East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

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How the West was Pulp – The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr.

Brisco: Please excuse Comet. He does not know he is a horse.

An image of a cowboy, leaning with his arms on...

These nights, trying to let off some steam, I’m re-watching the old The Adventures of Brisco County Jr., a steampunkish series that does have quite some pulp to it.
It features Bruce Campbell as the titular character, plus a solid cast of co-stars.

The set-up: it’s 1893 and something’s moving in the American West. A mysterious orb has been unearthed which seems capable of granting weird powers to those that touch it. A gang of ruthless outlaws, led by the sinister John Bly (Billy Drago) seeks to use its power to achieve some nefarious ends.
And against them, law-school dropout and bounty-hunter Brisco County Jr. – a man looking for “The Coming Thing”… after all, soon it’s going to be the 20th century!

The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. lasted only one season, but had quite a lot going – probably too much.
And yet the over the top stories (or, as per producer’s directions “just under over the top”) – presented in chapters with weird titles, like an old matinée serial or a dime novel – were ok because the series was clearly set in a pulp universe.
One in which you can have an underwater fistfight, meet the members of a secret tong in the Chinatown of San Francisco, ride a rocket down the tracks, or have a staring match over a pack of dynamite, the fuse burning…
This is clearly pulp magazine territory – and therefore even the crowded scripts and over-complex plots find a way to keep going, and do not crash to the ground.

A pity the total is sometimes inferior to the sum of its parts – low budget, the scriptwriters probably uncertain whether to go all the way into parody, or retain a modicum of straight face.
Maybe a little less whackyness could have helped – but as usual, who can say what would have become of the series, had it laster another season.

Instead, after 23 episodes, it was gone.

But it’s good to watch – for Campbell, for his leading ladies, for the bad guys,  and for the ease with which the outrageous is slipped into the mundane in some episodes.
In particular, Bruce Campbell’s tongue-in-cheek delivery and easy attitude help suspend the disbelief even when things get really weird.
And the West, even its final years, has room enough for action and comedy.
Maybe this is not the way I’d do it – but it’s a way to do it, and when it works it’s very very good.