Category Archives: adventures of brisco county jr

The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. 1.3 – The Orb Scholar

Normally I wouldn’t ever agree with a network shuffling the broadcast order of a show from the way the producers intended it, but watching Carlton Cuse’s “The Orb Scholar,” you can easily see why they showed this one after the pilot. It begins with a recap of the science fiction elements of the pilot, and while the meat of the story is Brisco hot on the trail of John Bly and having a run-in with an old friend who had betrayed him a decade previously, the Orb and its weird power, and the Jedi mind tricks that an older man who studies it has learned, are on the periphery of the story. Bly is hunting for the Orb, and while Brisco believes it was washed out to sea, it’s very much active.

Bly is played by Billy Drago, who passed away last month, and I think he’s completely wonderful. Years ago, I said that Bly was one of television’s greatest villains and I stand by that. We didn’t see very much of him in the pilot movie, so this is his first chance to shine. I love his quiet, silky voice and his theatrical gestures, and the way he walks with his head hunched forward and his black hat covering his face. He’s a fabulous example of a villain that you love to hate because he’s so successful in pushing Brisco’s buttons.

Brisco is usually too resourceful and intelligent a hero to fall for a bad guy needling him, but Bly very naturally and very believably slides right under Brisco’s skin and makes our hero do stupid things. A lot of this is down to television convention, of course. After the show, we reminded our son of how Carol Danvers correctly handled her climactic battle with Jude Law’s character in Captain Marvel, and how that was so refreshing and wonderful because (a) the woman had nothing to prove to the man and (b) the hero had nothing to prove to the villain. Bly can count on Brisco not figuring that out yet.

The main thing that our son loved this time was a great subplot about the crooked sheriff and his partner, played by Robert Picardo, who has to deal with the sheriff’s big mean Rottweiler. Picardo was probably best known at the time for his recurring role as the coach on ABC’s The Wonder Years, and while I was enjoying his performance as a snivelling number two with barely enough talent to match his boss’s expectations, our son loved the dog, who’s in charge of the jail keys, being mean to everybody. When Lord Bowler gets himself out of the jail cell by hooking the rug underneath the sleeping dog and sliding the snoozing beast across the floor, the kid was howling.

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The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. 1.2 – Socrates’ Sister

I didn’t realize until now that Fox did not originally run this series quite in the order intended. “Socrates’ Sister” was made second, but shown fifth. This might be because the episode, while not bad, is really quite ordinary. It plays like a very standard western, and it wouldn’t have done at all to come down from the wildness of the pilot with something that pretty much any western of the previous forty years could have done. It was written by Chris Ruppenthal, and this is his only credit on this show. He’d previously been a producer on Quantum Leap for three seasons and, the next year, would write for Bruce Campbell again in an episode of Lois & Clark that we looked at in May.

With no explanation of how he survived what looked like his death in the previous episode, John Pyper-Ferguson is back this week as Pete Hutter. Motormouthed and with a hair-trigger temper, Pete’s really the best thing about the episode, which also very, very, very briefly introduces Yvette Nipar as a recurring character, Ellie, who owns Brisco’s favorite bar. Our son loved the underwater fight, and enjoyed giggling over a recurring gag about Socrates rushing off to rescue his sister while loaded down with an absurd amount of unnecessary junk.

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The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. 1.1 (pilot)

I spent the 1990s in Athens GA, the best city possible to see lots and lots of live music. And I saw some great shows, but never went out as much as I should have, and very rarely on Fridays. That’s because I spent my Fridays in front of the television instead of at the 40 Watt or the Uptown Lounge. The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. was one of the programs that kept me home on Friday nights whenever there was a new episode.

Had I known in 1993 that one day you could get all 28 hours, uncut, on a format yet to be developed, and take up just slightly more shelf space than one VHS tape, then I’d have recorded them on a timer on 6-hour speed to watch once and collect later on down the road, and go out to see Hillbilly Frankenstein or the Labrea Stompers like I should have been doing. But no, I sat in front of the TV, taping and live-editing out the commercials while watching Brisco County and The X Files and, the next season, Homicide: Life on the Street. Did I see Elf Power’s first dozen or so shows? Not a one of them. But I wouldn’t have missed Brisco County for the world.

The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. was created by Jeffrey Boam and Carlton Cuse. It’s a western, mostly, but its tongue is in its cheek. There are science fiction elements, and it’s very, very funny. In the Maverick tradition, this is a show that where the situations are often “hopeless, but never serious.” It starred Bruce Campbell as our hero, with regular support from Julius Carry as the bounty hunter Lord Bowler and Christian Clemenson as the representative of the wealthy robber barons who are paying them to clean up a criminal gang. In recurring roles, there are Billy Drago and John Pyper-Ferguson as two of the villains – more about them another time – and John Astin and Kelly Rutherford as occasional allies.

Aggravatingly, one character who didn’t return when Fox agreed to buy this as a regular series was Amanda, the daughter of Astin’s mad scientist character, played by Anne Tremko. It might have been fun to have a naughty vs. nice love triangle with her, Brisco, and Kelly Rutherford’s sexy showgirl, Dixie Cousins. James Hong also has a one-off role in the two-hour pilot as an old friend of Brisco’s father. Hong probably couldn’t have returned even if they wanted him, because he had about fifty-two other commitments that year. Busy man.

Our son has been very skeptical about this show, since he didn’t enjoy Barbary Coast very much and that has soured him on westerns. But Brisco won him over exactly as it did me that Friday night in 1993. The first scene introduces the science fiction element of the show in the form of a mysterious, otherworldly Unearthed Foreign Object called The Orb, and the second scene builds to a train derailment using a variation on all those fake tunnels that Wile E. Coyote used to paint on rocks. Seven minutes into this and we hadn’t met the hero yet but I wasn’t going to miss an episode no matter who was playing at the Rockfish Palace that week.

And our kid indeed watched with eyes about as wide as mine must have been. Add in John Pyper-Ferguson’s hyperactive never-shuts-up gunslinger Pete, and Brisco’s horse Comet, who does not understand that he is a horse and needs to do horse things, and he was sold. He really liked Brisco racing to save the day riding a railroad rocket, although sadly he didn’t recognize the rocket’s inventor. He and I rewatched the Eerie, Indiana episode “The Hole in the Head Gang” this morning about an hour before we sat down to this and he still couldn’t identify John Astin!

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RIP Billy Drago, 1945-2019

It amuses me to be coy and not reveal what’s coming up on the blog, but with news of actor Billy Drago’s death, I’ll go ahead and spoil that we’ll begin watching The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. next month. Among dozens of roles as evildoers in film and TV, notably in Charmed and Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables, Drago deserves to be remembered as the recurring villain John Bly in Brisco. I think that John Bly is among television’s all-time greatest bad guys, and I’ve been really looking forward to seeing him get under Brisco’s skin again. Our condolences to his family and friends.

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