Sunday, December 30, 2007

“Lick Parkay, Cornwallis. This is our gym class!” – The Adventures of Pete & Pete

Don’t Tread on Pete is a strangely anarchic episode of Pete & Pete. The show has always been strange or absurd, but this is by far its most farcical episode yet. It introduces characters, trots out side stories and slips in hallucination sequences with a whirlwind fervor. Pete & Pete’s always been full of quirks, but this episode is downright weird.

The central story involves Big Pete worrying about a history test. Simple enough, right? But apparently, Big Pete completely missed the announcement that he had a test in the first place because he was so entranced by a flip movie drawn in the corner of his history book. So, he tries all sorts of attempts at cramming for the test (including engorging himself on ice cream bars to give himself a sugar rush) during the lunch break right before history class. The premise allows the episode to run in something resembling real time, making it that much more frantic.

Meanwhile, we meet member of Big Pete’s social circle that had strangely neve
r been mentioned before. Teddy and Bill have made occasional appearances since Day of the Dot, but Maggie and Rick are completely new (and I don’t think we ever see them again). They don’t serve much of a purpose, other than adding a few lines that wouldn’t have made sense coming from Big Pete, Ellen or Teddy, but their mere presence make the episode that much stranger.

We get the strange story of Emma, a young cafeteria lady played by altrocker Juliana Hatfield (anybody remember her?). She flirts with Big Pete, warning him to avoid the meat loaf (inspiring a Don’t Look Back reference that I’m sure was lost on me when I saw the episode as a kid). The cute rebel cafeteria lady could have been an interesting character, but midway through the episodes, she escapes, apparently to Iowa. Big Pete briefly considers following her lead, but soon decides against it, making the entire establishment of Emma as a character a non-point. Well, I guess it’s an opportunity to once again mention Big Pete’s history teacher and her grotesque varicose veins. You see, one of the running gags of the episode is that the veins resemble a road map of the Hawkeye State.

Oh, I forgot to mention that Big Pete’s test is on the American Revolutionary War. So, it’s fitting that meanwhile, Little Pete must fight against an oppressive gym teacher named Cornwallis, who wants to force Little Pete and his class to sit out the period so his dodgeball team can train. The team’s name? The Kings, of course. Little Pete, being Little Pete, rallies the class together to oppose the tyranny, leading to the American Revolutionary War being played out as a dodgeball game. It’s about as cute and silly as you’d imagine.

All in all, I don’t really know what to make of this episode. It was directed by Phil Morrison, who would go on to direct Junebug. If you’ve seen that film as well as the show, you would understand how perfect sense that makes. Morrison keeps the episode’s energy running and his visual style matches the show quite nicely (that, or it played a large part in the style he would use when directing Junebug). But the episode does not make a whole lot of sense. The pace keeps building and building, only to hit a weak climax. In some ways, this episode was the opposite of Day of the Dot. While that episode was a great idea marred by poor execution, Don’t Tread on Pete was an exquisitely done filler episode.

1 comment:

Anthony Strand said...

That's a terrific episode. I don't have much to add, other than to say that "Power tool" is maybe my all-time favorite Little Pete insult.

I should rewatch some of those episodes.