At long last, Warner Home Video has decided to release the highly anticipated 8-disc set comprised of all 27 episodes of The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr., a blasphemously underrated show which, to this very day, still manages to transcend typical genre classification. Combining elements of western, science-fiction, comedy, action, drama, romance, and more, executive producers Jeffrey Boam and Carlton Cuse have created a masterpiece which has been deemed "just under over-the-top," and appropriately so. It has been compared to old serials such as The Wild Wild West (read John's recent review of The Complete First Season), but it certainly brings something new to the table and is by no means a clone. In fact, since its original air date of almost 13 years ago, Brisco remains fresher than ever. The moment the menu screen popped up with the theme of Brisco playing in the background, my heart completely swelled up with nostalgia. All I could think was, "Oh my god--this is epic!"
The year is 1893. Meet Bruce Campbell as Brisco County, Jr., a Harvard-educated lawyer hired by local robber barons as a bounty hunter after John Bly (Billy Drago) and his infamous Gang of 12 collectively murder his beloved father, Brisco County, Sr. (R. Lee Ermey), a U.S. Marshal and all-around legend in the Old West. Throw into the mix his trusty companion Comet, a horse who "doesn't know he's a horse," Socrates Poole (Christian Clemenson), the lawyer and liaison between Brisco and his future employers at San Francisco's Westerfield Club, and Lord Bowler (Julius Carry), a manhunter who, at first, resents Brisco from a competitive standpoint, but later becomes his oh-so "faithful companion." Other recurring characters to look forward to include the sultry stage performer and dance hall singer Dixie Cousins (Kelly Rutherford), Brisco's main love interest, as well as Professor Albert Wickwire (John Astin), a quirky fellow with more than a few inventions, gadgets, and curiosities under his belt. The Professor acts as a keen spirit and sort of a father figure to Brisco as they both share an interest in the next Coming Thing--whether it be a rocket, air ship, or inner space suit. Let's not forget Pete Hutter (John Pyper-Ferguson), a notorious member of Bly's gang one can't help but love, if only just a little bit. Oh, and remember not to touch Pete's Piece!
Brisco rides a rocket in pursuit of Big Smith.
Brisco agrees to become a bounty hunter not for revenge, but to finish what his father started: putting away each and every member of John Bly's gang starting with Big Smith (M.C. Gainey), and not to mention, Bly himself. He does so accompanied by his undeniable wit, his eternal optimism, and his father's ivory-handled six-shooter crafted by Lee Pow (James Hong), an old-time friend of Brisco County, Sr. Brisco's adventures largely consist of bringing Bly's gang to justice, becoming quite a task with the discovery of a spherical, golden U.F.O. (Unearthed Foreign Object) possessing supernatural powers, known as the Orb. Bly will stop at nothing to obtain this power which even Professor Wickwire is baffled by in order to "rule the world," and Brisco will die trying if he must to prevent the Orb from entering the wrong hands.
Bly coerces Professor Wickwire into helping him restore the Orb.
A main part of what makes this show work so well is the cast. Bruce executes the role of Brisco with absolute perfection. After watching him perform in this role, it actually becomes difficult to imagine the two as separate entities. In essence, you can't have one without the other, and the same can easily be said about the supporting cast members. One can tell that the actors and actresses of Brisco really enjoyed playing their respective parts, and this element in and of itself makes the show that much more enjoyable to watch. The chemistry is there. Even Comet the Wonder Horse comes complete with a personality including but not limited to a strong partiality to green apples and a dislike for "motored cycles," which he is not afraid to express vocally.
Dixie and Brisco heat things up.
It's a darn shame that FOX cancelled Brisco only after its first, and ultimately, its last season. The show had (and still has) real potential, and I think it could've gone on for several more seasons if not for unfortunate circumstances such as its time slot (Fridays, before the X-Files). Fortunately, the series finale does bring about closure that doesn't come off as being abrupt, and the journey there (one which can be easily repeated) is more than worth it.
I got the idea for this section from DVDTalk's Francis Rizzo III in his review of Strangers with Candy: The Complete Series. One might ask, "Hey, haven't I seen that name/person somewhere else?" Indeed, my friend. For starters, co-creator Carlton Cuse is an executive producer of the hit series Lost, while M.C. Gainey (Big Smith) whose character is known as "Mr. Friendly" (the bearded "Other") appears on the show itself. Yet another Lost appearance includes François Chau as Dr. Marvin Candle from the Dharma Initiative orientation videos. In Brisco, he appears briefly in the episode And Baby Makes Three as an aide. Xander Berkeley (CTU Director George Mason in FOX's critically acclaimed 24) also appears in the episode titled Riverboat as the infamous Brett Bones.
