One of the most unique and inspiring children’s television shows in history took place on none other than the entertainment epicenter of nostalgic whimsy known across the globe as Nickelodeon. To be clear, 90s Nickelodeon was already a nesting ground for such classics as Rugrats, Doug, Ren and Stimpy, Salute Your Shorts, Hey, Dude!, and an essential cornucopia of thoughtful programs aimed at the disjointed American youth, but The Adventures of Pete & Pete really stands out.
The Adventures of Pete & Pete is a surrealist, humorous take on everyday suburban life as seen through the eyes of two brothers both named Pete Wrigley. Among a pile of memorable friends, family, and antagonists, these characters forge a lovable place in the tomes of TV history. Beginning as a series of shorts, the idea gained popularity and was followed by five half-hour specials and three seasons of weekly episodes running from 1993-1996.
With Teen Nick’s “The 90s Are All That” campaign, the show has regained some of its lost popularity. From the theme song by indie super group Polaris to the plate in Mama Wrigley’s head to the gaudy burlesque tattoo on young Pete’s arm, this comedic drama proved that it was of a different breed, and I love every minute of it.
The episode that really stood out in my memory was the 4th-of-July-centered “Grounded For Life.” The episode opens with young Pete conducting an experiment in the front yard by plugging in a humidifier and de-humidifier at the same time. The experiment ends in peril as young Pete is responsible for the destruction of his father’s lawn, thus resulting in his being grounded from engaging in the fireworks-filled festivities on the 4th of July.
The father’s dismay is only compounded by the ongoing bet he has going with his fellow lawn-loving neighbor, Mr. Lerdner. Whoever has the best lawn by July 4th gets to watch the loser mow both lawns all summer. For five years running, the Wrigleys had lost the bet, and now young Pete’s little mishap had assured another disappointment.
As retribution for his carelessness, young Pete is subjected to a series of increasingly horrible punishments including re-seeding the lawn, acting as a human sprinkler, and massaging the lawn’s scorch mark. After young Pete’s attempted escape to the border of Canada on a riding mower, his father decides that a month of house arrest is the best course of action. Pete would miss the fireworks.
After a visit from Artie, the strongest man in the world, and his gift of an ant farm, young Pete realizes that the only way out of his domestic prison is to dig. His plan is to tunnel out from his own basement and climb out on the other end in the neighbor’s yard. Using a Statue of Liberty souvenir paperweight, he begins his dig toward eventual freedom.
In the midst of his daring plan, Pete meets his female neighbor, Nona F. Mecklenberg and divulges his plot while forming a friendship with her. This turns out to be a mutually beneficial friendship, as Pete is Nona’s cure for loneliness and Nona’s green spray paint disguises Pete’s tunnel tracks in the lawn enough to avoid discovery.
As the heated lawn battle between Mr. Wrigley and Mr. Lerdner escalates, Lerdner pulls a cheap move by sabotaging the Wrigley’s lawn and, subsequently, flooding young Pete’s hard-forged tunnel. With the Wrigley’s lawn beyond repair and Pete’s hopes of freedom dashed, all appears to be lost.
However, with a patriotic pep speech from Nona, Pete is inspired to have another go at his plan. Simultaneously overcome with nostalgia and remorse, Mr. Wrigley decides to give his son the chance to see the fireworks, unaware that Pete has beat him to it.
Plunging the Statue of Liberty through the neighbor’s lawn in triumph, Pete achieves the ultimate goal of freedom that he was looking for. Finally meeting Nona face to face, outside the confines of the tunnel, Pete decides to get revenge on Mr. Lerdner by coercing Nona’s dog into peeing on his lawn. With the help of a photo of Nona’s dog’s favorite pee spot, Nimbus unleashes his urine-y floodgates all over the immaculate lawn.
Mr. Wrigley arrives home just in time to see Pete’s escape and rages with anger, but the appearance of the festive fireworks makes Mr. Wrigley go more lenient on his disobedient son. Since both lawns were guilty of cheating, the neighborly quarrel is resolved with a handshake and young Pete is only sentenced to mowing both lawns for the duration of the summer.
There’s something universally nostalgic about 4th of July. Its sights, smells, sounds, and memories can link people to forgotten times. I love when a television show or movie can capture those feelings. Besides being a beloved show of my childhood, the Adventures of Pete & Pete always served to deliver a message about family and what’s really important in life. Shows today could learn a thing or two from this kind of writing.