Around here when people hear Bruce Campbell they mostly think Evil Dead/Army of Darkness. And that’s cool. I know when I first saw Evil Dead I had to watch the other two immediately (and had some crazy, crazy dreams after that impromptu marathon).
But that’s not what I think of.
Some people will say “The King of Thieves!” complete with mustache twist. Hey, The Chin was always my favorite part of Hercules and Xena too.
That, however, is not what I think of.
My first thought is this guy:
When I was little, I wanted to be Brisco County Jr. For anyone who doesn’t remember The Adventures of Brisco County Jr., it was the first western scfi show Fox would cancel after its first season despite a dedicated and growing, if small, fanbase.
Created by Jeffrey Boam and Carlton Cuse, it launched in August, 1993, on Friday nights with an hour long format. It had a lot of different things going on: Western, scifi, adventure, comedy, and steampunk, it’s kinda Indiana Jones set in Back to the Future III starring Bruce Campbell. While I don’t remember the campaign for the show, I’m guessing, along with being in the TV death timeslot, not knowing how to promote it was one of the problems with ratings.
Anyway, with the idea that each season would cover a complete story arc, the first season would be mostly about Brisco hunting down the gang that killed his father and a mysterious paranormal orb. Allowed to finish out the 27 episode season, the show wasn’t picked up for a second. It would live on through the wonder of syndication from 1996-2001, and was released on DVD in 2006. Bruce wouldn’t get another main role in a series until 2000’s Jack of All Trades, which technically made it to two seasons but only lasted 22 episodes. But that’s a subject for another day.
Episode 1: Pilot
The two-hour pilot episode. There’s a lot of characters introduced and the set up for the storylines are all here, so let’s get to it.
We open up with Chinese railway workers finding a golden knobbly orb that emits electric blue lights and gives the workers super strength.
Chapter ONE “The Blast Supper”
Cut to marshal Brisco County (played by R. Lee “Let me see your war face!” Ermey) on a train. Him and his men have just finished rounding up a notorious band of outlaws known as the Bly Gang, thirteen cutthroats including boss John Bly (‘90s badguy Billy Drago). Going all Wile E. Coyote, a couple of the gangs toadies use a scenic painting on a boulder to derail the train. Brisco County Sr. ends up taking (at least) thirteen bullets.
In an exposition scene with a journalist, we find out that a group of robber barons, (all played by classic actors from movie and TV westerns) building up San Francisco during its infancy in 1893, are afraid the gang’s escape might crimp their business style. So they decide to hire a bounty hunter, not obvious choice Lord Bowler, but Brisco County Jr., a Harvard man who decided not to be lawyer after studying for seven years. After a not so heroic introduction to the audience, and a not much better introduction to the barons, Brisco establishes a disgust/grudging respect relationship with go-between stick in the mud lawyer Socrates Poole (Christian Clemenson).
After following a note to a restaurant, Brisco and Socrates meet Lord Bowler (Julius Carry), who is a bounty hunter legend, especially to himself. Seems he takes issue with not getting the job and wants Brisco to turn it down. To punctuate his point he places a lit bundle of dynamite on the table, first man to leave loses. (if the boulder painting and dynamite gag isn’t enough of a clue, the show loves its cartoony humor)
Chapter TWO “Scarred Feet Turn up the Heat”
Meanwhile back at the rail line… Baron Granville Thorogood and some government suits are arguing about ownership of The Orb, with the government winning. The Orb is declared an “unearthed foreign object” or UFO. Thorogood totally looks shadowy. Hmm…
Well, Bowler lost the dynamite table challenge, and the whole thing ends with Brisco talking his way to freedom and Bowler going to jail for 60 days yelling about how this ain’t over.
The part of the Bly Gang under Big Smith (M.C. Gainey, everyone’s favorite Other) is meeting in a cave somewhere. John Bly comes in, and you know he’s a real bad dude because everyone is visibly afraid of him despite the fact that he’s wearing a puffy shirt. They’re planning to rob the train that the Orb is on, the gang members for gold that’ll also be on it but Bly is obviously more interested in the Orb itself. The whole scene is very piratey.
