Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Old School Lane's Nickelodeon Tribute: The Adventures of Pete and Pete

As we close our journey into 1993, another kid sitcom debuted at Nickelodeon on November 27th. It was a strange, weird, avant-garde perspective into the experience of childhood. That show was The Adventures of Pete and Pete.

Pete and Pete originally debuted as 1 minute shorts in 1989 at Nickelodeon. They became popular enough to garner a TV series.

The show had a very simple premise. It was about the Wrigley family living in Wellsville, New York dealing with everyday situations like school, friends, and enemies. The family consisted of the following.

Big Pete Wrigley (played by Mike Moronna) was the narrator of the show. He's the everyman acting as the voice of reason to everything going on that's obscure and strange, especially when it involves with his little brother. 

Little Pete Wrigley (played by Danny Tamberelli) was the troublemaker of the family and always engaged in conflicts against adults. He always did irrational things for minor reasons that he would mostly get away with. He has a tattoo of a girl in his arm that he names Petunia. He would insult people with names like "jerkweed", "blowhole", "fudgelicker", and "bite my neck hair". He had a rock band called The Blowholes.

Joyce Wrigley (played by Judy Grafe) was the Mom to the Petes. She has a metal plate on her head from an accident that she experienced as a kid. Now it can pick up radio signals and broadcast them.

Don Wrigley (played by Hardy Rawls) was the Dad to the Petes. He's mostly very stubborn around his sons and has a huge obsessive love for his lawn, driving, and fishing.

There were other recurring characters in the show that were just as memorable.

Ellen Hickle (played by Alison Fanelli) is Big Pete's best friend. While she seems normal compared to the other characters, she becomes obsessive in a few strange things. In Season 1, she tries to perfect the dots that she gives to her "i"s and with metallurgy during shop class. In Season 3, she's fixated in passing the driving course.

Artie, The Strongest Man in the World (played by Toby Huss) is the local "superhero" of the neighborhood.  Artie claims that he can skip stones on Neptune, move a house by an inch, and hit a golf ball 300,003 yards. While the neighborhood find him extremely annoying, he's one of the few adults that Little Pete respects and admires. He left the show after the end of the Season 2.

Theodore "Teddy" Forzman (played by Dave Martel) is one of Big Pete's best friends. He's the dorky guy in the group who brings out strange facts for no reason. Whenever he drinks Orange Lazarus, he tends to spiral out of control like if his mind was taken over by it. 

Bill Korn (played by Rick Barbarette) is another one of Big Pete's best friends. He loves to sell funny sarcastic jokes that end up getting Teddy to shoot milk out of his ears. 

Mona F. Mecklenberg (played by Michelle Trachtenberg) is Little Pete's best friend. She wears a cast in her arm not because it's broken, but because she loves to scratch the irritation of the cast. She's a strange girl who has had a crush on Little Pete twice throughout the show, but continued to remain friends.


"Endless" Mike Hellstrom (played by Rick Gomez) is one of Big Pete's enemies. He reins over shop class, owns a car, and loves ice cream. Although "Endless" Mike and Big Pete are enemies, they have teamed up on several occasions. 

Fran "Pit Stain" Jones (played by Eric Kushnick) is one of Little Pete's enemies. He has a gland problem that causes him to sweat profusely. He hates Little Pete because he was the one who gave him the nickname "Pit Stain". Now everyone calls him that, even the teachers.

Mr. Tastee is the ice cream vendor who drives his ice cream truck called the Tastee Mobile wearing only his mascot costume. We never see what he looks like under the mask, but it was actually played by Toby Huss.

There were many guest stars in Pete and Pete who would become famous much later such as Janeane Garofalo, Chris Elliot, Selma Blair, J.K. Simmons, Iggy Pop, Larisa Oleynik, Liza Weil, Art Donovan, and Steve Buschemi. There were even claims that Hunter S. Thompson appeared in one of the episodes, but as of yet, it hasn't been proven.

Here's what Janeane Garofalo said in an interview about her experience guest starring in Pete and Pete.

