Journey Into Obscurity: The Adventures of Brisco County Jr.
This week, I wanted to talk about a series that is very near and dear to my heart, The Adventures of Brisco County Jr.
Growing up. I would see all types of shows that would be on for less than a season only to fade into obscurity. Among those was a great little weird west series called The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. The show revolved around a mysterious orb that some railroad workers discovered, though the focus was typically on the main character, Brisco County Jr. (Bruce Campbell). In my opinion, this one of Campbell’s best performances. He fits into the role effortlessly, as if it was tailored made for him. Which is pretty surprising, considering that he had to audition for the role five times. Purportedly, the casting director was so impressed with a flip Campbell did that he would be asked to do it each time. This ensured him the role, and the rest was obscure TV history. Brisco is a Harvard educated lawyer turned brash bounty hunter. Brisco is hired by a bunch of wealthy industrialists to catch the outlaw John Bly, portrayed by Billy Drago. There were many other elements that made this great show. A main theme in the show was “The Coming Thing”. This would often be explored through John Astin’s character Professor Wickwire who would aid Brisco with his anachronistic inventions like rockets, scuba diving gear, and even motorcycles. There was also plenty of comedy with rival bounty hunter Lord Bowler, played by the late Julius Carry. He and Brisco would often be fighting for a bounty and all types shenanigans would ensue. The series never went too over the top with its humor, and managed to have a good balance between comedy and drama. After the success of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Fox executive Bob Greenblatt suggested that Executive Producers Jeffrey Boam and Carlton Cuse make a series. He wanted them to create a show that would reflect the tone and style of vintage movie serials. Boam and Cuse would embrace that, but still wanted the show to have it’s own identity. I have yet to see another series that managed to balance these elements so well. The series managed to gain a small, but dedicated fan base during its run. It got high ratings at the beginning of its season, and was even well received by critics. Later episodes failed to gain a substantial amount of viewership and Fox would cancel the show at the end of it’s only season. That said, the show gained even more of a following after a DVD release, and a whole new generation has been exposed to it.
I feel like The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. was a bit ahead of its time. With successful, current shows like Supernatural and Legion that have similar approaches, I can’t help but feel it may have been more successful in the contemporary market. I know that the “Weird West” sub-genre existed before then, but Brisco was many viewer’s first exposure to it. Looking back at it now, I can understand why Fox cancelled it. As great as the show was, the majority of viewers just weren’t ready for it. However, its style would pave the way for the Sam Raimi produced Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Xena: Warrior Princess, both of which embraced campy, serialized storytelling. Hercules and Xena were very successful and are still remembered to this day.
If you try watching it now, I bet you’ll feel that Brisco should still be on television. I think it would find its audience these days and would have a longer life. I don’t think there has been a better time to try and bring a series like this back. If Ashley J. Williams can have his return, then why not Brisco?
If you love “Weird Western” stories, or are just a huge Bruce Campbell fan, then you owe it to yourself to watch The Adventures of Brisco County Jr.
It is currently available on DVD.