The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. 1.24 – And Baby Makes Three

With tonight’s episode, we say farewell to a pair of the show’s recurring players. This is the last installment for both Kelly Rutherford’s character of Dixie Cousins and for James Hong’s Lee Pow. After saving the life of the future emperor of China, Dixie is invited to come visit the nation, and so she and Brisco part with a last kiss. Lee Pow had only appeared a couple of times, very briefly, and this was his biggest role in the show.

Our son really enjoyed this one, especially when the story brings us to a big, beautifully-choreographed martial arts brawl with about thirty fighters, but I think that John Pyper-Ferguson stole it. As always, Pete is dreaming big and using five dollar words, which people with fifty-cent intellects shouldn’t always do.

At one point, Pete’s been captured and is getting the old Chinese water torture, with one drop at a time landing on his forehead. We’ve seen this from time to time on television, most memorably when Tara King gets captured in the classic Avengers installment “Legacy of Death,” which reminds me of a funny story. I didn’t mention it in the blog post about “Death” because I didn’t want to derail it, but here goes.

In the late nineties, a friend of mine ran an Avengers website. He got an email once from somebody desperate to know in which episode Tara King gets tickle-tortured. He thought about it, double-checked with me, and concluded that there isn’t one. The writer had misremembered somehow, because there isn’t such a moment. However, Tara does get the Chinese water torture treatment in “Legacy of Death,” and perhaps that’s what he was thinking of.

Weeks passed, and, proving that you just can’t force people to read an email, the guy wrote back, furious, because he bought the DVD set with “Legacy of Death” on it, and Tara is not tickle-tortured in it, she is Chinese water-tortured! Time and memory may have elevated the tone and the tenor of the correspondent, but I recall him absolutely demanding that my friend stop holding out and tell him where he can see the tickling scene. I don’t remember what happened next, but I remember my friend being exasperated with this idiot’s tickling fetish, and I hope he blocked him.

It was probably a Girl From UNCLE anyway…

The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. 1.23 – Wild Card

I think I enjoyed this morning’s episode of Brisco County, Jr. more than everybody else did. It’s certainly nowhere as over-the-top and ridiculous as the previous one. It’s a slower story about New York mobsters moving into the casinos of Reno, with much of the tension coming down to a high-stakes poker game, which is still over our kid’s head. He did love one of the bad guys’ comeuppance at the end. Rather than shooting the fellow, they use the town’s newfangled electric power lines as a trap, keeping him caught in an alley with sparking wires acting like steel bars.

The episode, co-written by Brad Kern and John Wirth, introduces Dixie’s sister Dolly, played by Elaine Hendrix, who was the best thing about Fox’s short-lived relaunch of Get Smart the following season. The main baddies are played by Paul Ben-Victor, who’s been either a cop or a criminal in everything made for American TV since about 1990, and Peter Dobson. The summer before Brisco launched, Dobson had starred in an absolutely delightful flop that nobody but me remembers. Johnny Bago was an really silly show about a New Jersey mobster who turns state’s evidence but gets recognized and becomes a fugitive on the lam in an RV, chased by the Mafia and his downright mean ex-wife. It only lasted eight episodes, but if it ever shows up streaming or on DVD, you should definitely check it out.

The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. 1.15 – A.K.A. Kansas

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.

The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. 1.11 – Deep in the Heart of Dixie

In the previous episode of Brisco County Jr., writer David Simkins delivered an in-joke about Brad Kern being really fast with scripts. Tonight, Kern returned the name-check favor, but perhaps his script was written a little too quickly. Andrea Parker makes the first of two appearances as a villain named Rita Avnet, and it is incredibly obvious that she’s the baddie sending secret plans to David Warner, who plays the main criminal. I think that could have been done with a little more subtlety and been more entertaining.

Warner, who probably filmed the Lois & Clark episode “Foundling” just a couple of months after this, is, unsurprisingly, a great villain. It’s a real shame that his character, a fancy, food-loving gourmand assassin named Winston Smiles, gets blown up because I’d have loved to see him back for a rematch.

Overall, I really enjoyed this one, but apart from the great mid-story cliffhanger where Brisco is tied to a stake in the ground at his boots while his wrists are bound to the back of a train that’s being slowly fed some coal, our son wasn’t as thrilled. It wasn’t just that Kelly Rutherford returns as Dixie Cousins, with all the attendant smooching, but she and Brisco had to keep talking about their relationship and why they can’t commit to each other. When you’re an eight year-old boy, the only thing worse than smooching is talking about smooching. The show ends with the starcrossed lovers heading out on a traditional date for the first time. It’s a really sweet ending, and Brisco should think about this a little more seriously. Unlike the ladies in many TV westerns, most of the women in this series can take care of themselves. Dixie may be a little naughty, but she has a heart of gold and she’s tough as nails.

The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. 1.6 – Riverboat

Takes a little bit of moxie to call your episode “Riverboat” when it doesn’t actually have a real riverboat in it. The only ones that we see are a matte painting and some library footage!

Well, I think our son forgave me for last night’s frightfest. “That was REALLY good,” he volunteered, after 45 minutes of Brisco, dressing quite a lot like Bret Maverick, pulls off a con that includes a crooked card game and a fixed fight in order to get an untouchable bad guy played by Xander Berkeley into position for a great sting. And then Dixie Cousins arrives in town like a bomb going off, disrupting everybody’s schemes. There’s not a lot of comedy this time, but between all the fisticuffs and our heroes being two steps ahead of their opponent, our kid liked this one a lot. He did, however, qualify that it still wasn’t as great as “No Man’s Land,” because that one had a tank in it.

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!