“I was here in New York doing SNL, and Pete & Pete was something you would notice if you were flipping through the channels. It’s not like it was the buzz about town, but obviously it was something like, ‘Hey did you see that show?’ The Adventures of Pete & Pete was coming from an extremely creative place that appealed to both kids and I assume other adults because I know I had friends who watched it as well.”
The show was created by Will McRobb and Chris Viscardi. They were trying to create something that was a tad bit different that almost every other show was doing at the time. They wanted to present being a kid in a strange, yet realistic sort of way that would somehow connect with people in a certain way. Here's what Will McRobb said about it in an interview with Mathew Klickstein in splitsider.com.
“Chris and I got our start doing promos for Nick and Nick at Nite and that really felt like a ‘collective. All these different shows were doing great things and we basically had a real strong connection to the network, especially people like Chris and I who had come up in the ranks.
We really believed in Nickelodeon, and at the time it was designed to be the ‘anti-Disney,’ Disney was about a certain way of looking at childhood and Nickelodeon was about trying to capture what was a little more real about being a kid. And so we felt fiercely proud of that identity, especially in the promo department. That analogy of a ‘collective,’ of independently-minded creative people banding together to do something that was subversive — that’s where, for me, it was the most powerful. All the years that I was in the promo department, it really felt like we were an underdog team of commandos trying to do something that was good, and everything that Pete & Pete became was really fueled by that same identity.”

Chris Viscardi shares his story about Pete and Pete in the same interview with Klickstein.
“It probably sounds pretentious and I apologize, but Will and I have a phrase we like to use regarding Pete & Pete and try to bring it to our work: A certain ‘ragged glory.’ Things don’t always add up and don’t always look very pretty and sometimes the dots don’t connect, but there’s a certain glory and beauty in that and we definitely strived to achieve that on Pete & Pete."
“If things got neatly tied-up in a bow, we would untie them. Or we would do a funny cutaway to somebody that would disrupt the scene in a way. Or we would give Toby a chance to do some weirdo antics in the middle of the scene just to undercut some slightly sentimental dialogue. Things that would give it a certain weirdo edge, maybe not completely make sense in the long run, but something to us that felt kind of glorious and fun.”

One of the many things that made it different from any other kids' show at the time was the music. The band that did the opening theme to Pete and Pete was indie rock band Polaris led by Mark Mulcahy known as "Hey Sandy". 

The casting of Pete and Pete was a bit more difficult since McRobb and Viscardi wanted to cast "real" kids for their show, not just some child actor with a pretty face. Danny Tamberelli grew up on New Jersey where they were filming the show. When he was interviewed by McRobb and Viscardi, he didn't have any acting experience. He was just a regular kid who loved playing soccer and worked at a bagel shop on weekends. But the moment that they saw Tamberelli, they knew he was perfect as Little Pete.

As for Big Pete, it was a bit harder to cast since he was the voice of reason and had to be perfect for the narrating parts. Mike Maronna played Kevin McCallister's older brother in the movie Home Alone and Home Alone 2: Lost in New York. When he was invited to read the lines of Big Pete, McRobb and Viscardi knew from only a few lines that he was Big Pete.

Alison Fanelli had absolutely no acting experience at all. She just came in with a piece of a paper, which was suppose to be a resume, with nothing written on it and gave it to McRobb and Viscardi. According to McRobb, he said this about Fanelli. "We knew she was the one right away because she came in and looked kind of funky and she looked so normal and real and then we paired her with Michael and it was a no-brainer.”

Toby Huss' inspiration for the character Artie was based on a sketch he did in Iowa City and performed it in Lower East Side, New York around the 80's and 90's. When McRobb saw Huss performing this strange character with a small red and blue striped shirt and tight red long underwear, he asked Huss to perform this character on the show. Huss agreed to. 

The show lasted for 3 seasons ending its run on December 28, 1996. It was cancelled due to low ratings. The actors and creators went on to do different projects after Pete and Pete.

Danny Tamberelli has done other acting roles such as Igby Goes Down, The Mighty Ducks, All That, and Space Cases. He has appeared a few times in the Nickelodeon game show Figure it Out. He's currently in a folk/pop band named Every Good Boy and is a member of the sketch comedy group Man Boobs: Sketch Comedy. 

Mike Maronna has appeared in other movies and TV shows such as Law and Order, Slackers, and 40 Days and 40 Nights. He's currently an electrician for movies and TV shows such as Be Kind Rewind and Sex and the City. 

Allison Fanelli has quit acting after Pete and Pete and pursued a career in nursing. It's interesting to note that she's the older sister of Chris Niosi a.k.a. Kirbopher from Newgrounds.

Judy Grafe has appeared in other TV and movie roles such as Chuck Gordon: Professional Juror, Judging Amy, and Untold Stories of the ER.

Judy Grafe Picture

Hardy Rawls has appeared in other TV and movie roles such as Judging Amy, Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, and Law and Order: Criminal Intent. He played "Ol' Lonely" the Maytag Repairman from 2003-2007.

