February 13, 2006TV ON DVD
Smiling Strange: The Adventures of Pete and Pete
A superhero in pajamas and horn-rimmed glasses; 12-year-old Pete, tattooed like a sailor; his similarly redheaded brother, also named Pete; a passive-aggressive school bus driver; the metal plate in mom's head; a mysterious costumed ice cream man; Mrs. Blowtard's hypnotic arm flub; the wailing vocals of "Marmalade Cream". Such unique and beautiful imagery may explain why devoted fans have not forgotten The Adventures of Pete and Pete since it first aired on Nickelodeon in 1993. It certainly left an indelible mark in my mind. With seasons one and two already out on DVD, lifelong fans like myself can give the DVD sets to their parents to explain why they turned out to be such warped individuals.
When you watch Pete and Pete, you will be transported to a time when a staring contest is a perfectly legitimate way to settle an argument and a family road trip is no less than an Odyssean journey. The recurring "International Adult Conspiracy" recalls those early feelings of that dichotomy between grownups and kids; their ways were incomprehensibly foreign and superfluous, and vice versa. In one of many shockingly true moments, little Pete interrogates Dad, "So you don't like the taste of coffee, but you drink it anyway?" No other TV show has accomplished such a precise portrayal of childhood, except perhaps The Simpsons (when it used to be good). The definition of wacky, Artie The Strongest Man in the World (Toby Huss, AKA "The Wiz" on that episode of Seinfeld) is what every young viewer expects himself to grow up into. It's heartening to think the program had a small hand in forever subverting its viewers' opinions on our sterile, money-obsessed world.
|Wellsville is viewed through a child's perceptive and mercurial lens. Mundane events like bus rides and shop class are presented as the epical "today's adventure" they actually can be.|
Pete and Pete seems shockingly aberrant in that it never condescends to hackneyed moral reasoning or black-and-white explanation Ñ things unavoidable in today's crop of children's television. Pete and Pete accepts ambiguity, albeit with an exaggerated, very surreal bent. On the commentary track for season one's "Day of the Dot", creators Will McRobb and Chris Viscardi discuss the reasons why important aspects of the show Ñ why both brothers are named Pete, Wellsville's specific location, the actual names of Mom and Dad Ñ are left unexplained. "Everything [in TV] seemed so overexplained... the idea was to put some mystery back into kids' life," says McRobb. Director Katherine Dieckmann adds, "those mysteries are part of respecting a kid's POV."
It should be noted that the show had the coolest rock and roll and celebrity guest stars including: Iggy Pop, Adam West, Michael Stipe, Marshall Crenshaw, Debbie Harry of Blondie, Steve Buscemi (my favorite actor) and even Hunter S. Thompson. And it was all rounded out by a catchy, post-grunge alternative soundtrack of that newly-nostalgic 1990s zeitgeist.
Considering it originally aired on Nickelodeon, The Adventures of Pete and Pete balances quiet subversion and heartfelt schmaltz to a remarkably sophisticated degree. This is children's television too smart for even adult TV. Finally, here I must regretfully note that the third and final season, originally scheduled for February 28th DVD release, has been inexplicably cancelled. However, I can't help but conclude with the most poignant words of Artie, The Strongest Man In The World: PIPE!
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