Nickelodeon in the early ‘90s was pretty spectacular, but one show stood out among the pack of kids’ programs — and continues to remain influential 20 years later. On Nov. 28, 1993, “The Adventures of Pete and Pete” premiered on Nick and stuck around for three awesome, too-short seasons. The show, which followed two red-headed brothers both named Pete in the fictional suburb of Wellsville, seemed to strike a chord with young viewers. In the past few years, the cast has reunited for multiple sold-out events around the country (and an insane Funny or Die video). Here are five reasons why “The Adventures of Pete and Pete” continues to be the greatest kids’ show ever produced.
Also, catch this discussion I had on Radio BDC with Adam12 about the radical soundtrack of “Pete and Pete”:
“Pete and Pete” was a wealth of pop culture without any of its adolescent audience knowing it. Upon rediscovery, you’ll find out that Steve Buscemi and Iggy Pop were both regulars on the show. Various episodes featured indie heroes like REM’s Michael Stipe, Blondie’s Debbie Harry, The B-52’s Kate Pierson, and New York Dolls’ David Johansen in guest roles. Comedians to the likes of William Hickey and Chris Elliot popped up. Even LL Cool J played the role of a teacher at Little Pete’s school. But rather than being presented as guest stars, each of these talents played a unique and zany character in the fictional suburb of Wellsville.
Miracle Legion had something of a cult following in the northeastern college rock scene of the late ‘80s. It was when the band put together a collection of songs to soundtrack “Pete and Pete” under the name Polaris that it gained a bit of a following in the 12-and-under category, as well. Punchy, no-frills rockers like “Summer Baby,” “Coronado II,” and the show’s theme song, “Hey Sandy,” and more heartfelt ballads like “She Is Staggering” and “Everywhere,” provided an uncanny introduction into the world of music, even if Polaris was known simply as, “that band from ‘Pete and Pete.’” While Polaris never recorded any music beyond the soundtrack and Miracle Legion dissolved by the mid-’90s, the music of both bands have grown devoted followings, due in part to its presence in the show. Interestingly, Polaris’ frontman Mark Mulcahy put out a rather excellent album this year and will be playing Great Scott in Allston on March 14. Other acts on the show included Luscious Jackson, The Apples in Stereo, and Boston’s own Drop Nineteens.
Imagination over situation
“Pete and Pete” had cartoon power in a real-life setting and used that to its fullest advantage. While other kids’ shows at that time dealt with the pressures of school, responsibility, and love interests, “Pete and Pete” was a constant exercise of the imagination. In no other show did a child have a personal superhero named Artie the Strongest Man in the World. Two characters credited at the beginning of each episode included a tattoo of a redheaded vixen named Petunia and a metal plate in mom’s head. Only on “Pete and Pete” could such whimsical things seem not too far of a stretch from reality.
Selfishly, I believe that one of the best parts of the legacy of “Pete and Pete” is that basically all of the main actors have largely moved on from show business. While child stardom can often lead down a disappointing path, the stars of “Pete and Pete” continued to be awesome outside of the small screen spotlight. In some ways, it seems to be a testament to the show’s unique nature. In other ways, it shows how the creativity of its cast never faded. Danny Tamberelli, who played Little Pete, went on to become a bass player in a nationally touring jam band called Jounce and performs in a sketch comedy group called Man Boobs Comedy. Sounds pretty rad to me.
A spin on suburban life
Growing up in the suburbs was always portrayed as a drag in pop culture, whether it was movies, music, or TV. But “Pete and Pete” brought to life the wonders of life in the ‘burbs and gave kids the keys to it. While the grown-ups of Wellsville seemed down on their luck, like the hopelessly romantic bus driver or the helplessly alone and nicotine-addicted crossing guard, the youngsters were the ones creating and constructing. Whether it was a homemade radio station in the basement, a massive dodgeball revolt, or an overthrow of the International Adult Conspiracy’s bedtime policy, there was a certain craftiness to the Petes that was both encouraging and inspiring.