I’m sure all of us have at one time or another revisited a show we loved during our childhood, only to wonder what we saw in it at the time. Kids’ shows typically are aimed exclusively at younger age groups, and so going back and rewatching them is often a disappointing experience. A few months back, I was checking out some of my own personal favorites from when I was a kid; Ren & Stimpy, Ninja Turtles, Salute Your Shorts… all of them left me with a bad taste in my mouth. I had wished that I had allowed myself to just let things be instead of tainting old memories. It was then that I came upon one last show from my youth: The Adventures of Pete & Pete. Would these old episodes, some of my fondest early television, suffer the same fate as the others? Well, despite some reluctance, I was pleased to discover that not only had the show aged well, but that perhaps I had gained an even greater appreciation for the show than I originally had. Pete & Pete turned out to be in my mind, one of the best kids’ shows of all time, and certainly one of the least pandering.
Fast forward to late last May, when Nickelodeon released the first season DVD, comprised of eight episodes and four specials that aired prior to the series. I didn’t have enough money at the time, but just recently I purchased the set. I’m extremely pleased with this first effort to preserve the shows on DVD, despite some questionable video quality and a less than satisfying amount of extras.
Almost all of the episodes hold up well. Some of them are a bit rough around the edges. The creators had never done anything of this magnitude on TV before, and at times it shows (not a knock though, as they tried some new things that I think influenced others later on). Sometimes you’ll wish the early episodes had a bit more continuity. For instance, in the New Year’s special, Artie was seemingly written out of the series as he pursued a professional bowling career, which thankfully was never acknowledged again. In “Day of the Dot,” Ellen and Pete’s relationship is a lot different, ending in an on-screen kiss that was also never mentioned again. Of course, this is typical of shows that are just starting out, so it certainly isn’t too detrimental, and by the time the slightly superior second season was aired, that was no longer an issue anyways.
There is a certain charm to The Adventures of Pete & Pete that I would have difficulty explaining. Like I said earlier, the show treats kids with respect; the show is mature and gives younger viewers more credit than they may be used to receiving. I think another reason why the show works so well is that there is an innocence to it that is no longer present in television today. Take Artie, for instance. “The Strongest Man in the World” lives in a port-a-potty, wears a children’s pajama shirt and spandex pants, and hangs around kids 24/7. In real life, this would certainly disturb anyone, but somehow on the show, Artie manages to be almost “cool,” as he somehow fits into this bizarre saga.
Another strong point of the show is the insane attention to detail. Fans of Wes Anderson (Rushmore, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou) will get a lot out of Pete and Pete. One episode has the two brothers rigging their neighbors yards with landmines and then convincing them to pay to have their yards inspected, all in order to allow Little Pete to save up for a jetpack. Every episode includes absurd situations like this, yet the show is also quite believable thanks to Big Pete’s ability to spin a quality yarn.
The episodes may hold up well, but what about the DVDs themselves? Well, I’m sad to report that I’m disappointed by the overall package. For fans of the series who just want to watch the episodes again, video quality is tolerable, but anyone looking for widescreen, crisp picture will be let down. The master tapes were not preserved very well, and as a result, the video quality is maybe slightly better than VHS, but not much beyond that. Sound is luckily in good shape. All of the alternative music used in the show, including all of the amazing songs performed by Polaris, sound great. The extras that are included are excellent, but sadly, we don’t get a lot of bonus content. The commentaries, of which there are only three, are amazing, very informative, and explain some of the great mysteries of the show such as who the actor inside the Mr. Tasty costume is, or how the town of Wellsville got its name. Likewise, the two 60-second shorts are funny, but there were many more of them produced before the main series debuted.
Even with these complaints, The Adventures of Pete & Pete is an amazing program, fun for kids of ALL ages. Anyone with a sense of humor or appreciation of absurdity would be wise to track down this season. The extras aren’t plentiful, but the asking price is low enough and I promise you that you’ll watch these episodes multiple times.