I have to admit to being a bit obsessed with unaired pilots, or those which were shown but which never went to series. With some it’s quite understandable but a fair few lost gems were sadly never seen or given the chance to flourish, and in this new feature we’ll be reviewing the best of those. Along with some which are a tad dodgy but still made us smile.
Created in 1996 by the reclusive John Swartzwelder, who was responsible for some of the best ever episodes of The Simpsons including Homer At The Bat, Krusty Gets Kancelled, Whacking Day and You Only Move Twice, Pistol Pete was a live action western series starring Stephen Kearney, Mark Derwin and Brian Doyle-Murray. It begins with the Marshall of the town of Abilene being murdered, but the townsfolk seem remarkably unconcerned, with many having gambled on how many times the Marshall would be shot (21, a new record). The only downside is that they need a replacement so they hire Pistol Pete, the famous star of a New York stage show and various ridiculous dime novels (the titles of which are all rather daft, with my favourite being “Pistol Pete vs. the Transcendentalists”), who is, naturally, a complete idiot. He feels like a Phil Hartman Simpsons character, confident, smooth, but also rather stupid, with a hint of Futurama’s Zapp Brannigan, though he’s far more likeable than that particular individual. The one thing he has going for him is accuracy with his guns, and that’s good enough for the easily fooled people of Abilene.
The pilot is a flawed affair, some of the gags are a little predictable and it doesn’t have the natural wit of The Simpsons. Stephen Kearney as Pete is a decent lead but bar Derwin and Doyle-Murray the rest of the cast isn’t that strong and nearly everyone involved feels like a caricature. I have to confess to not being a huge fan of westerns, outside of those which send up the genre like Blazing Saddles, and it doesn’t have the density of gags that that film does. Criticisms aside, there are some fun moments, like when Pistol Pete attempts to ride a horse only to crash in to a building and comment “How are you supposed to steer those animals? And where in god’s name are the brakes?” which becomes a running gag as later on in the episode he tries to control the animal again shouting “Forward Robert, advance!” only to end up crashing through the window of the local saloon. There’s also amusing lines like when the mayor describes Pete – “He seems like the perfect lawman, brave, fast on the draw, terrific posture,” whilst the deputy responds “The only thing wrong with him is that he’ll be dead within 20 minutes…19 minutes now”.
Towards the end of the episode the plot kicks in and there are two villainous posses who plan to kill Pete, but luckily for him the deputy sets them against each other so Pete doesn’t really have to do anything to save the day. And whilst it’s a joke I’ve seen elsewhere, when the gangs run out of bullets they end up just throwing their guns at each other, and then their hats, and boots, which made me smile a lot.
Whilst amiable and then some, I’m not sure what direction the series would have taken, or how Swartzwelder would have kept proceedings fresh without repeating himself, but it’s a shame we didn’t get at least one season of the show to see how it would have developed. If you want to know more about it there’s a great article here by Will Harris, one of our favourite AV Club writers, where he interviews Stephen Kearney and Mark Derwin and they reveal a lot of fascinating facts about the show.
Pistol Pete can be watched on youtube here.