When Will McRobb and Chris Viscardi started writing the offbeat Nickelodeon show The Adventures of Pete and Pete in the early nineties, they didn’t really know what they were doing. Much less did they expect that 17 years later, the quirky experiment in children’s programming would amount to three sold-out cast reunions backed by a sizeable cult following of grown-up nineties kids on a nostalgia kick.
The cast and crew of the whimsical tribute to suburban youth greeted a packed auditorium last night at the Bowery Ballroom. The audience was peppered with smartphone-toting twenty-somethings donning flannel and thick-rimmed glasses — characteristic nineties traits recycled into hipster stereotypes.
Pete and Pete was one of those rare kids’ shows that prided itself on defying convention. What started out as a handful of minute-long shorts evolved into a full-fledged series in 1993, celebrating childhood in all its fanciful (and often, bizarre) splendor. It was defined by a particular nonchalant presentation of surreal story lines and oddball characters; childhood trivialities blown-up to enormous significance; adventures far above and beyond the beaten path and, of course, that fantastic indie soundtrack.
“It was one of the few times in life I was anxious to seeing a script,” admitted Hardy Rawls at the event. Rawls is known simply as “Dad” to a generation Pete fans who grew up watching the antics of the two brother Petes — a red-headed duo of contrasting personalities played by Mike Maronna and Danny Tamberelli.
After a thorough highlight reel hurled the audience down memory lane, Tambarelli (Little Pete) emerged with rock band The Blowholes in tow, featuring guitarist Marshall Crenshaw (who once appeared a cameo on the show as a musically inclined meter man) and Syd Straw (Ms. Fingerwood, algebra teacher) on bass. The rest of the night was a heartwarming display of camaraderie between the former cast members as they sat on stage to answer questions, reminisce on the show’s heyday and disclose some riveting anecdotes that cast new light on old episodes.
Though the youngsters have long since become adults, it was refreshing to see that they haven’t lost their youthful charm. Maronna and Tamberelli exchanged playful banter not unlike two brothers would, indulging the audience with various tales from behind-the-scenes like, for instance, that one time they “stole” Melissa Joan Hart’s wallet (Hart was the star of another nineties Nick show, Clarissa Explains It All). Alison Fanelli — who played Ellen, Big Pete’s quasi-love interest on the show — presently works at a hospital.
Toby Huss proudly displayed a raunchy sense of humor that would make most Nickelodeon censors blush. Huss played Artie (“The Strongest Man…in the World”), a strange Wellsville local and self-proclaimed superhero who pranced around town in a formfitting blue and red ensemble, spouting hilarious inanities and striking farcical strongman poses left and right. Artie was Little Pete’s role model, of sorts — pedophilic overtones notwithstanding.
“I was living a normal filthy dirty 28-year-old life on the Lower East Side, [and then I started] putting on tight clothes and acting with children. It was just too weird,” explained Huss, when prompted as to why he left the show after its second season.
Writer Will McRobb had another view of the eccentric character: “Artie made the world a little bit weirder and a little bit better, and I think that’s what the show was about.”
The generation of fans still pining for those three magical TV seasons would probably agree.