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STUDIO: Warner Bros.
MSRP: $99.99
RATING: NR
RUNNING TIME: 1260 min.
SPECIAL FEATURES:

- Featurettes
- Commentary

THE PITCH

“Hail to the cowboy, baby.”

THE HUMANS

Bruce Campbell, Julius Carry, Christian Clemenson, John Astin, Kelly Rutherford, John Pyper-Ferguson, Billy Drago

THE NUTSHELL

In the Old West (1893 to be precise), Brisco County Jr. (Campbell) is a Harvard-schooled lawyer and legendary bounty hunter on the trail of nefarious outlaw John Bly (Drago) and his gang, who were responsible for gunning down Brisco’s US Marshal father. Using information updates from uptight liaison Socrates Poole (Clemenson), Brisco alternately teams up or butts heads with belligerent competing tracker Lord Bowler (Carry) and wily traveling showgirl Dixie Cousins (Rutherford). Among other bizarre situations, the hunt for Bly also draws Brisco into an ongoing mystery involving a supernatural object known as The Orb.


Weird. I don’t recall the show being quite so… scat.

THE LOWDOWN

I’ve been a fan of Westerns for literally as long as I can remember – my first movie memory is of Clint Eastwood displaying his considerable gunslinging abilities on a Sunday afternoon TV airing of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. In 1993, Brisco County Jr.’s combination of standard Westerns ingredients with wacky and otherworldly elements, together with everyone’s favorite heroic-jawed Deadite-destroyer Bruce Campbell, made for a brand new wagon full of semi-satirical gold, and rode on to cult status after the show’s ratings slide and subsequent cancellation after one season (it also introducing myself and thousands of others to The X-Files, which premiered on Fox immediately following).


Nintendo hiring Drago to introduce their new gaming machine may not have been the best idea. But that new radioactive controller is sure nifty.

Creators Carlton Cuse (now one of the devious minds behind Lost) and the late Jeffrey Boam took the Old West serial flavor (complete with chapter titles) and added the basics of James Bond (stuffy Socrates is the M equivalent), Scooby Doo-style mysteries and The Wild Wild West’s extrapolative gadgetry (courtesy of John Astin’s eccentric genius inventor Professor Wickwire), while the underlying X-Files-esque paranormal mythology with the mystical Orb is typically interrupted with more traditional shootouts, fisticuffs, explosions and horse chases. (Strangely, the Orb subplot is resolved at the 20th episode, leaving the remainder of stories more grounded in reality — a discordant, or at least somewhat disappointing, tonal shift.)

Speaking of gadgets, much of the show focuses on what the characters refer to as “The Coming Thing”, with Brisco and Wickwire making optimistic (if a bit didactic) remarks and exploration of what lies ahead for them at the turn of the century, from women’s rights to electricity. The “forward-thinking” attitude of Brisco and the fictitious history he inhabits grants the writers many chances to slip in all sorts of anachronistic inventions, including motorcycles, tanks, stun guns, rockets and blimps, in addition to throwaway jokes involving the fabricated origins of donuts, sushi, burgers and drive-thru restaurant service.


"Say, is that a really humongous rocket between your legs, or are you just… ahh, it’s not even worth it."

There are moments of melodrama, but the stories themselves are almost always more fun than a shot o’ redeye and a night at the cathouse. It’s really the cast that makes it a blast. Brisco’s relationship with Bowler grows from adversarial to camaraderie over the course of the season, no doubt a direct result of the actors’ rapport. The lovely Rutherford makes for a delightfully conniving sexpot, and supplies plenty of trouble whenever she appears. Well-spoken sociopath Pete Hutter (Pyper-Ferguson) is so amusing that even the writers kept devising ways to circumvent his apparent death(s), and as the nemesis seeking the Orb for his own maniacal means, Drago is at his most reptilian. For extra serial seasoning, familiar and dependable C-list actors also mosey through Brisco’s world, including M.C. Gainey, Casey Siemaszko, Andrew Divoff, Xander Berkeley, Robert Picardo, Tracey Walter, Sheena Easton, Rex Linn, James Hong and Paul Ben-Victor, and the series finale (before Brisco and Bowler literally ride off into the sunset) features a Dirty Dozen style mission gathering some of the more memorable recurring characters from the show’s run, including a rascal named Whip and an Elvis-like sheriff known for his martial arts and eating prowess.


That’s not my kind of woman. It’s two of my kind of woman.

The series definitely provides Campbell’s greatest opportunity to show his range as an actor, and the character allows him to take advantage of it – Brisco is educated and clever (without being cocky or smug), but also proficient with six-shooter, lasso, knuckle sandwiches, and riding his hyper-intelligent steed Comet. Fans of old-fashioned serials and off-kilter stories of the Old West will be in slap-leather heaven, while The Chin’s legions can proudly slide this set on their shelf with Icebreaker, The Man with the Screaming Brain and the 19 DVD versions of the Evil Dead movies.

THE PACKAGE

The fullscreen picture is a bit soft and washed-out, though admittedly this adds to the serial quality. Dolby 2.0 is the audio, and it delivers the punches, shootouts and resounding theme music with admirable gusto for an early 90s television track. Twenty-seven episodes and bonus features finally gallop into your greenhorn mitts on 8 shiny discs, which unfortunately are packaged in one of those annoying quad-fold kits with two overlapping DVDs per “page”.


"It’s interesting that you bring up murderous robot viruses from space, because I feel a lot of people didn’t really ‘get’ Moontrap."

But how about those meaty treats? Cuse and Campbell team for a commentary on the feature-length pilot, a friendly and revealing track that makes me wish they’d done a few more episodes. There’s a nice retrospective called “The History of Brisco County Jr” that catches up with the actors, who provide anecdotes of the difficulties with the show’s hectic schedule and attempts to rope ratings. We learn that had a second season been approved, Cuse envisioned Brisco settling down with Dixie and becoming sheriff of a town where random weirdness occured regularly.

“Brisco’s Book of Coming Things” is an interesting but brief interactive encyclopedia containing some of the faux precursors to various devices and creations that feature into the show. “Tools of the trade” runs through certain specific aspects like gunhandling and horseback riding (Campbell confesses that before he properly learned how to ride he “looked like a monkey humping a football”), and “A Reading from the Book of Bruce” is literally 7 minutes of Campbell reading (as appropriate clips from the show roll) from his memoir “Confessions of a B-Movie Actor: If Chins Could Kill”, specifically the chapter recollecting his Brisco days.

A 40-minute relaxed “roundtable” reunites the writers and producers, who reminisce (they all showed up for a story meeting even after a major earthquake decimated their homes) and swap stories of what they’ve been doing since Brisco and Comet were rode hard and put away wet. And they finally admit (SPOILER?) that nobody had any idea precisely what the Orb was.

8.5 out of 10