The last decade has been, if nothing else, an era of reboots and revivals. Star Trek got back to basics with a fresh cast after a couple of disappointing Next Generation outings. Spider-Man is going into its second reboot, and the Superman franchise is already two movies into Reboot Number Two. And of course, most recently, Ghostbusters got a controversial reboot.
On the revival side, we can point to the (also controversial) fourth season of Arrested Development, Mystery Science Theater 3000, The X-Files, the upcoming MacGyver series, and, of course, Ash vs. Evil Dead.
But there’s one show – one glorious, short-lived show – that’s not on the reboot/revival list right now. It’s a show I’d dearly love to see return – but, alas, one that’s unlikely to do so.
Why? Well, not too many people remember it these days. It only lasted a season before being axed by Fox, that perennial executioner of groundbreaking TV. In fact, it was one of the first shows Fox canceled before its time – preceding the unceremonious axings of Firefly, Freaks and Geeks, and Arrested Development.
That show was The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr., a gloriously silly western/sci-fi mashup that ran for 27 episodes during the 1993-94 season.
The pre-Firefly sci-fi western
The show was created by Jeffrey Boam and Carlton Cuse specifically for the fledgling Fox network. The two were asked to develop an action show for Fox after execs were impressed by Boam’s screenplay for Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. What they came up with was, like Indy, an homage to the no-budget adventure serials of the 1930s.
Brisco was set in the 1890s, the waning days of the Old West. It starred Bruce Campbell (currently kicking deadite ass on Ash vs. Evil Dead) as the titular hero, a lawyer-turned-bounty-hunter. And it was, for the brief moment it was on the air, one of the best shows on television.
It’s hard to explain Brisco. It was a western, yes, but it had a heavy science-fiction influence (if Firefly was a western-infused sci-fi, I guess Brisco would be a sci-fi infused western). It was set in 1893, but contained knowing winks to 20th-Century pop culture. Was it an action show with broad, lunatic comedy — or a comedy with some of the best action sequences on TV?
I can’t really define it. The only thing Brisco is comparable to, ultimately, is itself. But it was fantastic. Bruce Campbell, of course, was reliably superb. He was ably supported by Julius Carry as rival-cum-partner Lord Bowler and Christian Clemenson as attorney Socrates Poole. Recurring guest stars included the marvelous John Astin as nutty scientist Professor Wickwire, Kelly Rutherford as Dixie Cousins (Brisco’s on-again, off-again love interest) and John Piper-Ferguson as one of the show’s great comic creations, the dim-witted outlaw Pete.
Gone too soon
This show never really got a chance. It was on Fox when Fox still didn’t have the market share of the other three networks. It was scheduled on Friday nights – TV’s “death slot” – for its entire run. And it was, perhaps, just a little too different for the time. Careening back and forth between comedy and action, western and sci-fi, Brisco defied easy classification. Frankly, the world may not have been ready for it at the time.
But today, with genre mashups like Firefly and madcap satires like 30 Rock under our belts, I think the viewing public could really get behind a show like Brisco. And in today’s media environment — in which some of the best shows are from nontraditional outlets like Netflix and Amazon Prime — a show like Brisco might actually get a chance to thrive. Freed of the tyranny of the Neilsen box, it could easily become the classic it was always meant to be.
Of course, there is one problem: Brisco isn’t the kind of show you can recast. It simply doesn’t work without Campbell in the title role – and I would argue it doesn’t work without Carry, Clemenson and Rutherford, either.
So it’s a pipe dream. After all, Campbell’s already busy on another hit show – and one, I’m sure, that subjects him to enough physical abuse without the added strain of horseback riding. So Brisco will most likely have to remain a memory for now. But I must admit that I wish it was “the coming thing.”
Don’t worry – the right people will get that last part.
The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. is available on DVD. You can find it, reasonably priced, on Amazon.