This is the mostly awful episode where Brisco and Bowler are having a mawkish, moralizing, preachy adventure with two astonishingly aggravating teenage orphans while Socrates is solving a much more interesting mystery in San Francisco. They got the balance and tone completely, breathtakingly wrong with this one. It would have been much, much more watchable if the story was focused almost entirely on Socrates and the amusing characters he meets and occasionally cut in to see our heroes engaged in fistfights, hard riding, and shootouts.
Category Archives: adventures of brisco county jr
Something kind of weird happened in February 1994. The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. and Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman were on different networks and didn’t share production teams, although some of Brisco‘s staff, including this episode’s writer, John McNamara, would move over to L&C a few months later. Neither program was a hit. L&C ranked around the middle of the Nielsens and Brisco was usually around # 80 of 100 shows. And somehow, about two weeks apart, both programs threw a hail mary to try and get a few hundred thousand more teenage girl viewers and some press in the teen mags by introducing new young men in the cast in recurring roles. On ABC, Chris Demetral showed up toward the end of L&C‘s first year as a street kid named Jack who gets a job at the Daily Planet, and on Fox, Jeff Phillips was introduced as a headstrong wannabe gunslinger called Whip Morgan. I wonder whether this happened on any other shows that year.
The other new character introduced in “Hard Rock” is Sheriff Aaron Viva, who is Elvis Presley, basically, but he only shows up in one other story. Viva is played by Gary Hudson, who moves and points in pure caricature, but he delivers all the dialogue completely straight. The writers make sure that he’s quoting Elvis lyrics whenever the narrative suggests them, and I love the way Hudson never underlines them. I mean, when villains are blasting at you from both sides, of course you’d say something like “We’re caught in a trap, I can’t walk out!” On the other hand, the thankyaverramuuuuches and the like get old pretty quickly. I’m reasonably confident Marie won’t be pleased to read this post to learn that either character will be back again.
Ah, but the kid enjoyed this one. It had a big explosion and Lord Bowler wrestled a bear. And the heroes invent the drive-in window, hamburgers, and sunglasses. What’s not to like?
Until I realized that this was the terrific episode that climaxes with the revelation of the villain John Bly’s origins, and that it kind of demanded that I accompany this little post with this fine shot of Billy Drago being commandingly evil, the obvious image would have been one of the gunslinging gang of hilariously beefcake 1990s-haired male models running around shirtless in this story while comparing notes on fashion and admiring each other’s hats. I’m sure they’re wonderful for anybody with an eye for the fellas to admire, even with their remarkably anachronistic and consequently extra-silly haircuts, but Drago just steals the show out from under them anyway.
This episode is the penultimate chapter in the battle against John Bly, and I remember being really disappointed in 1994 at a single moment when Drago delivers one line what seemed to me to be more grandiose and over-the-top than he usually went. Looking at it again, I was mistaken. Drago was perfectly in sync with what he needed to be doing, and everything he did fit perfectly in place with all the science fiction, time travel, and de-aging formulas in this installment, even if most of the time he’s just commanding everybody’s attention quietly, with a devilish look in his eyes.
The story also brings back a character from the first episode, Lee Pow, played again by James Hong, and it gives us a surprising explanation for something we didn’t even realize needed explaining: the carved ivory handle of Brisco’s pistol. All in all, this was a very, very satisfying little hour, even if Lord Bowler, who wants all this Orb business to end so he can just be a traditional Western hero again, probably wouldn’t agree.
In the late 1980s, Ian Oglivy started showing up as a guest in American TV shows. He eventually moved to California and became the token British actor in just about every US show in the 1990s when Christopher Neame wasn’t available: Burke’s Law, JAG, Diagnosis: Murder. In tonight’s episode, he plays a stiff-upper-lipped bounty hunter who apparently used to be a policeman. Because of the limited way we Americans understand the Metropolitan Police, he just says something about Scotland Yard; that’s good enough.
The episode is a typical And Then There Were None story with a small hotel full of colorful bounty hunters, isolated on an island with no ship, being picked off one at a time. The mystery of the killer’s identity shouldn’t tax any adults in the audience. The real mystery is why nobody invited Crystal Hawks to the convention! Our son was only mildly thrilled by this one. It’s nowhere near silly and fun enough.
