The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. 1.21 – Ned Zed

In tonight’s episode, perhaps inevitably, Brisco gets captured and tied up in a sawmill. And our son absolutely loved it. He was so excited that he could barely keep still. What a difference a few years makes. We watched the Riddler tie up Robin in a similar deathtrap four years back and it scared the pants off our son.

Strangely, this episode is a flashback to a case somewhere between this series’ first and second episodes, with a Princess Bride framing sequence of a dad reading his son a dime novel of one of Brisco’s “classic” adventures. I think it’s odd that they’d skip back to a story from the show’s original setup right after introducing a new format. Our son loved the whole adventure and its two goofball criminals, but one gag that landed with a bullseye was using the spoken chapter titles from the dime novel as the onscreen titles for the episode.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)

Over Labor Day weekend, we got to see Raiders on the Lost Ark on the big screen, at Chattanooga’s wonderful old Tivoli Theatre. They started a film series that I didn’t know about as early as I should have – we missed The Goonies, and wouldn’t that have been a fine movie to see in a theater? – but I’ll be paying attention to what they announce for the Bobby Stone Film Series next year.

I mentioned that I’m very glad that we reacquainted our son with Raiders, so that the characters played by Denholm Elliot and John Rhys-Davies would be fresher in his mind. You can never tell with kids. After we finished, I asked him whether Last Crusade was a million times better than Temple of Doom and he had to be reminded what happened in that one. I also reminded him of a couple of key moments in Young Indiana Jones, particularly the end of his relationship with his father.

But yes, Last Crusade is a million times better than its predecessor. It ticks all the boxes that Temple didn’t, especially the one where a movie like this needs a charismatic bad guy, this time played by the wonderful Julian Glover. Most importantly, it’s a fun movie, never dark or frightening. The kid couldn’t decide what his favorite scene or favorite line was. He jumped for joy throughout practically the whole film. Castles on fire, underground crypts, boat chases, motorcycle chases, tank chases, Flaming airplanes passing cars in tunnels… this movie’s got it all. It’s nearly as good as the original, and Sean Connery’s wonderful as Indy’s grouchy father.

I really enjoyed our son recognizing a famous landmark, but not for the same reason I did. The treasure hunt takes our heroes to an ancient city, the same one seen in 1977’s Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger. But our son leaned over and whispered “That’s a real place!” because he’d seen the facade – Al-Khazneh in Jordan – in a documentary recently. Some things register a little more strongly than Sinbad movies, I suppose!

The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. 1.5 – Brisco in Jalisco

Kelly Rutherford is back in this episode as Dixie Cousins, and John Pyper-Ferguson is back as Pete… and strangely enough, watching these in production order reveals a continuity error. This is clearly the second time that Brisco and Pete cross paths, because Brisco asks him how he survived their last meeting. So it wasn’t just my hypothesis that Fox moved “The Orb Scholar” forward to hook new viewers with the science fiction element, but also because by moving “Socrates’ Sister,” which also features Pete, back a month and showing it after this one, viewers didn’t see any error.

This is a pleasant surprise, because I’m so used to the horror stories of networks shuffling around a carefully planned sequence of stories and messing up the producers’ plans (see Firefly or Homicide: Life on the Street for starters) that I’m amazed they’d actually get something right for a change. At any rate, the production order and broadcast order are in sync from this point forward, so this won’t be a bugbear any longer.

The main guest star this week is Michael DeLorenzo, who I remembered as Alex from the later seasons of the sitcom Head of the Class. Oddly, DeLorenzo had seemed to me to be far too old to be playing a high school student in 1990, and yet far too young to be playing a revolutionary leader in 1993.

The kid enjoyed this whole adventure, and laughed like a drain when a coin toss doesn’t go Comet’s way and the horse shows off some poor sportsmanship. There’s lots of gunplay and a great big shootout at the end, but his favorite scene was toward the beginning, when Brisco runs off some bandits with a big smile and a lit stick of dynamite.

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!