Monday, December 04, 2006

Forgotten TV Shows: Brisco County Jr.

"I like Brisco because I felt that the writers were smart enough to write a good guy that was as interesting as the bad guys. The bad guys always have the better roles and the good guys suck because they don't know what to do with a good guy. They can't give him any personality. So I thought that was a really smart move." ~Bruce Campbell

Hired by local robber barons, Harvard Law Graduate Brisco County, Jr. (Bruce Campbell) searches for the members of the infamous John Bly gang, the same men who killed his father, a famous marshal and western legend. Accompanied by his one-time rival and fellow bounty hunter Lord Bowler, Brisco rides through the West trying to bring his father's killers to justice. Along the way, he encounters mysterious golden orbs with strange abilities and colorful characters who help or hinder his mission as he hunts down the Bly gang one by one.

The series which ran from August 1993- May 1994 on FOX, featured a mix of tongue-in-cheek, self-referential humor (a running joke throughout the series was that County could actually understand the neighing of his beloved horse, Comet) and real drama, usually centered around County's troubled relationship with his late father (a great cameo by R. Lee Ermey) and his growing fear that he will never be able to settle down. It could be considered a thematic descendant of the 1960s show The Wild Wild West, since it combined elements of the science fiction and Western genres. It was one of the few western shows aired in the 1990s.

In addition to Campbell, the show also starred Julius Carry as County's rival/partner Lord Bowler (real name James Lonefeather), and Christian Clemenson as the milquetoast Socrates Poole. The show also featured a great cast of regulars including Kelly Rutherford as County's love interest, Dixie Cousins, Billy Drago the mysterious archnemesis John Bly, and John Astin the scientist Professor Wickwire, an eccentric inventor who supplied our heroes with wacky gadgets many of which were precursors to modern inventions, such as a land-based rocket on railroad tracks or an "Inner Space Suit" aka diving suit.

Click here to watch a scene with the wonderful John Astin as Professor Wickwire:

And of course you can't forget Brisco's horse Comet. There was always the implication that he was the smartest character on the show and was seen doing things like tracking Brisco down no matter how far away he was and opening a combination lock (I bet Lassie never did that!). Comet was actually portrayed by four separate horses, with the horse being used in any particular scene depending on the type of
action Comet was expected to perform.

The show also featured a long list fun guest stars like Sheena Easton as a rival bounty hunter; Jane Sibbett as a Norman Bates-like murderess; Terry Bradshaw as a rogue colonel who gives orders to his men like a quarterback; Timothy Leary as a self-referencial spoof of himself, and M.C. Gainey as Bly's right-hand man, who is seemingly killed in the pilot episode only to return later in the series with superhuman powers, courtesy of the Orb.

A truly cheesy moment, not many shows can pull off an appearance by a pirate villian who having been chased off the high seas now terrorizes the Wild West.

Another great but silly moment from the show. The high-browed Pete Hutter vs. the Elvis caricature Sherrif Aaron:

Brisco County Jr. didn't hit with audiences in it's original run. Brisco's arch-nemesis John Bly was captured in the orb and removed from the series two thirds of the way through the first season and it took away the series' single dominant story element. Brisco and Bowler were appointed "Special Agents" by President Cleveland, but it didn't help. The stories grew less unified and concentrated, and more diffuse.

Lasting only one season Brisco aired in FOX's Friday Night Death slot, the same slot that killed shows like Arrested Development, Boston Public, Greed, Wanda at Large, Firefly, Playing it Straight, Wonderfalls, John Doe, VR.5, M.A.N.T.I.S., Strange Luck, Dark Angel, Killer Instinct, Fastlane, Vanished, and The Bernie Mac. These shows all started on Friday nights and lasted only a few episodes, or moved to Friday nights, lost the battle for television ratings, and were eventually cancelled. Though the series' majestic theme song composed by Randy Edelman found a new life as part of NBC's sports productions, namely during NBC broadcasts of the World Series and the Olympic Games (played while announcing the upcoming events).

Click here to view the shows opening theme:

Later Brisco would find new life and a new cult audience airing in syndication on TNT from January 1996 to January 2001, but has only been rebroadcast sporadically since. The series was released on DVD on July 18, 2006 (click here to visit the official DVD website) and on November 16, 2005, AOL and Warner Bros. announced that the series would be included in their new In2TV online television network, and available for viewing online.

The Quotable Brisco County Jr.:
Brisco County Jr.: Never look too deep into the mind of a lawyer.

Dixie Cousins: Brisco, put me down!
Brisco County Jr.: Okay: you look bad in a wig and you were too easy to find.

Lord Bowler: Uh oh. You hit the sheriff
Brisco County Jr.: Yeah, but I did not hit the deputy.

Pete Hutter: Dixie, I'm kind of a stickler for gun safety. Could you move a little to the left?
Dixie Cousins: Don't you get it? He's somebody.
Pete Hutter: Sorry, Dixie, but existential thought doesn't hold much water out here in the territories.

Peter Hutter: Forget about it? You mean... rip it from my memory like a picture from a book? A picture of a small boy... kind of shy... with big ears who only wanted to be liked. And the laughing faces of his classmates, mocking him because he forgot to wear his pants to school? Is that what you mean?

[asking about Lord Bowler's name]
Professor Ogden Coles: That's a completely fictitious title, I assume?
Lord Bowler: No, I just made it up.


Anonymous said...

I friggin' loved this show -- I couldn't believe they couldn't make a go of this show. A mix of western and sci-fi that didn't take itself too seriously. It's like the perfect genre cross ...

Anonymous said...

It was certainly better than the Wild Wild West movie too. :)

Anonymous said...

This and 'Jack of all Trades' are two of my favorite shows.


Becca said...

This show was ahead of it's time for sure and horribly overshadowed by the X-files. If this show had come on about the same time as Hercules or Xena it probably would have had a few more seasons. Then again it's probably one of the things that paved the way for shows like Xena and Hercules.

Aw man that new Wild, Wild West sucked! The only movie I was more dissapointed by at the theater was the new Avengers movie. Sigh so many dissapointments.

Anon 2-
Jack of All Trades ruled! I was so excited when it came out on DVD earlier this year.