Brisco Lives!

Over the years, I have gradually lost interest in episodic television. Most of them recycle the same old plot lines; the good ones find new twists and different personalities to showcase, but the stories themselves don’t vary much from one to another. The exceptions to that rule have gradually disappeared, or more often get cancelled before anyone knows they exist.
Fortunately, we live in the era of the DVD — and that has allowed us to revisit shows that fall into that latter category. In 1993, Fox aired a show that blended science fiction, Western, action, and comedy called The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr — and promptly cancelled it after 27 episodes, including a two-hour pilot. Given that it was Fox and that they hardly had anything else to air, many wondered why they didn’t give the series a chance to find an audience. The DVD collection with all 27 shows may prove that Fox made a big mistake, not unlike the one they made in canceling Firefly.
In fact, the two shows have some similarity. Both have the same elements, and both challenge traditional notions of storytelling and of the nature of heroes. Brisco County was more comedic than Firefly, but both used sardonic comments for stylish humor. Both used recurring villains and secondary characters to an unusual extent to flesh out the strange universe created in both shows, and to entrance the audience.
Brisco County had more of a serial nature to its episodes. Brisco’s father gets killed in the pilot (played by R. Lee Ermey), and his son gets hired to track down the gang that killed him. Each of the episodes brings him closer to that goal, and by the end of the season, he actually accomplishes the task. However, a golden orb with supernatural powers complicates matters, and Brisco and others want to find out the nature and the origin of the orb, and how to control its seemingly limitless power.
The cast is top-flight. Bruce Campbell played Brisco, with the same comedic sense that he displayed in Army of Darkness and other Sam Raimi features. John Astin played the absent-minded Professor Albert Wickwire. Billy Drago played Brisco’s archnemesis, John Bly, whose gang Brisco seeks. Lesser-known actors fill out the rest of the important roles, such as Julias Carry playing fellow bounty-hunter Lord Bowler, Kelly Rutherford as temptress Dixie Cousins, and Christian Clemenson as Socrates Poole. John Pyper-Ferguson plays the often-killed Pete Hutter, a nutter with a wide vocabulary (and apparently a lot of luck).
Tonight we watched the pilot episode, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. After all, 14 years have gone by since it aired, and memories can play tricks on you. Fortunately, it was exactly as I remembered it: funny, inventive, wise-cracking, and full of surprises. Each commercial break featured a cliff-hanger, and every resolution had a laugh. Even the First Mate liked it — and she doesn’t even remember the show at all.
I still think Fox blew an opportunity to carve out an audience with Brisco County. Lucky for us, we can revisit it and see that for ourselves all over again.

13 thoughts on “Brisco Lives!”

  1. I remember at the time it premiered, Brisco County, Jr. was predicted to be the season’s hit show, while the show that premiered after it on Fox wasn’t given much of a chance for renewal. The latter went on to be a hit show and ran for 9 seasons.
    While I enjoyed watching Brisco and loved Bruce Campbell, his show wasn’t as good as The X-Files.

  2. I think the post-cancellation popularity of both shows in syndication (Brisco was on TNT for years, Serenity is still shown on SciFi.) and DVD showcases the untapped potential of the modern Sci Fi-Western genre.
    One could probably call them the heirs to the old 60s version of “The Wild Wild West.”
    Sadly, both cancellations show a TV Network’s inability to show the patience needed to make them ratings and commercial successes. That, or they might be just too darn expensive to produce.

  3. I found the show quite enjoyable to watch. Lots of little things would pop up. One of my favorites was: “thanks for the donuts, Dunkin”

  4. Captn: FOX did the exact same thing with the BEST SciFi show to ever be on TV: Firefly!
    Thankfully, they did get a movie made: Serenity!
    But it’s well worth your time to order the Firefly complete series on DVD from, and enjoy the hell out of it, and then mourn when you realize there may never be anymore!
    Adam Baldwin, normally a 2-bit actor I never cared for, was great!

  5. C’mon Ed, admit it——-you just wanna sneek a peek at Dixies sweet mellons when the 1st Mate’s not lookin’ -:)

  6. There was another show with Bruce Campbell around the same time, something called Union Jack of Jack of America? He was a secret agent for the U.S. right after the American Revolution working with a hot British agent lady. That show was good to but didn’t last.

  7. The loss of Firefly helped seal my giving up on broadcast TV. I just don’t think they care enough about what I want to see to even bother turning the set on.

  8. I can only partially agree with you here, Captain. Bruce Campbell is certainly a very fine comedic/suspense actor, and the show concept was fascinating, but I rather quickly lost interest in it, only tuning in again to catch the “final” episode, which IMHO settled so little.
    It was mostly little things that gradually turned me off; a carefully tweaked show could probably have won me over.
    First, IMHO the comedy/suspense balance was way off, with too much comedy, too little suspense. Then, too, I have a strong personal bias against the “endless quest” as a TV series; those few that ever get the chance to finish, usually end up producing exactly TWO must-watch episodes: the first one and the last one. The rest tend to be filler.
    (An exception that no one here will ever have heard of is the Japanese animated, DIC coproduction entitled “The Mysterious Cities of Gold”. To my still undying amazement, every single episode was necessary to watch because each resulted in some significant advance to the quest.)
    In addition it appeared that most of the special effects budget had been spent on snapping up bargains on eBay. I remember a newly invented motorcycle… that looked exactly like a modern motorcycle, and a newly invented tank… that looked exactly like a modern tank. Unlike the similar though more episodic “Wild, Wild West”, Brisco County’s creators made little attempt to envision how Victorian-era inventions would have LOOKED.
    Too bad.

  9. I thought I was the only person to watch the show. I’m glad I’m in good company!

  10. Jack of all Trades – ran like midnight on Sundays.
    right before or right after the fabulous show “Cheopatra 25-25” staring the same Gina Torres as was in Firefly.
    Also another Sam Raimi show. Cheopatra was a riot of watch!! I got them on DVD now, but sad that it and Firefly both died way way too early.
    Torres was in some show last year on Fox – probably cancelled now.
    She’s probably black-listed by now as a bad luck actress for show directors/producers!

  11. Ah, yes… Cleopatra 2525. Showed locally, IIRC, right after She Spies.
    I’ve got She Spies and Jack of All Trades on DVD, never really got into Brisco. What I’d really like to see released, though, is Relic Hunter… the only U.S. release I’ve seen is a sort of “best of”, not the whole series.

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