Describing Pete and Pete to non-fans and newcomers is like describing an acid trip in Pleasantville to your grandma without making drug reference, “It's like, y'know…surreal but nostalgic…but like still kinda wholesome…but warped…only tastefully so.” Ok fine, Pete and Pete is The Wonder Years on mescaline…or 11 days of voluntary sleeplessness. There there grandma, you know what mescaline is, don't act so coy.
The cast and creators of the venerable kids cult classic The Adventures of Pete and Pete joined an instant-sell-out crowd Saturday night at Cinefamily for their first reunion since the show's run ended in 1996. Both Petes, Mike Maronna and Danny Tamberelli, were joined by show creators Will McRobb and Chris Viscardi, as well as writer Joe Stillman, director Katherine Dieckmann and, of course, Toby Huss as Artie…the strongest man…in the world.
The evening chronicled more of a “Wow, how did that even happen?” vibe than “We made the best thing ever, and it's a crime we're not amazingly popular.” Turns out, making Pete and Pete was an amazing time, and given the particulars, a labor of love that may never ever happen again.
In the spirit of endless in-jokes, the Cinefamily marquee read “KrebStar Film Festival,” an homage to the show's company town in-joke about product ubiquity (the show featured an array of Leavittown-esque products like KrebStore 24, KrebEx, Krebgate Toothpaste, and even Kreb Scouts). The staff handed out “performance-enhanced” Orange Lazaruses (a brain-freeze inducing slushy orange drink) to the crowd. They even had a temporary tattoo artist on hand to dish out versions of Little Pete's mysterious tattoo “Petunia”.
For those of you who don't remember, the show began as 60-second shorts in 1989, in Nickelodeon's early days…those halcyon days when grossing-out and gagging-up were in their experimental phase. With the shorts success came a few specials, and then a full-blown three season series. This wasn't exactly the children's series world of producers Sid and Marty Krofft (H.R. Pufnstuf, Land of the Lost)…it was the manageable childhood surrealism that defines the lost late and post-X generation. Pete and Pete was an angst-less love letter from Gen-X adults to their younger siblings, nieces and nephews…well, the awesomely weird ones, anyway.
It featured two ginger siblings named Pete (don't ask why they have the same name) in a Springfield-esque stateless anytown called Wellsville, and chronicled childhood staples like field trips, summer vacations, school lunches, etc. from their own perspectives, not the forced moralistic perspective of adults. That's the best thing about the show — the logic was one of childhood magic realism. Entire cars can be dug up on the beach and driven away, moms have radio receiving (and occasionally broadcasting) metal headplates and demonic bowling balls can augment familial strife.
“The things we loved about it were the things that totally freaked out Nickelodeon when we were making it,” Viscardi said. “They didn't understand some of the stuff we were doing, or so many elements of it. And we would say, 'No no, this is great, this works' and they would just be afraid of so many of the things that were going on. We just made things that made us laugh and did things that we enjoyed.”
That's basically it in a nutshell. The writers made something that entertained them and would have entertained them as children. And in defiance of the logic of television, they got away with all of it.
Much like his character in the show, Toby Huss stole the stage; occasionally mugging for the crowd and cracking some Artie-isms. Artie, a long john-wearing nerd with a striped t-shirt and slick hair — kind of like a half-hipster half-Superman — was either a figmemt of Little Pete's imagination, or an actual lunatic, it is never made clear. “The turning point of what it was and then what it became is when we brought Artie. I think when you bring in a character like Artie and what he represents…” McRobb started to explain. “What the heck did I represent?” Huss broke in. “I was trying to impress a girl,” a reference to the character's origins.
Another staple of the show, offbeat celebrity cameos and musical guests, came with simple origins. “We just played the music we liked,” McRobb said, “and we started getting those people to come on the show…once we had one or two celebrities, it became the cool thing to do, I guess.” Among others, Iggy Pop, REM's Michael Stipe, Debbie Harry, Janeane Garofalo and Steve Buscemi all played somewhat significant roles on the show.
What did the crowd think? Well, one girl, on the way out had this to say: “That was the penultimate slash ultimate most awesomest thing that has ever happened to me…like ever…and, I mean, I saw Prince this year…but…wow.” So there you have it.