Hey smilin' strange
You're lookin' happily deranged
Could you settle to shoot me?
Or have you picked your target yet?
Don't you talk back,
Hey Sandy/Theme from The Adventures Of Pete & Pete - Polaris
In the fall of '93, I was going away to college and by all rights should have had no reason to tune in to the kiddie fare offered by Cable giant Nickelodeon. As it turned out, there was a reason, several in fact. The early 90's were ground zero for the "Alternative" revolution in American pop culture. Many know the effect that this had on music, but its influence also spilled over into movies, books, magazines and even television. As it turned out, Nick was actually one of the more free-spirited channels, in that they were willing to let show creators take chances in order to develop an original voice.
This kind of environment led to some of the best cartoons of the 90's including The Ren & Stimpy Show, Doug and Rocko's Modern Life. Still, it was a little show that actually began as a series of 60-second promos called The Adventures Of Pete & Pete that would capture the imaginations of young and old alike. Shot in the suburbs of New Jersey, but set in the fictional town of Wellsville, the unique and daring show followed the lives of the titular brothers and their eccentric family and friends in a kind of adolescent version of Twin Peaks.
Big Pete (Michael Maronna) is the older of the two and serves as our narrator for much of the series. Since we see much of the show and many of the characters through his eyes, he's played off as the straight man. Often pining for his best friend Ellen, he seems to be always either at odds with, or looking out for, his younger brother, Pete. Little Pete (Danny Tamberelli) is a fiery young hellion who's always getting into trouble for some crackpot scheme, usually involving the assistance of his own personal superhero, Artie, the self-professed "strongest man in the world." Little Pete's rebel nature is literally tattooed on his skin, with a striking nautical theme no less, the massive Clipper ship across his back and the "dancing" mermaid, Petunia, on his forearm just screams "badass." Little Pete is the boy that other boys wanted to be and that all the girls wanted to be with.
The senior Wrigleys, Dad and Mom respectively, play a big part in the show as well. Dad owns the local driving range, feuds with his neighbors and has crowned himself "King Of Road" or at least KING O FROD, which it reads on his license plate. Watching the father, we can easily see why his sons turned out the way they did. That's certainly not a bad thing, and while he is definitely the parent and a figure of authority, he's also fun-loving and can be a kid at heart. Mom on the other hand is the sole voice of reason, with the exception of the metal plate in her head which is practically a character in it's own right, she is there to provide a balance to the daily wackiness and strangeness of life in Wellsville and the especially in the Wrigley household.
The episodes included on this Two-Disc set are:
Episode 101: "King Of The Road": The Wrigleys are off on their yearly trip to Hoover Dam. When they meet another family going to the same place, Dad is determined to get there first and be "King of the Road."
Episode 102: "Day Of The Dot": Ellen is chosen to be the dot of the 'I' in the Squid's marching band state championship. Now she's spending too much time with her band partner for Big Pete's comfort.
Episode 103: "The Nightcrawlers": Little Pete protests his early bedtime by vowing to stay up for 11 straight days!
Episode 104: "Range Boy": Big Pete gets the lowest job of the low – a rangeboy at the driving range his father runs.
Episode 105: "Tool And Die": Big Pete gets stuck working with Endless Mike on a special shop project.
Episode 106: "Don't Tread On Pete": Big Pete has exactly 18 minutes to cram for a test he forgot about on the Revolutionary War. In the meantime, Little Pete wages his own war against his gym teacher.
Episode 107: "When Petes Collide": The Petes battle it out to see who'll lay claim to "Rolling Thunder," their dad's prized bowling ball that has been passed down in his family for generations.
Episode 108: "Hard Day's Pete": Little Pete hears a GREAT song, but then forgets how it goes. So he forms his own band to try and re-create the song.
Special 01: "Valentine's Day Massacre": Big Pete's got love on his mind… and the guilt of having just accidentally killed the school mascot, Edna the squid.
Special 02: "What We Did On Our Summer Vacation": Pete & Pete and Ellen try to befriend the neighborhood ice cream man, but wind up driving him out of town when they start asking too many questions.
Special 03: "Apocalypse Pete": The Pete's dad, Mr. Wrigley, and Ellen's dad, Mr. Hinkle, try to outdo each other in their ongoing "Great Prank War."
Special 04: "New Year's Pete": Little Pete doesn't get all the fuss around New Year's Eve. Especially since his past year was awful!
The second special, "What We Did On Our Summer Vacation" is probably the most well-known episode as well as being one of the funniest in the series. Big Pete and Ellen try to befriend the mysterious ice cream man known only as Mr. Tastee. I say mysterious because he always wears a giant plastic ice cream cone on his head… even while on vacation. R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe and Kate Pierson of The B-52's make guest appearances in the episode and only add to the show's hipness factor. Other "actors" to appear on the show include musicians Marshall Crenshaw and Juliana Hatfield, as well as indie darlings Steve Buscemi and Welcome To The Dollhouse's Heather Matarazzo.
Picture: The Adventures Of Pete & Pete is presented in it's original Full Screen (1.33:1) aspect ratio. For the most part, the transfer is on par with broadcast quality, with the exception being an orange stripe which runs horizontally across the screen during a portion of "Day Of The Dot." Sure it's distracting, but it doesn't detract in any way from the overall enjoyment of the show.
Audio: The audio is in Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo and sounds good. A huge portion of the show's appeal comes from it's eclectic soundtrack, most of which is provided by the band Polaris. The "Polaris Music Station" feature in the Extras section allows you to play snippets of several Polaris songs, all of which are featured on the CD, "Music From The Adventures Of Pete And Pete."
Extras: Extra Features included on disc one are limited to commentary tracks by show creators Will McRobb and Chris Viscardi and director Katherine Dieckmann for "Day Of The Dot" and "The Nightcrawlers." The bulk of the Extras are on disc two and include another commentary track for "What We Did On Our Summer Vacation," the four "Special" episodes are also considered part of the Extras, as well as two of the original 60 second shorts: "The Burping Room" and "Mom's Plate."
Conclusion: The Adventures Of Pete & Pete was one of my favorite shows of the 90's, and I'm sure I'm not alone in the sense of nostalgia that this long-awaited DVD release has brought back. Earlier I made a comparison to David Lynch's brilliant show Twin Peaks and like that series, The Adventures Of Pete & Pete offers up equal doses of humor, horror, sentimentality, surrealness and an altogether original take on family life in small town America. Even if you didn't watch this show when it first aired, do yourself a favor and pick up this two-DVD set, it's Highly Recommended.