“The Adventures of Pete & Pete” was the closest Nickelodeon ever got to indie film. Steve Buscemi appeared a few times, and so did a very young Heather Matarazzo. In the trio of audio commentaries by co-creators Will McRobb and Chris Viscardi, and director Katherine Dieckmann, they admit to borrowing some of Hal Hartley’s crew and not knowing at the time what they were doing, but just going along with their ideas the way they saw fit. Above all that, for Nickelodeon to allow this show to exist in its many forms, it was a creative flourish that has never been forgotten, even today with the DVD release of the first season that shows full blast why “Pete & Pete” was so appealing. Shame that the proposed “The Adventures of Pete & Pete Movie” many years back mutated into “Snow Day”. That would have put the capper on a legacy for a kid’s channel that once knew what it was doing, what comedy was, how kids would be entertained, and above all, that slime was fun.
In Wellsville, however, slime was not the order of the days. Pete (Michael Maronna) and his brother Pete (Danny Tambarelli), even in being best friends, had various happenings in their lives that very much mirrored our own and questioned in a delightfully skewed manner why certain happenings existed as they did. There were family vacations (“King of the Road”), rebelliousness against the fading hours of night in desiring to stay up as long as possible (“The Nightcrawlers”), the mysterious shop class (“Tool and Die”) and crappy summer jobs (“Rangeboy”). More than just simply addressing those matters, they were given time and life through actors who knew exactly how to approach the quirkiness, and scripts by a number of writers that got it. No one can forget Artie (Toby Huss), the strongest man in the world, nor school bus driver Stu Benedict (Damian Young), who once had his charges trapped on his school bus while he drove around town, pointing out to a teed off little Pete and his fellow passengers various locales that mattered to him about his former flame, bus driver Sally Knorp (Ellen Cleghorn). Life is plenty strange and this show embodied it without any thought to some sort of pre-sorted logic. Little Pete navigated his life one way and big Pete navigated his life another.
These episodes of the first season included the five half-hour specials that brought the concept even more prominence, along with two of the eighteen 60-second shorts that slowly started it all up. In every single shot, there were good characters, great indie music, dialogue that rang true to all our brains and still does to this day, and also a sense of memory.
Growing up to attain the inauspicious achievement of immaturity, this was one of many shows available on Nickelodeon circa 1993. Even earlier, the quality of the channel had still maintained its high standards, or as high enough as could be for a 9-year old. Even so, a programming regiment today of “SpongeBob SquarePants”, “Drake and Josh”, a decomposed season of “All That”, and the “Amanda Show” doesn’t even half compare to what was around back then. Pair this up with “Doug”, “Rugrats” and even some of the game shows like “Legends of the Hidden Temple” and it made for many days of pure ecstasy. This “Pete & Pete” DVD set does the same not only with the show itself, but the commentary tracks which give invaluable insight into the creation of the show and who exactly was responsible for its birth, a marketing guy at Nickelodeon named Scott Webb who pushed along the 60-second shorts. He should apply for television sainthood.
Moreso with the included commentaries are reflection. Reflection of a time where neither party knew quite what they were doing, but were willing to see where it might take them and in turn, learn even more in the process. Katherine Dieckmann hadn’t directed much and Will Robb and Chris Viscardi had never produced anything. That is the indie spirit. Even if you’re unsure, keep pressing on. There’s some part of your brain that contains the passion for a project. Tap it. This is entirely inherent in “Pete & Pete” where some of the scenes aren’t wacky just for the sake of wackiness. It’s for a love of what’s being made, of wanting to see it all come through because it deserves it. Watching all these actors take part in it, seeing the Petes’ Dad (Hardy Rawls) trying to maintain his title of “King of the Road”, watching Steve Buscemi’s hardened determination to win the prank war against their father, and relating to big Pete’s panic over a forgotten test, this is what entertainment is. It’s not the be all end all of entertainment of course, but it’s one of the top reasons to own any kind of TV set and DVD player.