While back at Brisco’s hotel room, he and Socrates are attacked by ninjas.
Chapter THREE “Hot Flames, Two Dames and Loose Reins”
Escaping in a way that proves the adage “better lucky than skilled.” Brisco goes to Chinatown to investigate the ninjas. After learning the importance of ringing only once, he’s captured by a secret society, called the Scarred Foot Clan, led by Lee Pow (James “he’s been in flippin’ everything” Hong). Turns out Pow carved the handle of County Sr.’s famed gun, and recognizing it agrees to tell Brisco what he knows about Big Smith and the Orb. Pow says he must avenge his father’s death. “No, Lee Pow, not avenge his death, but complete his work.”
Investigating the scenic painting angle, Brisco and Socrates head on down to a saloon. Several characters are introduced: Big Smith’s girlfriend and sexy singer Dixie Cousins (Kelly Rutherford), fellow future seeker and kindred spirit Prof. Albert Wickwire (Sean Astin), and the Professor’s tomboy daughter Amanda. Brisco decides to follow Dixie, joining her on a stagecoach.
Chapter FOUR “Lowdown Showdown”
Some stuff happens and Brisco saves her when the stagecoach goes out of control, and the two are caught in an awkward position by Big Smith. Brisco claims to be an outlaw on the run named Kansas. “Where ya from, Kansas?” asks thug Scratchy. “…I’m from Kansas.”
They all go to a failed gold mining town where Big Smith asks some questions that show he knows, or at least suspects, who Brisco really is, that also functions as an exposition scene. Turns out the Professor and his daughter are also there, and after a misunderstanding between the Professor and thug Pete, Brisco is standing in the middle of the street getting ready for a duel.
Chapter FIVE “Yell to Your Horse”
One of the best dueling scenes ever, Big Smith’s four best guys (“Pete, Scratchy… the other two!”) end up dead. Important note: Brisco never shoots anyone in the show.
So Brisco seduces the train robbery plans from Dixie (hating every second of course and undoubtedly thinking of England). Later he’s nearly caught while eavesdropping on the robbery prep work, and hides out with the Professor and Amanda. This is where we find out that the Professor’s current project is a rocket that can go to outer space. It’ll be important later. We also find out that Brisco loves science and is actually really smart.
The next day, Bowler and Comet the horse have been caught by Big Smith. Bowler doesn’t give up Brisco, but Smith bribes Comet with an apple and Comet points out Brisco. Smith does not give Comet the apple. Jerk.
Cue Bowler and Brisco’s execution by being tied to the train tracks. Classic.
Chapter SIX “Spur of the Moment”
Comet redeems himself by rescuing Brisco and Bowler. Brisco takes the Professor’s rocket and rides it along the track to catch up to the train. Really. The robbery is in progress by the time Brisco lassos the train and hops on board. He comes in just as Big Smith finds the Orb, fisticuffs ensue. Brisco throws the Orb at Big Smith, knocking Smith out of the car, off the bridge, and into the river.
Chapter SEVEN “Grave Peril”
Our hero manages to survive the runaway train. The orb floats down the river. Dun dun duuun.
Brisco confronts Baron Thorogood. He recognized him at the saloon giving information to Dixie. Thorogood wanted the Orb for himself and hired the Bly gang to steal it back from the government. The two throw down, but it turns out Thorogood is all pumped from having touched the Orb. Just when it looks dire for Brisco, the Orb punishes Thorogood. He chose… poorly.
The pilot ends with Brisco visiting his father’s grave. It’s a nice bit of acting from Bruce.
Brisco and Comet ride off into the horizon.
Episode 2: The Orb Scholar
A couple of things changed after the pilot, and we’ll cover them as we go, but the only one that could affect this episode is that the journalist was excised after it was decided Socrates was enough of an exposition character.
The Orb Scholar is the second aired episode, but for some reason the second episode on the DVD is Socrates’ Sister (really episode 5), with Scholar being the third. Weird.
