Anybody who lived through the years of 1993-1994 will have undoubtedly heard of the name Brisco County Jr. You may not know why you know the name. You may not have watched the show, or even knew what it was about. But you’ve heard the name. The Adventures of Brisco County Jr has gone down as one of the greatest shows in history to only get one season.
Much like the shows Firefly and the original Battlestar Galactica, it gained cult status and a hardcore group of followers, myself included. But unlike Firefly and Battlestar this wasn’t a sci-fi show. . . Well it kind of was, but it was also a western….it’s complicated. Let me try to explain.
The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. was a western that could be classified as a sci-fi western, a weird western, and even a dramatic western or comedy western. It routinely used elements of science fiction and even elements of what could only be referred to as steampunk. Think Wild Wild West but on a smaller scale.
Many episodes centered around an “orb” from the future that had wild abilities and gave different powers to different people for different reasons. On one occasion it’s used by a gentleman to save Brisco’s life while in another episode it kills a greedy prospector using its abilities for the wrong reasons and in the pilot episode it’s power frees Chinese railroad workers.
Now you may be wondering why a sci-fi western? Well there’s a semi good reason for that. Bob Greenblatt, an executive for FOX, commissioned Jeffery Boam and Carltun Cuse to create the show. Boam and Cuse had previously worked on Indian Jones and The Last Crusade of which Greenblatt was a huge fan of.
Greenblatt wanted a show that had a similar style to that of Indiana Jones, but not a direct carbon copy. What Boam and Cuse came up with was a sci-fi western based off of old Saturday Matinee Serial films that were popular in the first half of the
Cuse served as the show runner and head writer while Boam was an executive producer. The writing for the show was to be humorous but not too campy and just under over the top per the instruction of Cuse.
Production would take place primarily on Warner Bros. sound stages and on the western backlot known as Laramie Street. Outdoor scenes were filmed at the Warner ranch in Valencia CA, and various other locations such as the Valuze Ranch in Santa Clarita and Bronson Canyon.
Locomotive scenes were filmed on location at Railtown 1897 State Historic Park in
Jamestown CA. So as you can see the show had an amazing writing team and great places to film and then there was the cast that would bring everything to life.
The show starred none other than B movie legend Bruce Campbell (Burn Notice, Ash vs. Evil Dead) as Brisco County Jr. An ivy league school lawyer turned bounty hunter after the death of his father. Campbell auditioned for the show 5 times and on his final audition he vowed to do whatever it took to make the show a success.
Veteran TV actor Julius Carry (The Last Dragon, The New Guy) would play Brisco’s rival/partner bounty hunter, Lord Bowler. A play on words of real life Lord Baltimore. Always wearing a Bowler hat, Carry would use real life US Deputy Marshal Bass Reeves as inspiration.
Christian Clemenson (Boston Legal, CSI: Miami) would be Brisco’s legal liaison, Socrates Poole. Often the voice of reason and the anchor for not letting the show go too over the top, Clemenson would use his real life experiences from Harvard to
bring the uptight Poole to life on screen.
There was an amazing supporting cast of recurring characters as well. The beautiful Kelly Rutherford (Melrose Place, Gossip Girl) would play Brisco’s love interest, Dixie Cousins. A burlesque dancer, she always seemed to want to do right by Brisco
but was always on the wrong side of the tracks while doing it.
Then there was Professor Albert Wickwire played by Gomez Adams himself, John Astin. Professor Wickwire was to Brisco what Doctor Emmet Brown was to Marty McFly. Not only was he a brilliant mind and a huge help to Brisco on a number of occasions but he would serve as a father figure after the death of Brisco’s father.
It should also be noted that Brisco’s father was played by R. Lee Ermy, though he only appeared in 3 episodes of the show. Brisco Sr. was a legendary US Marshal that had captured the Bly gang.
The Bly Gang was headed by John Bly, played by Billy Drago (Invasion USA, Delta
Force 2). Bly was responsible for Brisco Sr’s death in the pilot episode. Drago would only go on to be in 6 episodes throughout the series, but his presence was felt throughout the entire run.
Mostly in part because Brisco would spend much of his time trying to catch all the outlaws of the Bly Gang after their escape in the first episode, but also because of Drago’s portrayal of the character. Drago would command the screen. Acting out the character in a theatrical fashion that was on the cusp of being operatic. As if he was conducting a symphony.
Speaking of which…. The theme song is probably the one lasting legacy of the show that had stood the test of time. Randy Edelman had composed the theme song for Brisco and after the show was canceled the theme song found its way into a portfolio that was submitted to NBC and they started using it for their Olympics coverage in 1996.
NBC would finally retire Brisco’s theme song in 2016.The chemistry on set between the actors and writers was electric. Everyone that had a hand in making the show on screen and off felt that they were creating something truly special.
The show has an undeniable charm to it that you can’t ignore. And God bless Fox. They truly believed in Brisco. Heavy promotion was done in 1993 and the pilot episode aired on Aug. 27th 1993 to good reviews and strong ratings. They would air the pilot again a couple of weeks later and do a full order of 26 episodes for the season. Fox thought that Brisco would be the breakout hit of the year.
Sadly that distinction went to the show that came on after Brisco in the 9:00pm
time slot….X-Files….whatever that is. Unfortunately, what we got was 27 episodes of one of the most unique, charming, funny, charismatic shows to ever grace our TV screens. But it never got a 2nd season. There’s a beauty to this show that regardless of your age, there’s a part of you that feels like a kid watching it in bewilderment.
There was a running theme in the show of “The Coming Thing”. Brisco often refers to this, as the show takes place in 1893 and the turn of the century is just around the corner. And Brisco gets to see his fair share of coming things, be it rockets, motorcycles, an atmospheric diving suit, and even a tank. But the sad thing is, the show itself was the coming thing.
The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. was a show that was truly ahead of its time. The world was not ready for a Sci-Fi Western. And probably still isn’t in this fashion. In reality it wasn’t that people were too good for the show. The show was too good for us. We did not deserve Brisco County Jr. But we got it anyway.
There’s so much more I could tell you about Brisco, but the reality is people need to
watch it to truly appreciate it. If you like sci-fi then the episodes that centralize around the orb are for you. If you like traditional western tv shows then the episodes that don’t revolve around the orb will be up your alley. The show works great in both capacities. All 27 episodes are currently on Tubi for streaming as of the time of this writing. So do yourselves a favor and be sure to check it out.