I know that I am meant to be objective, but in this case that may prove impossible. Of all the television shows I have viewed for this month, this one is a personal favorite and, frankly, had the largest chance of survival.
It’s a western. With Bruce Campbell in it. Why did it not last?
The show revolved around lawyer Brisco County Jr (Campbell) trying to track down John Bly and his gang. This gang murdered his father (who was played by R. Lee Ermey) so vengeance appears to be the main motive. Yet there is another. Bly is looking for a mystical device called only “The Orb.” It appears to be the sort of MacGuffin that can do whatever the writers want it to. It apparently can give people supernatural strength and other such powers to help them conquer the world (yes, that old ploy). In order to stop Bly and his gang, County enlists the help of his friend Socrates Poole, fellow bounty hunter Lord Bowler, and showgirl Dixie Cousins.
Every single Western cliche in history is on display. The villains are all cartoonish (and all wear black hats). One man, Pete, even is obsessed with his gun to the point where he defines his masculinity by it (he refers to it as his “piece” and becomes quite upset when people touch it). Bly, portrayed by Billy Drago, is more of a cartoon character than a man while his henchmen have about the same tact and personality as a James Bond henchmen (the ones with names, like Oddjob rather than those faceless people who exist solely to die) and also give off the air of fun. Pete’s usual opening line, no matter what the situation is, is a very long “Heeeellllooooo Briiisssscccco.” The result is absolutely hilarious. I have always thought that certain John Wayne films are secretly comedies; they embrace such bizarre cliches that they cannot possibly be serious. Brisco County positively basks in these cliches, to the point where I expected Bruce Campbell to wink at the audience. But then, Campbell has always been doing that.
In addition, the actual story line is very tight. There were numerous gang members (a total of twelve), and thus the usual format involved tracking these members down. Every once in a while, the show would shift focus to Brisco’s friends and his attempts to help them. And sometimes, it would be about that Orb. The show did, at times, use some bizarre approaches to keep the story going (Bly is captured but manages to somehow escape right before the final credits role) but the overall story still had opportunities for longevity.
Many are likely asking why I am examining this show. This is a western after all. Well, the answer has to do with two things; The Orb (which I cannot explain one way or the other) and the steam punk aesthetic that the show has. County will often describe how he is looking for “the coming thing” and thus becomes obsessed with all of the late 19th century gadgets. One episode is entirely about a motorcycle chase to prevent a bike gang from capturing the Orb. Did I mention that it takes place in the 19th century? It also seems to take this aesthetic with its tongue firmly in cheek (Bowler refers to the rubber wheels on the motorcycles as “a bad idea” and ends his critique by shooting them out) and is the better for it.
Overall, this is sort of what a TV show based on, say, Big Trouble in Little China should be like. Each show looks like it could have come from the cover of some pulp western novel of the 1950s. The show is also fully aware of this and embraces in its kitsch rather than shying away from it. It may not have been reaching as high as Firefly or Dark Angel. But it does manage to be the sort of enjoyable entertainment that appeals to the ten year old in all of us. Should it have continued? Indefinitely.
Oh, and one note of trivia; apparently, some of the props from this show were used in Firefly. The fact that, say, Jayne Cobb may very well have touched “Pete’s piece” brings a smile to my face.