Chapter ONE “Our Ace in the Hole”
Having taken down Big Smith in the last episode, Brisco gets a line on Bly himself. The info comes from Donovan Joe, an ex-friend who once turned coward and left Brisco to die and is now sheriff of a town called Poker Flats. In the flashback, none of the actors look like their counterparts.
Not long after arriving in town, Brisco finds out not only are things not right, but they’re very very wrong. Deputies are robbing travelers, prisoners are being hanged due to overcrowding instead of punishment, and Brisco ends up behind bars only to find Lord Bowler already there. Brisco introduces the man he saved from the robbing deputies to Lord Bowler as Prof. Ogden Coles. Coles asks Bowler if the Lord title is fictitious. “No I made it up.”
Prof. Coles is the titular Orb scholar, and he’s studied the Orb his entire life. Just as Brisco is about to get answers from the old man, Sheriff Donovan comes in and makes a, rather obvious, show of doing the right thing by Brisco, releasing him, Coles, and Bowler. All I can say is, never trust a guy who looks that much like Gary Busey.
Turns out Don didn’t just leave Brisco behind when they were younger, he set him up because he was jealous. He’s still jealous, but he’s also been living in fear that Brisco would hunt him down for revenge. Donovan suspends Brisco over a well and reveals that he’s now working for Bly, who suddenly pops up and introduces himself to Brisco. Bly questions him about what happened to the Orb on the train. Brisco tells him the truth and that the Orb has probably washed out to sea. Unhappy, Bly drops him into the well.
Chapter TWO “R.S.V.P. to R.I.P.”
Brisco manages to swim to safety through the underground stream.
Bly finds a drawing Prof. Coles had of the Orb and figures out he must know something.
Bowler is about to eat when he’s rearrested to be hanged by Donovan’s right hand man Puel (Robert Picardo).
Brisco sneaks back into town and gets Puel to tell him where Bly is. Brisco tells Bly he wants to shoot him, but instead will bring him in alive. Bly taunts him, “You mark your accomplishments by walking in the shadow of your father, but how far have you progressed?” Let me say, Billy Drago, even though Bruce claims he’s actually a great guy in the commentary, plays crazy real good. They agree to a fair hand to hand fight, but are interrupted by Donovan using Coles as a hostage.
Bly tells Coles that he’ll shoot Brisco if he doesn’t tell him where the Orb is. The old man tells him it’s it the back of his wagon. Bly thanks him and shoots Brisco in the stomach with his father’s gun.
Brisco and Coles are left with only one guard. Coles uses powers he got from the Orb to pull some Jedi mind tricks on the guard to convince him the building’s on fire. Coles leaves.
Bowler escapes his cell, questions Puel, and finds Brisco bleeding to death. Brisco tells him this is his chance to beat him and get Bly, instead Bowler asks him what he can do. “Can you just talk to me awhile?” Bowler tells him about when he was a kid, complete with the fact he used to sing in his church choir. He ends up singing Amazing Grace. Julius Carry has a real nice voice.
Just as he’s about to die, Coles comes back with orb, he lied to Bly about which stables his wagon was at. He tells Brisco to touch the Orb. Brisco says he won’t until he finds out what it is. “Faith. It was meant for you to meet me. That’s why I’m here.” Brisco isn’t meant to die yet, he will take down Bly, but he has to have faith and touch the Orb. He does and is healed by blue electric light. The old man disappears.
Bly realizes the old man lied, he tells Donovan that he “felt a shiver. Like something walked over my grave. Brisco’s not dead.” Donovan gets a wiggins, and asks how Bly knows that. Bly tells him to go kill Brisco, or he’ll kill him (Donovan). The show goes all High Plains Drifter with Brisco silently riding down the deserted street and Donovan unable to shoot him no matter what. “It’s not possible! *bang* You’re dead! You’re Dead!”
Brisco and Bowler restore order and the proper sheriff, with Bowler getting all the credit for the bounties. The two ride out of town together.