Here we are, in the penultimate episode of the first season of Pete & Pete, and the title characters have had, what, one episode (the very first, no less) where they spend a significant amount of time together? And now, when we get a second episode, it’s based around a feud! When Petes Collide is based on the premise that the brothers are best of friends, and I guess I know that they are, but the stakes would feel higher if, say, so much of the season hadn’t been built around Big Pete and ELLEN being the best of friends, or, I don’t know, if the Petes had had more than one episode where they actually talk to each other!
That’s not to say that it’s a horrible episode. The boys are feuding when they are offered the opportunity to inherit their father’s cherished and mystical bowling ball, Rolling Thunder. It’s news to me that Dad is such an avid bowler, but the concept of a bowling ball forged by Tibetan monks is a nice mix of suburban blandness and the fantastic. Rolling Thunder’s powers are at the right level of quirky too: it feels entirely weightless when in use, somehow returns to the house when Dad walks (yes, walks!) to the Canadian border to dispose of it and, best of all, defeats Artie in combat. Really, seeing Artie fight a losing battle with a bowling ball alone makes the episode worthwhile.
We also meet the Petes’ grandfather (played by late, great character actor William Hickey), who convinces the initially indifferent boys of Rolling Thunder’s power. I like that his appearance has a mysterious quality, and yet it’s excused by the fact that he simply lives far away from Wellsville, so isn’t able to visit often. What I like even better is that he treats Dad like he’s still a boy. Seeing as so much of the show is built on being in an insanely typical suburban universe, it’s great seeing Don Wrigley, who is very much a typical suburban father, have his life torn upside-down because he doesn’t get to read his paper and he’s chastised for eating too many cookies and not finishing his milk.
But that’s just the B-story. The central plot revolves around the Petes’ friendship (the one I said in the opening wasn’t properly established) being torn asunder as they each try to convince Dad that he should be chosen to receive Rolling Thunder. Again, I’ll complain about how I wish we had gotten more Pete and Pete time before we saw this episode, but we know the characters well enough that the acts of their feud somewhat make up for it. Having Ellen relay semaphore messages between the two is a nice touch. So is the feud being culminated in a winner-takes-all staring contest.
But, with the possible exception of the Artie vs. Rolling Thunder fight, the two greatest moments of the episode (and definite highlights of the season) come from the Petes’ attempts to sway Dad’s opinion. Little Pete winds up running an ad against Big Pete, pointing out such atrocities on Big Pete’s record like breaking a vase and only signing a birthday card for Dad instead of helping pay for it. Director Nicholas Jacobs does a great job of nailing the flavor of the aggressive, dirt-smearing political campaign ads that Little Pete’s ad is trying to emulate.
But Big Pete does Little Pete one better. He enlists no one less than John McLaughlin to aid his cause. Yes, at one point in the episode, Dad is watching The McLaughlin Group, when McLaughlin brings up the item of who should get the bowling ball. I don’t know how they got McLaughlin to agree to this, or how many kids knew who he was (I know that when I first saw the episode, I didn’t), but watching it now, it’s a great moment. He even ends the segment with his signature “bye-bye!” Oddly, enough, this might be the one time somebody clarifies which Pete is being referred to, speaking separately of “Younger Pete” and “Older Pete.”
Hopefully, I’ll be more punctual about posting the next recap – the season finale, Hard Day’s Pete is a great episode, and I’m looking forward to jumping into season two. Meanwhile, let me say that while I began by criticizing When Petes Collide’s premise, just writing this recap reminded me of how many great moments the episode had