Friday, June 17, 2011

Ten Statements About....THE ADVENTURES OF BRISCO COUNTY JR. Episode Three: 'The Orb Scholar' (1993)

"Hey...I remember this metal porcupine!"
"You're afraid, aren't you? You mark your accomplishments walking in the shadow of your father, but how far have you progressed?"

1) This is the first of two episodes directed by Andy Tenant. While this is towards the end of his television career--he goes on to direct such films as EverAfter, Anna and The King and Hitch--he will always have a place in my heart for being one of the key directors of one of my favorite television series of all time, Parker Lewis Can't Lose. While Tenant's direction is a bit more staid than it was when he was with Parker..., there are some moments (like when Brisco tells a story from his childhood, and we cut to a grainy sepia-toned black and white representation) that makes it clear he's behind the camera.

2) The main reason for this episode, of course, is to start moving the Orb sub-plot, and to fill in its mythology. This is done via the character of Ogden Coles, played by Brandon Maggart--Maggart even does the opening narration that accompanies the teaser's outlining of the Orb's history as we know it. And when Coles starts revealing what he is capable of, and what he knows about the Orb, it is a stunner.

3) This is really the first time we get a sense of John Bly as a character--and it's to the credit of Carlton Cuse's script that, while we get a definite sense that there's something decidedly wrong about Bly (mainly because he's being played by Billy Drago, a man whose face is too small for his skull), we don't get a hint of what will be the big reveal about him down the line.

4) Another thing we get a sense of for the first time is Lord Bowler's smarts--this is the first time Julius Carrey is allowed to play him for more than just comedy relief and, like the pro he is, the man steps up in spades.

5) The brilliance of the Orb subplot is that it relies on us to accept one, and only one, idea outside the realm of possibility--all the other steampunk-y things, like Wickwire's diving suit in last episode, are things we know will be perfected given time--and yet, that one idea can be used tyo explain a myriad of insane developments.

6) It is interesting that what is fairly obvious about the town of Poker Flats, which provides the backdrop for this episode--namely, that Brisco's old friend Donovan Joe usurped the sheriff's office so he could turn it into a safe haven for criminals--is so inconsequential to the story Cuse wants to tell that it is resolved without anyone spelling it out for us.

7) While everything that happens in the abandoned saloon, from Brisco's first confrontation with Bly on down, the best scene is the one with Bowler conforting the dying Brisco. Not only does it allow us to see our two bounty hunting heroes begin to gain a respect for each other, we learn more about Bowler's background and get a little hint of his true nature. Plus, Julius Carrey sings 'Amazing Grace.' You don't get this kind of stuff on Gunsmoke.

8) I suppose I should make some mention of Voyager fan fave Robert Picardo's role as Donovan Joe's henchman Puel....but, truth be told, he doesn't actually do much of anything, and ends up coming off as a third rate Pete Hutter.

9) We continue to get a number of modernisms snuck in, like Brisco unwittingly inventing hitchhiking...but they're still done with a subtlety that is lost once we reach the Action Pack phase of Campbell's career.

10) You'll notice Christian Clemenson only has one scene, and apparently it's a scene designed only to show Cuse' contempt for golf. You'll notice a number of these 'contractual obligation' scenes with Socrates as the series progresses.

In excellent episode that may start slow, but rapidly picks up steam once we reach The Abandoned Saloon. A lot of stuff gets put in play for future episodes--and even if there wasn't, the performances by Maggart, Drago and Carrey--in addition to Campbell's usual solid anchor of a turn--would make this one to watch.

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