|The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. (2006)
Starring: Bruce Campbell, Julius Carry, Christian Clemenson, Billy Drago, John Astin, Kelly Rutherford, Comet the Horse
Bruce Campbell is perhaps the most underused comic talent in Hollywood, and though his one-year stint as the wise-cracking bounty hunter, Brisco County Jr., is highly regarded as one of the actor’s best roles to date, the series was never given a real chance to capitalize on the actor’s cult status. Unfairly cancelled after the first season (by Fox, no less), “The Adventures of Brisco County Jr.” withered away as yet another failed attempt by the actor to make it big in the business. Of course, not everything Bruce touches turns to gold (more like a gold-colored brick of Styrofoam), and while he may get a much-needed boost of help from his legion of fans on most projects, “Brisco County Jr.” has a lot more things going for it than just its star.
Created by Carlton Cuse (who now writes for ABC’s mega-hit “Lost”) and Jeffrey Boam (“Lethal Weapon 2,” “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” and “The Lost Boys”), the series stars Campbell as the son of a legendary U.S. marshal (R. Lee Ermey) gunned down by the notorious John Bly (Billy Drago) and his gang of bandits. Hired to take his place and put an end to Bly’s mean streak once and for all, the Harvard-educated ladies’ man trades in his fancy clothes for a pair of six shooters and a couple of allies – including hard-nosed attorney, Socrates Poole (Christian Clemenson) and rival bounty hunter, Lord Bowler (Julius Carry) – as he begins the hunt for Bly and his gang. Along the way, a mysterious orb is introduced with the power to give its owner superhuman strength, and though the science fiction element of the story takes a backseat to all the gun-slinging action-comedy for the first half of the season, it’s only a matter of time before the unlikely connection between Bly and the orb is revealed.
Campbell absolutely shines as the Indiana Jones-like protagonist, and while his performance as the smart-ass everyman isn’t nearly as appealing as that of Ash in the “Evil Dead” trilogy, it’s still the best thing about the show. Campbell’s two co-stars, Carry and Clemenson, aren’t nearly as lucky, and would probably be better evaluated on an episode-to-episode basis. For instance, Clemenson is tolerable when used sparingly, but when given a major role in the story, his performance is usually too much over-the-top to enjoy. Carry, on the other hand, is increasingly more enjoyable to watch as his performance becomes less kitschy – a pattern you’ll notice develop as Lord Bowler and Brisco County Jr. form their friendship. In fact, the duo’s onscreen chemistry is one of the best on television; back in 1993, anyways.
The rest of the supporting actors contribute when possible - including Billy Drago as John Bly (who does the classic villain bit a little too well), John Astin (“The Addams Family”) as the eccentric Professor Wickwire, and Kelly Rutherford (“Melrose Place”) as the sexy saloon performer, Dixie Cousins - but the first season’s lineup of guest stars is far more impressive. The short list consists of guys like M.C. Gainey (“Lost”), Robert Picardo (“Star Trek: Voyager”), William Russ (“Boy Meets World”), and Terry Bradshaw as the evil Colonel March, and it only makes you wonder what other great character actors the producers could have corralled into appearing on the show had a second season ever been greenlighted. Maybe Ted Raimi would have even dropped by.
Previously only available on VHS, the complete first season of “The Adventures of Brisco County Jr.” is now available in an eight-disc box set featuring all 27 episodes in their original broadcast format. Of course, this also means that the video quality isn’t much better than when the episodes first aired, but they don’t look quite as grainy as before. Equally as unimpressive are the special features that appear on the set, which, with the exception of the outstanding audio commentary by star Bruce Campbell and creator/producer Carlton Cuse on the two-hour pilot, can all be found on disc eight.
Featuring short little snippets like “Brisco’s Book of Coming Things” (a look at the show’s signature futuristic items) and “A Reading From the Book of Bruce” (where Campbell reads a chapter regarding “Brisco” from If Chins Could Kill), the only admirable extras include a 30-minute featurette on “The History of Brisco” and an extensive roundtable discussion between the show’s writers and producers (“A Brisco County Writer’s Room). Neither of these are especially informative, however, and so it falls on Campbell, once again, to entertain his fans; this time with a 29-page booklet featuring liner notes by the man himself. It’s like having a mini-commentary track for every episode, and will undoubtedly be the main attraction for any fan of the series.
It’s actually a discredit to the cast and crew that the series was ended so abruptly, but this isn’t the first time that we’ve heard about a genre-bending series being unceremoniously cancelled by Fox. Not more than ten years after the departure of “Brisco County Jr.” did a fervent little nerd by the name of Joss Whedon debut his new sci-fi/western series, “Firefly,” on the same network, only to have it cancelled less than six months later. Actually, “Brisco County Jr.” greatly resembles Whedon’s “Firefly” in many ways, but most prominently in their daring crossbreeding of the western and science fiction genres. Except, where Whedon’s series is heavily grounded in the sci-fi, “Brisco” tends to lean more towards the western. Of course, there are also elements of comedy and action throughout, so it’s fairly difficult to place the series into one genre. Perhaps that’s the main allure of the show? It’s unlike any other program on television, and, judging by its success, that may be a title that the series holds indefinitely.