Who Needs Fresh Air?

Who Needs Fresh Air?: The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. – The Complete Series (May 29)

As the TV season comes to an end, nature does everything it can to force us outside. The days are longer, the weather is warm, the skies are blue, it’s beautiful, really. For the normal people, it’s ideal. Unfortunately, some of us are pale, withdrawn, and prone to respiratory infections that limit our interactions with nature. And some of us simply choose to live like Mole People. The point is, many of the spunkybean writers find themselves asking “Who Needs Fresh Air?” And so, to help you survive the aggressively pleasant climate and plethora of summer-specific social activities, we’re instituting a weekly feature designed to keep you indoors. Just because the season’s over, doesn’t mean there’s nothing to watch, after all. Through the magic of DVD, anytime can be TV time!

This week, it’s The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. – The Complete Series

OK, let me give you two reasons why you need to own this box set and watch it right now.

  1. Bruce Campbell
  2. Carlton Cuse

That’s right. Besides the inherent awesomeness of Bruce Campbell playing a cowboy, Brisco was co-created and produced by Carlton Cuse. You may know Mr. Cuse from his work co-creating and writing a little show called Lost. Heck, you even get to see Cuse onscreen in a couple of episodes, playing a scenery painter. And considering that the first half of Brisco’s run featured an otherworldly orb with mystical powers that could travel through time and occasionally co-existed with itself, it’s not completely unfamiliar territory for Lost fans.

Airing on FOX for a single season from 1993 to 1994, Brisco County, Jr. was a sci-fi western with comedic overtones. Which, for the record, is not exactly an overpopulated genre. Bruce Campbell stars as the titular Brisco County, Jr., a Harvard Law educated gunslinger who sets out to avenge the murder of his father. (Who was killed by 13 different outlaws, not coincidentally, one criminal for each episode in FOX’s initial order.) As ever, Bruce Campbell plays the coolest guy in the room, but unlike so many of his characters, Brisco is educated and genuinely nice. He and Ash would not be friends, I have to say.

The series had a great cast, with the underrated Julius Carry as Brisco’s nemesis-turned-partner, Lord Bowler; future Emmy winner Christian Clemenson, Kelly Rutherford, John Astin, the ever creepy Billy Drago as the evil John Bly, and John Pyper-Ferguson as the strangely unkillable lowlife Pete Hutter. And of course, there’s Comet the Wonder Horse. That’s right, this show has a Wonder Horse.

One of Brisco’s recurring themes was the coming of the 20th Century. Brisco was always on the lookout for “the coming thing”, which let us see the advent of everything from the dirigible to the drive-up window. That set-up allowed the writers to use plenty of anachronistic technology to drive the plots. Need a rocket sled? Well, good thing there’s an eccentric inventor experimenting with the technology! It made for something more exciting and visually interesting than a standard Western.

Upon a recent viewing, it stood out to me how aggressively likeable the show is. The plots are clean and solid, with consistently clear storytelling. The running subplots and recurring characters are introduced well enough to catch up a casual viewer without boring the fans with excessive exposition. And it’s perfect for marathon viewing, as the individual episodes are different enough that there’s no sense of repetition. One episode Brisco’s after a riverboat gambler and the next episode is a courtroom drama. And as silly as it could get, there was genuine emotion. To this day, I get teary at the end of the second-to-last episode, with Brisco and Bowler in prison, awaiting their execution. It’s such a perfectly handled scene that it doesn’t matter that there’s a Sheriff who looks like Elvis Presley working to spring them. It’s simple and beautiful, and you’ll cry.

Why didn’t Brisco catch on? Remember, this was 1993. Other than The Simpsons, FOX didn’t have a lot going on. At the time, they were known mostly for sleazy stunts and lowest common-denominator programming. (Which, admittedly is not that much different from now, but people are no longer shocked and horrified when they land some quality programming.) Brisco County was a show that the whole family could watch together, but this was a time when families were staying away from FOX. And at the time it was paired with the first season of The X-Files on Friday nights. We all know that Friday night is where TV goes to die, and X-Files, while theoretically appealing to a similar audience, was so different in tone and execution that it could cause whiplash.

Still, thanks to the magic of DVD and dedicated cult followings, it’s possible to go back and relive what you missed while you were out having a life on Friday nights. The 8-disc set collects all 27 episodes of one of my favorite series ever, and it’s even got some nice extras. Sadly, there are no deleted scenes, but that’s not unheard of for a series that was released almost a decade before a DVD collection was even a possibility. You do get Campbell and Cuse’s interesting commentary track on the pilot episode, a couple of nicely put together clip packages, a retrospective reuniting the cast, a Writer’s Roundtable, and even a feature where Bruce Campbell reads from the Brisco chapter of his autobiography If Chins Could Kill.

This set is a must-watch, and can more than do the job of keeping you inside for a couple of nights. Because, after all, Who Needs Fresh Air?

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