Kids Today Deserve Their Own "Pete and Pete"

Was this the strangest show ... IN THE WORLD? (Probably.)

Oct 19, 2011 at 6:00pm | Leave a comment

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I owe a lot of my slightly twisted worldview to a show called "The Adventures of Pete and Pete."

If you recall, the greatest-ever Nickelodeon show from the 90s started as a series of minute-long shorts that would run between other shows, introducing us to two brothers, both named Pete, and their lives. They had a mom with a plate in her head, their own personal superhero (Artie!), oddball friends and bus drivers who were way too involved in their lives. The shorts were so popular that Nickelodeon made it into a regular half hour show that ran for three seasons from 1993 to 1996, prime Who am I? years in my own life.

I might have been too old to watch "Pete and Pete," maybe, but it didn't stop me from appreciating it. Sure, it worked as a kids' show, but it also worked as a wry, clever study of the weirdness of everyday life on the level of "Arrested Development."

How else would you explain episodes where big Pete stresses out over what to talk to his Dad about on a long car ride, little Pete answers a pay phone that has been mysteriously ringing for years, or a summer spent chasing down an elusive ice cream man?

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The show worked so well because it refused to talk down to kids ... but it did talk weird to them. "Pete and Pete" took the tiny, suburban world of adolescence and made it feel enormous, mysterious and full of boredom alternating with wonder, a wonder that I sought out constantly in my own tiny adolescent life. Nudged by the Petes, I started looking at my own hometown in a different light, turning over rocks looking for the underbelly, seeing bizarreness everywhere. It was an introduction to surreal humor, and something that hasn't been duplicated since on kids networks -- it was a little dark and a lot strange and not very merchandising-ready.

And the guest stars! Polaris, the band who played the opening theme, was the epitome of an adorable 90s band, and sure, I ordered their tape when it was offered on the back of a box of Frosted Mini-Wheats when I was in high school (I would kill to know where that thing is), but that's just the beginning of the hipster cred in "The Adventures of Pete and Pete."

Stephen Merritt of The Magnetic Fields frequently contributed songs, as did The Apples in Stereo, Poi Dog Pondering, and The Drop Nineteens. Luscious Jackson played the school prom. Add this to guest stars ranging from Steve Buscemi to Iggy Pop to Janeane Garofalo to Michael Stipe, and you've got a show that could have only existed in the 90s, because had it been made now, it would have been too self-aware of how damned cool it was.

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It was a heady time in my life, a time of feeling hipper than I deserved to feel, and somehow still infused with wonder and fascination of a child, and so of course it had to end. I've scrambled to pick up "Pete and Pete" on DVD, but they still haven't released the third season (RELEASE THE THIRD SEASON, GUYS).

When I watch it, I remember my childhood crush on Big Pete, I remember that fleeting hope that the world was so much bigger and weirder than I'd ever imagined, and for just a second, I'm back.