Hardy Rawls Picture

Toby Huss has done voice acting and appeared in other TV and movie roles such as Dear God, King of the Hill as Hank Hill's father Cotton Hill and Kahn Souphanousinphone, Hank's Laotian neighbor, Carnivale, Reno 911, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Balls of Fury, 30 Rock, True Jackson: VP, Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law, The Venture Bros. as Scaramantula and General Treister, Bob's Burgers, and Cowboys and Aliens.

Michelle Trachtenberg has appeared in other movie and TV roles such as Harriet the Spy, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Gossip Girls, EuroTrip, Ice Princess, Weeds, and 17 Again. 

Will McRobb and Chris Viscardi had done other TV shows and movies such as KaBlam!, The War Next Door, The Assistants, wrote the screenplay for Alvin and the Chipmunks, The Tales of Desperaux, and Angus, Thongs, and Perfect Snogging, and wrote episodes for The Naked Brothers Band. They're currently the executive producers for a new show on Nickelodeon called Sanjay and Craig and are writing the script for an upcoming Thomas the Tank Engine movie coming out in 2014.

Around November 2011 and February 2012, the creators, writers, and some of the cast members of Pete and Pete reunited and were asked questions in front of a live audience of fans who grew up with the show.

Overall, still to this day, The Adventures of Pete and Pete is a very strange, surreal, and odd perspective on growing up and it still holds up well to this very day. Sure, at the time, it wasn't viewed as much as other teen shows. For starters, it only had a 2.1 Rating, but it's actually one of the very few teen comedy shows, not only from Nickelodeon, but from almost any other channel, that can still be viewed today. It was something that was never seen before or since that makes it feel like it was done for the indie crowd that people can respect on. At a time in which adults saw shows such as Saved by the Bell as nonsensical kids' stuff, Pete and Pete was something that they could sit down and enjoy with their kids. According to Jason Ankely from Allmusic, The Adventures of Pete and Pete is the greatest kid's show ever. IGN calls it "one of the most well-written kids shows ever". But why does the show still work after 17 years later? Well, here's what some of the cast members, writers, and creators' reasons behind it according to an interview by Cory Everett from indieware.com during the February 2012 Pete and Pete reunion.

“We shot every single episode differently from the previous one,” co-creator Chris Viscardi said, trying to pinpoint the show’s lasting appeal. “Different directors brought their own style to it. No two episodes looked the same. And I think it was really different for the audience to see. Every week you literally had no idea what you were going to get. We just did it because it felt right but I can imagine for fans watching the show it added an sense of eccentricity to it, really made it stand out and look different and be different from everything else on the air.”

“What I got from people who I knew who watched the show was that it celebrated those of you who feel different from the rest of the world,” said Judy Grafe. 

“There aren’t too many shows that are about growing up. As weird as the stories were, they really at heart take the little things of growing up and make them really big,” Viscardi said. “Let’s take what was great and find a way to make it as magnificent as possible. Because when you’re a kid that stuff’s really important, as you get older it just doesn’t seem as important. We were adults at the time, at least ostensibly, and we did not want to lose sight of those things that made childhood great. We sort of dedicated the show to our own childhoods and it feels like a show that was nostalgic when we made it. Now the people who watched it are nostalgic about a nostalgic show. That’s like a supernova of nostalgia.” He then addressed the crowd saying, “I think you’re all at an age where you’re getting nostalgic about your own childhood’s and that’s why there’s so many people here.” McRobb concluded with a sentiment from the show that perfectly encapsulated its appeal. “I think the Artie goodbye episode encapsulated what we were trying to do. There was this great line, I didn’t write it [but it goes], ‘Artie made the world a little bit weirder and a little bit better,’ and I think that’s what the show tried to do.”

We'll conclude our discussion with the final notion by Will McRobb from the interview with Klickstein on splitsider.com. 

“It’s almost like a privilege in a way. You make something, you go into the time machine, and you come out 17 years later and you get to see what happens; and unbelievably, it happened! And it’s pretty amazing to consider. Maybe we got a 2.1 rating and they took us off the air, but 17 years later, there’re all these 26-year-olds who are saying, ‘Thank you so much,’ and we feel like we did something that meant something.”

I highly recommend checking this show out. It's one of the very few teen shows from Nickelodeon in the 90's that has aged very well and can gain just as much enjoyment from. 

That's all for now. Tune in next time as we check out the classic Nickelodeon sketch comedy show All That. 

Also, expect four new interviews from that. Hope to see you around Old School Lane soon. Thanks for tuning in.


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