Along with Carlton Cuse, co-creator Jeffrey Boam has more than his fair share to boast about. He has worked on several screenplays including Lethal Weapon 2, Lethal Weapon 3, and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Furthermore, former football quarterback for the Steelers and current co-host of FOX NFL Sunday, Terry Bradshaw even shows up in High Treason - Parts 1 & 2 of the series finale. One might also recognize the great John Astin (Professor Albert Wickwire) for his portrayal of Gomez Addams in the '60s The Addams Family show as well as his eventual voice work in the early '90s animated version, and James Hong (Lee Pow) from an array of television and film projects including John Carpenter's Big Trouble in Little China as the malevolent Lo Pan. Finally, Bruce Campbell (Brisco County, Jr. himself) is, no doubt, known for his work in Sam Raimi's Evil Dead Trilogy in addition to Don Coscarelli's more recent Bubba Ho-Tep in which he plays an elderly Elvis in a nursing home.
This 8-disc set offers an English 2.0 Dolby Digital stereo track with optional subtitles in French or Spanish. While a 5.1 mix is almost unquestionably preferable, the 2.0 track sounds fantastic. The dialogue is easy to understand, gunshots and a variety of other sound effects are sharp, the music envelops the viewer, etc. Encounters with drowning out of one aspect over another are few and far between.
The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. is presented in its original 4:3 or 1.33:1 full frame aspect ratio, preserving the format of its television exhibition. The transfer appears slightly fuzzy and soft at times, but clear and crisp for the most part with only minor bits of dirt popping up occasionally throughout the episodes. The colors are rich and a nice contrast to the often monochrome backgrounds which are commonplace in western settings. Overall, while not perfect, the transfer looks just about as good as it possibly could.
Saddle up, pardner, for Special Features abound! First up is the Pilot Episode Commentary by Bruce Campbell and Carlton Cuse located on Disc 1 for your enjoyment. This commentary is loaded with an array of information such as Bruce's audition, how Brisco came about, experiences with the cast and crew as well as other insights into the series. While many commentaries tend to lean towards the yawn-worthy side, this track is quite enjoyable and definitely worth checking out. The rest of the Special Features can be found on Disc 8.
One of the more original and exciting features is Brisco's Book of Coming Things: a Video Catalog of the Show's Signature References to Future Items and Ideas. Here, Bruce narrates (as Brisco) over a journal he has kept of various futuristic developments which have crossed his path, complete with sketches and animations. The complete list includes: Rocket, Inner Space Suit, Day Glasses, Hamburger, Ride Thru Dining, Denim, Machinery Gun, Steel Horses, Sushi, and Lighter than Air Ship.
In The History of Brisco County Retrospective Documentary, co-creator Carlton Cuse along with actors Bruce Campbell, Julius Carry, Christian Clemenson, and actress Kelly Rutherford talk about the background of Brisco, providing further insights into the show. They talk about their personal experiences, and one can really sense the pleasure they took in being a part of the show.
Another fun feature is the Tools of the Trade Brisco Lore Featurette Gallery, which includes tidbits on Horses, Gun, Charm, Season 2, and The Orb with additional commentary by co-creator Carlton Cuse along with actors Bruce Campbell, Julius Carry, Christian Clemenson, actress Kelly Rutherford, and key writers of the show.
A Reading from the Book of Bruce is a nice feature for those who aren't (or are) familiar with Bruce's first book, If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B Movie Actor. Bruce reads a chapter from his autobiography entailing his experiences and impressions from working on Brisco, a recollection of sorts.
The final DVD video supplement feature is titled A Brisco County Writer's Room: Roundtable with Key Series Creative Personnel including Carlton Cuse, John Wirth, Brad Kern, Tom Chehak, David Simkins, and John McNamara. A bit chaotic at times, but interesting to hear the writers' point of view. They talk about what they ultimately got out of Brisco as well as what they learned from each other.
To top things off, this solidly packaged series comes complete with Booklet Liner Notes by Bruce Campbell accompanied by lovely pictures of the cast.
The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. is by far one of the most unique, feel-good, and downright enjoyable shows I've ever had the pleasure of viewing. What's so wonderful about this series is that it's perfect for just about all age groups. I first watched it as a kid, and watching it again as an adult has allowed me to appreciate it that much more. Brisco is a hero to both children and adults alike--always looking towards the future, witty, charming, and never harming anyone unless it's absolutely necessary (although he is quite the sharp-shooter). The cast coupled with the writers make for a highly entertaining and successful western/sci-fi/comedy/action/etc. genre crossover. I never pictured myself eagerly awaiting the next episode of a western, but that's just the kind of show Brisco is. It defies the norm, and in a good way. For all these reasons and more, this 8-disc set comes Highly Recommended.
"Very fancy!" as Brisco would say.
Oh, and one more thing--If you're a fan of Brisco, you may also enjoy Jack of All Trades, another show featuring Bruce Campbell as the star.