Neat deathtrap note: I’m confident that our son wouldn’t remember it, but at one point, one of the good guys is tied up behind a target so that one of his friends will unwittingly shoot him to death. I was reminded of the terrific and similar trap that was used as the cliffhanger when the Penguin once strung up Batman and Robin behind his shooting gallery. Hmmm. Wonder who’ll they cast as the Penguin if he ever shows up on Batwoman?
The most delightful revelation in this episode is that Lord Bowler has been spending his many bounties quite sensibly, and has a nice home and butler in a good part of San Francisco. He collects crystal and china. The least delightful revelation in this episode is that Dixie Cousins was once married to a member of John Bly’s gang, and he isn’t quite over her. And there’s the return of Rita Avnet from episode 11, and she isn’t quite over Socrates.
This episode was co-written by Carlton Cuse, John McNamara, and Brad Kern, and finally, inevitably, has Brisco’s occasional claim that he’s really a gunslinger named Kansas Wiley Stafford come back to bite him in the rear. This comes to a hilarious conclusion as Brisco tries talking his way out of trouble, but Bowler has a much more effective way out.
And now back to the 1890s, much to our son’s delight, and the second half of The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr.. He chuckled and laughed all through this story, in which Brisco and Bowler track down their foes the Swill Brothers in their second and last appearance. We’d seen them before in the story “No Man’s Land,” also co-written by Tom Chehak. The Swills have stolen three mail order brides’ dowries, for no other reason than to be ornery, while they really have their eyes on a prize bull donated by the King of Spain to the city of Madrid, California. The Swills are probably too stupid to steal the million dollar bull, but not so stupid that they won’t cause an international incident.
I had a soft spot for “Mail Order Brides” when it first aired because one of the women is played by Elizabeth Barondes. Earlier in the fall 1993 season, she had been cast as Lucy Lane in Lois & Clark, but either the network or the producers – never sure who – decided against keeping the character around, and so she was unceremoniously dumped after three episodes. I thought that was a shame at the time and was glad to see her finding guest work quickly.
The strangest thing about this episode is that Barondes’s character is wearing a bright red skirt, and when the Swills are trying to steal the bull, one of them grumbles about needing to find a red blanket or cloth. They’re totally setting this up to have the bull chase her, but it doesn’t happen. The charging bull does, however, find its way into “Ye Olde China Shoppe,” and we thought our son was going to pass out from laughing.
Tom Chehak’s “Steel Horses” is one of my favorite episodes of the show, and I was glad that our son enjoyed it as much as he did. Some prototype motorcycles get pinched in order to be used in a robbery, and our slightly skeptical heroes are hot on the trail. Professor Wickwire offers some remarkable improvements to one of the prototypes, including mounting a sidecar for Lord Bowler, who isn’t happy about any of this. Neither is Brisco’s grouchier-than-ever horse Comet, who takes to this latest example of “the coming thing” with hilarious jealousy.
That’s all for Brisco County, Jr. for now. It’s going back to the shelf for a little while to keep things fresh, but we’ll be back in the nineteenth century in October, so stay tuned!
It used to be that networks would order thirteen hours of a new drama, see how it performed, and then decide whether to order enough to finish the season. With that in mind – and counting episode one as two hours – this was probably the original end point of Brisco County, Jr., with a conclusion to John Bly and the Orb story. It’s not a particularly strong conclusion, as it leaves lots of questions unanswered, but it would have done had this been the end. Happily, Fox liked what they saw even though the ratings were not very good, and asked for more than this. So there’s a tacked-on epilogue that John Bly escaped, and more adventures the following week.
Interestingly, after the initial thirteen, a “back nine” was the style in those days, because 22 hours was the standard for a season of TV drama. Brisco got one of the largest seasons of a network show in the nineties, with Fox ordering fifteen additional hours, 28 in all. It was like the sixties again.
Joining our heroes for this roundup, it’s the surprise casting of pop star Sheena Easton as a bounty hunter named Crystal Hawks. Despite what Carlton Cuse and John McNamara’s script tells us, it really doesn’t look like Easton had ever thrown a punch in her life before making this, because man alive, does she ever telegraph her next moves. A few other colorful bounty hunters make tiny appearances in this episode, which kind of feels like a missed opportunity in that regard. On the other hand, there’s a terrific chase through a city street with piles of extras and horses, and Billy Drago’s so downright amazing that at one point he briefly ends up with some pink longjohns in his face and he still doesn’t lose his dignity.