July 28, 2006

DVD Review: The Adventures of Briscoe County Jr. - The Complete Series

It lasted a single season and 27 episodes 13 years ago, yet here it is gaining renewed life on DVD. I cannot believe that I missed this during its original run, when it was paired with the start of The X-Files. Well, actually I can believe it. Back in those days I wasn't the entertainment sucker I am now, and I didn't start watching The X-Files until the third season. I remember this show being on, I just never paid it much mind. Looking back, I wish I did.

What's not to like? It is campy fun, filled with comedy, high adventure, action, and successfully blends the western and science fiction genres in an aura of the search for the next big thing. On top of all that it stars the B-movie god, Bruce Campbell. If knew then, what I know now, I would have been there every week, and possibly single handedly saved the show. Or not.

Now, don't get me wrong, this is no classic by any stretch. What this show thrived on, and why I found these disks so entertaining, is the relentless fun factor. The show is just so agreeable and just a little bit weird. The combination of characters and writing come together to create this exceedingly entertaining little oddity. It is fun for the whole family but doesn't pander to the lowest common denominator. The writing is fun and witty and develops the characters over the 27 episodes.

The centers on Briscoe County Jr., a Harvard educated lawyer who is also well versed in the ways of the west. He is drawn into action following the murder of his father, a well regarded lawman, by the dastardly villain John Bly, played by the enigmatic Billy Drago. Of course, that is only a part of the story as there is also a mysterious orb that appears from time to time.

Joining Briscoe is his employer liaison, Socrates Puehl (Christian Clemenson), a nerdy bookworm of a fellow and sometimes rival and sometimes partner, Lord Bowler (Julius Carry). Not to be left behind is Comet, Briscoe's horse who doesn't realize he's a horse. On the other side of the coin is the previously mentioned Billy Drago's John Bly, but even better, and one of my favorite characters on the show, Pete Hutter as portrayed by John Pyper-Ferguson. Hutter is a zany character who routinely steals scenes from Campbell, which is a pretty tough thing to do. Other characters of note are Briscoe's love interest Dixie Cousins (Kelly Rutherford), and Prof. Albert Wickwire (John Astin), a role reminiscent of Doc from Back to the Future.

Video. The series is presented in its original ratio of 1.33:1 and, for the most looks pretty good. It is not a first rate transfer, details are soft and sharpness is not all that great. Still, it is not awful, and I am happy to just have the opportunity to see the series.

Audio. Audio is presented in Dolby Digital Stereo and sounds good. There isn't anything here that will tax your sound system. It is a good representation of the series.

Extras. There are a few to speak of.
-Commentary. The pilot episode has a commentary with Bruce Campbell and co-creator Carlton Cuse. It is an entertaining track, as Campbell tracks always are, I swear he could make the fun book fun. They recount many details of the shoot, plus the history of the locations and how he came to get the part. I only wish there were a few more on the set.
-"Briscoe's Book of Coming Things." Briscoe was always looking for the next thing, and there are a number of things that would be "invented" in the future. This is like an audio diary of some of the things encountered. It is neat, but not something that will be revisited.
-"The History of Briscoe County." This runs thirty minutes and contains new interviews with many of the key players, including Campbell, Kelly Rutherford, Julius Carry, and Christian Clemenson. It is an interesting look back at the good times making the show.
-"Tools of the Trade." This is a brief look at some things that were integral to the show, including the horse (and the multiple horses used), gun play, the orb, and the potential second season.
-"A Reading from the Book of Bruce." Bruce reads the chapter on Briscoe from his book, If Chins Could Kill. I want to hear the rest of the book!
-"A Briscoe County Writer's Room." This is a retrospective round table with many of the shows key creative members. This was fun, it is basically an unmoderated talk between these guys and their time on the show.
-Finally, all of the liner notes and episode descriptions were written by Bruce himself, and are well worth the read.

Bottomline. I am glad to have the chance to see this show, it is a lot of fun. It may have operated on a lower budget, but they knew how to put it all on the screen. Plus, anything with Bruce Campbell is worth watching, period.

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