The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr.: The Complete Series
July 17, 2006
Bryan Spicer, Andy Tennant, Kim Manners, Rob Bowman,
Starring: Bruce Campbell, Julius Carry, Kelly Rutherford, John Astin, John Pyper-Ferguson, Billy Drago, Jeff Phillips, Christian Clemenson, M.C. Gainey, ,
The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. was a short-lived television program that attempted to resurrect westerns like The Wild Wild West and Maverick complete with lots of two-fisted action and adventure and a good dose of humour supplied by its star, Bruce Campbell. One has to admire the show’s creators’ attempts to bring back the T.V. western at a time when the genre was pretty much dead and buried in the eyes of an indifferent mainstream popular culture. Apparently, the network felt the same way and the show was cancelled after just one season.
It’s 1893 and the notorious John Bly Gang makes a daring escape from a train taking them to prison. In the process, they kill Federal Marshal Brisco County (R. Lee Ermey), the man who caught them. A consortium of businessmen hires a bounty hunter to find and catch the Bly Gang. It turns out to be none other than former Harvard-trained lawyer turned tracker Brisco County, Jr. (Campbell). He answers to the consortium-appointed attorney Socrates Poole (Clemenson), a bookish fellow who takes an immediate dislike to the rugged cowboy.
The hiring of Brisco doesn’t sit too well with infamous tracker Lord Bowler (Carry) either who is also Brisco’s rival. This is probably best demonstrated in the first episode where they face-off against one another in a tense showdown at a restaurant with a bundle of dynamite that Brisco defuses with his smarmy wit. Regulars to the series included Dixie Cousins (Rutherford), a curvy saloon singer and dancer who is Brisco’s sometimes love interest. Kelly Rutherford brings a seductive sexiness to her role. She and Campbell have a lot of fun exchanging playful banter and double entendres. Brisco also befriends a kindly scientist named Professor Albert Wickwire (Astin), an eccentric inventor who shares Brisco’s forward thinking. The underrated Billy Drago finally gets a substantial role to sink his teeth into as the show’s recurring bad guy, John Bly.
The pilot episode does an excellent job in establishing the tone and atmosphere of the show while also paying homage to T.V. westerns of the past with the casting of veterans like James Drury who starred in The Virginian, Stuart Whitman from Cimarron Strip and Robert Fuller who was in Wagon Train. Also introduced is a recurring plot device of a recently unearthed, mysterious orb that contains supernatural properties in the form of detachable rods that when removed bestow the handler with enhanced powers but with often fatal side effects.
Campbell, with his trademark matinee idol square jaw, is ideally cast as Brisco and brings his signature smart-ass sense of humour to the role. He infuses the character with a sense of optimism for Brisco is already looking ahead to the 20th century and the advances it will bring. He breaks from the traditional good guy stereotype by making Brisco a larger than life character always with a bemused look in his eye and roguish charm that is a delight to watch.
One of the show’s co-creators Jeffrey Boam wrote the third Indiana Jones film and brings that pulp serial touch to The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. complete with recurring cliffhangers every ten minutes or so and this keeps the show moving so that there is never a dull moment. As the series progressed, elements of science fiction began to permeate due mainly to the presence of the orb and hints at Bly’s true nature. It also hinted at future innovations like drive-thru windows, motorcycles and hot air balloons. However, it never lost its roots in the western and was able to mix the two quite seamlessly. It’s a shame that The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. was never allowed to survive long enough to find a larger audience as its fellow genre show, The X-Files (that aired after it on Friday nights), did.
The first disc features an audio commentary on the pilot episode by actor Bruce Campbell and co-creator Carlton Cuse. Campbell touches upon the auditioning process he went through and how he almost didn’t get the role. Cuse talks about the origins of the show: to blend a serial western with science fiction elements. They point out the back lots and sets that old westerns used and how their show was one of the last to use them before they were torn down by the studios. This is a solid, informative track loaded with good observations and engaging anecdotes.
The last disc contains the rest of the supplemental material.
“Brisco’s Book of Coming Things” features a look at Brisco’s journal as he narrates his thoughts on future innovations, like rockets, deep sea diving gear and sunglasses that were showcased in several episodes.
“The History of Brisco County” is a retrospective featurette that brings back key cast members who recall their experiences on the show. There is a bit of repetition from the commentary as Campbell recounts how he got the gig and how he had always wanted to play a cowboy. We find out that Lord Bowler was a homage to the leader of the super posse in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969). Julius Carry clearly had a blast with this character and conveys his enthusiasm in this extra. Everyone looks back on the show with fondness and there is a tinge of regret that they were cancelled before they really got going.
“Tools of the Trade” takes a look at some of the show’s iconography, like horses, guns and the orb with the cast talking about how they learned to ride and shoot. Kelly Rutherford talks about her chemistry with Campbell while Cuse talks about their plans for Season 2 where Brisco would have become the sheriff of a town.
“A Reading from The Book of Bruce” features Campbell reading from the chapter on his experiences working on Brisco County from his memoirs, If Chins Could Kill.
Finally, “A Brisco County Writers’ Room” sees several members of the show’s creative team reunited so that they can talk about their experiences working on it. For some of these guys this was their first gig or one of their earliest and they had to learn the craft of T.V. screenwriting very fast.
In a nice touch, the DVD set’s episode guide is written by none other than Bruce Campbell and he gives what could have been paint-by-numbers synopsis an entertaining spin.