The television landscape is littered with the dried up husks of hundreds of shows that died before their time. Shows like Firefly, Freaks and Geeks and Profit that were loved by viewers and critics alike but failed to capture audiences wide enough to support them are now more common than shows that hit big and stick around.
Lasting only one season on Fox during the early 90’s, The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. is one of these shows.
Brisco tells the story of a Harvard-educated lawyer, played by The Evil Deads Bruce Campbell, who takes up the family business after his U.S. Marshall father is gunned down. Over the 27 episodes that make up the series, Brisco rides through the Old West, trying to capture the gang that killed his father while also looking for the next big advancement in technology.
The technology sprinkled throughout the series is what really makes it different from other shows in the western genre. Mixing aspects of steam punk and reconstructionist history, many of the conventions of the western are turned on their ear thanks to some sort of mechanical mcguffin. Like the gang of outlaws on motorcycles instead of horses who show up towards the middle of the season.
Adding to the unconventional appeal of the show is Bruce Campbell as Brisco. Known primarily for his horror roles, Campbell gives Brisco an Everyman idealism that makes the character very easy to root for. Also interesting is the character’s refusal to be the standard western tough guy. He’s over-educated and more than happy to use his head instead of his gun in a dangerous situation.
Rounding out the cast is Julius Carry as Brisco’s reluctant sidekick Lord Bowler and Christian Clemenson in the role of Socrates Poole, a.k.a. exposition guy. Both work well within the dynamic of the show, Carry especially. His character’s antagonistic yet caring relationship with Brisco is one of the highlights of the whole series. I’m not totally sure but I think theirs might have been the first interracial bro-mance ever shown on prime-time television.
Though undoubtedly low on the “Reasons to Watch” list for the perverts and degenerates who read Tastes Like Chicken, Brisco is as wholesome as a New Edition song. Drawing on Saturday morning serials from the 1940’s, all of the action in Brisco is fun and light-hearted. The heroes always manage to dodge or duck just in time and the villains always get what they deserve. Even the innuendo is tame and borders on campy.
The high camp factor may be the only real drawback for some viewers. Campbell obviously revels in the puns and self-referential winks to 90’s pop culture, elevating many of the jokes with his incomparable charm. But seeing County ride a rocket-propelled train car or buy donuts from a young boy named Duncan may veer too far off into the realm of cheesy for a few in the audience.
A comedic western with sci-fi undertones is a hard sell, admittedly. But Brisco is worth it for the fun, over-the-top storytelling and enthusiastic performances by the cast.
CHECK OUT THE COMPLETE SERIES ON DVD