Sunday, November 04, 2007

“We’re mutants!” – The Adventures of Pete & Pete

(Every weekend, particularly if the strike stretches on, we'll be looking at episodes of classic TV shows -- either ones that are established classics (Hill Street Blues) or ones that we feel have been overlooked (Pete and Pete). Here, Moses McCluer gives you a taste of what to expect with this look at the first episode of The Adventures of Pete & Pete. Expect more articles in weeks to come. -- ed.)

I guess it’s not really fair to consider “The King of the Road” The Adventures of Pete & Pete’s first episode. The show began as a series of minute-long vignettes shown during commercial breaks on Nickelodeon before spawning five half-hour specials and finally becoming a regular series. It wasn’t even the pilot – based on the information I could gather, “Day of the Dot” was the first episode shot, but Nickelodeon decided to air “The King of the Road” first.

This decision strikes me as odd, as there very well could have been viewers who came to the show with blank slates (and those who discover the show on DVD only get some of the vignettes and specials as bonus features). And here we are, with a rather strange episode to open the series. Two regular characters aren’t involved in the story at all; Artie gets about thirty seconds of screen time and Ellen is merely mentioned, never shown. The bulk of the episode takes place outside the regular setting of Wellsville. “The King of the Road” doesn’t even have one of the Petes as its protagonist – it’s a strangely Dad-centric story.

On the other hand, it nails several of the show’s recurring styles and themes quite nicely. Like so many Pete & Pete stories, the episodes primary plot revolves around an adult dragging kids along on his own neurotic goals, in this case, Dad’s love for the Hoover Dam and his pride in his self-proclaimed title. While it’s out of the ordinary to have an episode where the central conflict doesn’t actually involve one of the Petes squaring against the adult, Dad’s obsession here isn’t far removed from adults that we’ll see later in the show.

The episode could have used more of the Petes. Big Pete’s B-story of becoming smitten with the daughter of a man who also claims to be King of the Road is kind of bland, despite leading the cute joke of him writing poetry for her in the dust in the car. Little Pete is relegated to nothing more than a few gags.

Yet, there were several keen touches. The big conclusion is as out-of-left-field as it is hilarious. Mom twirling in a field like Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music while looking for a place to urinate is a textbook example of the show’s absurd humor. Same goes for a great moment where Dad lowers the radio antenna to half-mast as he eulogizes the workers who died while building the Hoover Dam. However, the episode still feels off, as if the writers were still trying to figure out how to make a regular series.

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