Note: This entrywas a long time coming. I’ve been busy with NLE reviews and it just didn’t give me much time to sit and actually write something.
A huge part of my childhood, being a 90s kid, was the early 90s off-beat era of Nickelodeon and their TV shows. I’ve already done an entry dedicated to Clarissa Explains It All here and it was one of Nickelodeon’s most popular shows and also a personal favorite of mine (Clarissa Darling was my ‘It Girl’ then). But now, I think it’s time that we take a few steps back again to that Golden Era of Nickelodeon to another personal favorite and explore Wellsville, USA—a peaceful fictional suburban town inhabited by characters who are a bit eccentric; case in point two brothers who are both named Pete.
Like many of the Nickelodeon shows of its day, the teen series The Adventures of Pete & Pete was one of those shows that definitely stands out in the mind of kids who grew up in the early 90s like me. Personally, I thought it was the coolest thing to happen on television, seeing an everyday account of the not-so-ordinary lives of your typical neighborhood boys the titular Wrigley brothers: Big Pete and Little Pete.
Typical but with their little quirks, Big Pete (17 year old Michael Maronna) and Little Pete (12 year old Danny Tamberelli) experience weirdness in perfect harmony with characters in their neighborhood who are a bit more eccentric than them. Set in the sleepy fictional suburbia of Wellsville in the USA (pretty much like the Simpson’s Springfield), the show adds bits of surrealism to the craziness that exists behind the lawn sprinklers and past the white picket fences and no other show was able to potray it better than the Adventures of Pete and Pete.
Whether it be how they spent their April Fool’s Day and summer vacations and also minor hiccups such fighting over the family bowling ball Rolling Thunder, being grounded, or standing up against the school bully, the Wrigley boys lives are anything but ordinary. Big Pete and Little Pete deal with every day problems that kids face but in their distinct way and this usually evolves into mind-bending scenarios. At that time, it made me gloat over my otherwise boring neighborhood which eventually resulted in my everyday attempts to make my childhood a little surreal (the application of the “Pete Way” though sometimes made my parents sigh and resulted in extensive sermons).
The show’s idea of taking the mundane to make something mythic about it made it one of the best shows of Nickelodeon, not to mention the cameos of many rock stars and alternative bands in the show (which I wasn’t aware of before) added to it’s cult cache of both kids and adult alike. From my point of view as a kid then, I didn’t get a lot of references (I didn’t even know who Iggy Pop or Steve Buscemi then), but looking back I don’t think it mattered so much. There were a lot of adult references there but it certainly didn’t alienate my 9 year old self . Plus, I think that sort of exposure is good, being able to tap into that pre-adult sense of logic that you don’t commonly see in other teen shows then and now.
When you look at it, the show was fairly balanced despite being essentially a David Lynch version of the Wonder Years. I actually looked up to Big Pete and sympathized with him: he was the pillar of normalcy (fairly grounded) in the sea of weirdness in their town, the older sensible brother I never had. It was through Big Pete that I had a view of what it was like for kids his age to experience a lot of things (especially when it came to an alien matter at the time: unrequited love). He does this with his memorable narration that borders on both sarcasm and idealism with a hint of wistfulness. He’s the perfect balance to Little Pete, the boy I admired as a kid because he represents child empowerment and everything I wish I could get away with. He’s an inspiring character for me at that time and he was the perfect example of the writers’ dedication to give something for the audience, both adult and kids alike. Little Pete was the embodiment of a “kid’s mind”. The things he went through we’re the real deal and the writer’s really got into the mind of kids about these issues but it would be presented in ideas you might never have consciously come up with.
Another thing that I loved was the fact that it was definitely refreshing to watch something that explored universal kid issues by putting a spin on how you attack your childhood problems. It definitely did something for the imaginative mind of kids then. There was something special about The Adventures of Pete and Pete that entertained you with it’s outlandish suburbian lunacy but also allowed you to see past that and without even realizing it, taught you important lessons about growing up. For instance the case of the friendship of Little Pete and Artie (The Strongest Man in the World) his personal superhero and best friend. Being bullied by the kid Papercut (master of making dangerous paper mache weapons) made life difficult for Little Pete and often resorted to the escape route. But when he lost Artie, Little Pete learns to stand up for himself and fight his own battles even though it means he doesn’t need his own superhero anymore. And somewhere along the way, we’ve had our own Artie’s in our lives ( I sure had one).
Wellsville is a good place to start when you want to return to those good old days of what it was really like to be a kid and remember the things that went on your head then. 90s kid or not, we all had pretty colorful childhoods that we would like to go back to and we’re forever torn by wanting to be sophisticated adults, yet we obsessively flaunt the landmarks of our youth. I highly recommend this show to you my little Vikings (both fans and newbies to the show alike) and don’t forget your oder of Orange Lazarus while watching (don’t forget the most epic brain freeze experience).