Tales from the Cultural Wilderness - Journal

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2011-01-09 Entry: "The Adventures Of Brisco County, Jr. - "Pilot""

Another short-lived show that aired on Fox in 1993 (although, as this is Fox, it may just have been cancelled because they couldn't find any other show to annoy the fans of that year), this opens, ostensibly as a western. The big draw of the show, obviously, is the presence of Bruce Campbell as the titular character.

Aspect Ratio: 4:3
Audio: Stereo.

Brisco County, Jr. - Bruce Campbell
Socrates Poole - Christian Clemenson
Lord Bowler - Julius Carry
Dixie Cousins - Kelly Rutherford
Professor Albert Wickwire - John Astin
John Bly - Billy Drago
Pete Hutter - John Pyper-Ferguson

Digging a railway tunnel, the workers discover a mysterious golden spiked orb, buried in the rock. Pulling out one of the spikes reveals a lightsaber which gives the workers amazing strength, enough to break their chains and depart for freedom.

Meanwhile, Marshall Brisco County (senior) is transporting the most notorious 13 outlaws (including John Bly) to prison by train but one remaining member of Bly's gang, Pete, has a "plan" to break them out. He's built a wall on the track, and painted it to look like more track so the train crashes into it - is this a western, or a roadrunner cartoon? While this is going on, Bly's managed to pick the lock on his shackles, and with some help, guns down the Marshall.

Lawyer Socrates Poole has been asked to find a bounty hunter to bring Bly's gang to justice, and rather than hire famous tracker Lord Bowler, they've decided to hire Brisco County, Jr (a Harvard trained lawyer, although you wouldn't immediately know it - he'd rather be looking for "the coming thing"), who's currently trying to avoid getting hanged for something he didn't do (and who has an extremely well trained horse who doesn't know he's a horse, Comet).

John Bly intends to steal the orb (or "unearthed foreign object") from a special "gold train" transporting it back to Washington, but meanwhile sends some ninjas to kill Brisco County Jr. Fortunately, tracking the ninjas leads him to the Scarred Foot Clan, who were friends with his father, so can give him the next lead on his trail - Dixie Cousins (the lovely Kelly Rutherford). The trail of Dixie Cousins and that of the painter who painted the rock at the start also introduces Brisco to Amanda and her father, Professor Albert Wickwire.

Trailing Dixie to the mountains, Brisco has to save her from a runaway coach, but that nearly gets him shot by her boyfriend Big Smith's gang. Fortunately, faking being an outlaw (Kansas Wily Stafford) and saving Dixie's life keeps him alive. Unfortunately, a whole mix-up involving Professor Wickwire and "Pete's piece" leads to him having to take part in a shootout in the street which manages to take out 4 of Smith's gang (including Pete) and leaving Brisco unharmed.

Lord Bowler, continuing his participation as "bumbling idiot", shows up with Comet, who immediately identifies Brisco and ends up with the both Brisco and Bowler tied to a railroad track in the path of the oncoming train. Fortunately, after Brisco escapes, he can use Professor Wickwire's experimental rocket to catch up with the train. After a short fight, Big Smith and the orb take a header off a bridge (and we have to assume Smith doesn't survive based on the shot of his 3000 dollar hat floating down river) - just as an aside, how come the big golden orb floats? County then returns for his bounty, but confronts the robber baron in charge of the railroads for teaming up with Bly. This wouldn't have been a bad idea, except that robber baron had touched the orb and it gave him incredible strength... at least until he went the way of the Nazis at the end of Raiders Of The Lost Ark... And that's all she wrote...

So what do we have? Some sort of sci-fi western comedy thing. Bruce Campbell is great as the titular hero, with Socrates Poole as his straight man, and Lord Bowler to provide the comic relief. Billy Drago is suitably sinister as the villain, John Bly, even if he has very little to do in this pilot. And of course, we have Dixie Cousins as the on-again, off-again romantic interest.

The sci-fi elements here (the "orb", the rocket) aren't too overblown - the orb mostly remains a McGuffin throughout the rest of the series, and Wickwire isn't in all that many episodes to come up with ridiculous science - so we're left with what's mostly a western, and it's got all the basics down. The gunfights, the oldy-worldy western towns, the stagecoaches and horses, the outlaw gangs and the saloons. It's all here, and played as a straight western for the most part. And Bruce Campbell's chin does a fine job of playing the rugged western hero.

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