrates. That's why I try not to have any."

1) It is a shame that R. Lee Ermey has spent the bulk of his acting career playing variations of his drill sargent in Full Metal Jacket--because here, as Brisco's father, we see him stretch a little, giving us a surprising amount of grace to what could be a very standard, regulation sacrificial lamb.

2) I had forgotten that they didn't introduce Brisco himself until over ten minutes into the pilot--at which point the whole premise of the series has been set up save for some of the deeper parts of the mythology. And, since Brisco is a fusion of modern and pulp western sensibilities, when we meet him, he's about to hang for something he didn't do (which makes me think what I bring up about one of Brisco's spiritual godfathers two points down is true)...

3) This show never loses sight of the fact that this is a fusion of two genres in a steampunk setting...but it does so very subtlely. Even setting it in 1893--like 1993, not long before a new century begins--is a key to understanding that the show is going to jump between the now and the then, using the past to illuminate the future while telling a cracking pulp adventure. It's not an easy task, but it's to the credit of Jeffrey Boam, Carlton Cuse and David Simkins.

4) Those people who say Bruce Campbell has a very limited range--namely, that he only plays Bruce Campbell--never have seen this show. Yes, Brisco is a Campbellian hero--but one whose a lot more cerebral and thoughtful than Ash, Autolycus, and the others. He has his own philosophy, and seems to want to think his way out of things rather than bull through them. And incidentally, I have to wonder if Brisco's look, with the ornate pattern vest and blue shirt, was not a nod/shout-out/whatever to the DC hero Bat Lash, considered one of the first 'modern' western comic book characters.

5) How can you not love a television series that, in its pilot, gives significant roles to Julius 'So 'Nuff' Carrey, James 'Lo Pan' Hong, and John 'Gomez Addams' Astin? If that doesn't make it clear that it wears its genre love on its sleeve, I don't know what does...

Why am I putting a photo of Kelly Rutherford as Dixie Cousins
here?  Why are you asking this question?
6) It's kind of hard to explain just how much of an impact Kelly Rutherford had in this series--especially given how she never quite matched the whole 'sex on a stick' quality she had as Dixie Cousins in any of her successive roles in shows such as Melrose Place and Kindred: The Embraced.

7) It's easy to see why John Pyper-Ferguson's Pete Hutter quickly outmatched all the other bad guys--even the supposed main baddie, Billy Drago's John Bly--and became a fan favorite. His strange mix of intellectualism and Old west gibberish is unique and endearing, and unlike anything else in the show. It's not a surprise at all that his death in this episode is retconned a few episodes later.

8) I absolutely love how this pilot is structured like an old serial, with each act preceded by a chapter card, and ending with a cliffhanger.

What happens when you let a gun-obsessed outlaw go off
on rants about French impressionists and existentialism?
You get one of the show's most popular characters....
9) I know I have sung the praise of Christian Clemenson elsewhere--and I will do so here again. As Socrates Poole, Clemenson has taken what should have been the thankless role of the clueless sidekick/facilitator and given it a life and energy of its own. Poole is much more in the vein of the original John Watson, and not the Nigel Bruce version that I despise so much. His smarts are applied in ways that make him a vital part of the series. But then....

10) This is the charm of what Cuse and Boam have in mind with this series. Every one of the characters they've set up to be recurring is not who they seem to be, from Lord Bowler on down to Professor Wickwire. There are logical twists that make them resonate with modern themes while remaining true to the Wild West context of the show. And given how well the show is cast, it just adds fuel to the series' momentum.

In short....a brilliant pilot that allows us to have a done-in-one adventure if we choose to go no further...but sets up a wonderful world of pulp adventure and steampunk tomfoolery to explore in if we decide to go further.

1 comment:

  1. I LOVED this show. It was kind of like Firefly to me in that it was about 2 years ahead of it's time and it suffered for that.