I caught this episode list after tracking it across three states:
After narrowly escaping a hanging,
Brisco is hired to track down the Bly gang, his father's killers, but it's not
an easy start for our bounty hunter. First, Bly sends Chinese assassins from the
Scarred Foot Clan after Brisco and Socrates. Then, Brisco goes undercover as a
crook to nab Bly's right hand man. This is when he first meets and romances
sultry singer Dixie Cousins (Kelly Rutherford, Melrose Place). This
two-hour debut also introduces viewers to a couple of other recurring
characters. Professor Wickwire (John Astin, The Addams Family), is a
scientific genius who aids Brisco with his inventions, and Pete Hutter (John
Pyper-Ferguson, Hard Core Logo), is a sneaky thug who has a special
relationship with his own gun. It's also the first appearance of the infamous
orb, which here is referred to as an "unearthed foreign object" or
"UFO" for short. A lot of the series's most fondly-remembered moments
are in this one, such as Brisco riding a rocket as if it's a horse, and not one
but two crashing trains.
• "Socrates' Sister"
As the title implies,
Socrates's sister, Iphigenia (Judith Hoag, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), comes for a
visit, and Soc is flustered to see sparks flying between her and Brisco. Pete
Hutter and Professor Wickwire both make return appearances here, as Pete and one
of Bly's men enact a plot using the professor's new diving suit. This of course
leads to an intense underwater finale, even if Brisco didn't plan it that way.
Iphigenia is a fun character, and it's too bad she never came back in a later
• "The Orb Scholar"
Picking up where the pilot
left off, John Bly returns, on the search for the orb. Brisco runs into a second
professor, Ogden Coles (Brandon Maggart, Living in Fear), who is yet
another scientific genius. For a series known for its sense of humor, I was
surprised to see how serious this one got at the end, first with Brisco's brush
with death, and then with his confrontation with a villain at the end. The
series didn't get this dark often, but it's nice to know that when it did, it
could pull it off.
• "No Man's Land"
Brisco and Wickwire end up way
off the map, only to discover a town of all women, ones who don't want any pesky
men ruining their paradise. Meanwhile, Bowler is on the hunt for a stolen
"battle wagon" (Okay, it's a tank). As you can probably guess, it's
not long before everyone's paths cross. This episode introduces the show's
dumbest villains, the Swill brothers. Also, Star Trek bonus points go out
to the first person to spot a certain former security officer in a guest
• "Brisco in Jalisco"
It's a trip south of the
border, as a search for stolen guns leads Brisco and Socrates to Mexico, and the
middle of a revolution against a corrupt general. The search also reunites
Brisco with Dixie Cousins. Throughout the series, Dixie's loyalties were always
right on the line. Despite the potent chemistry between her and Brisco, she
certainly has a thing for bad boys. But how much of that is real, and how much
is just an act, for Dixie to get whatever she wants?
This one finds our characters in
Louisiana, which in the Brisco universe is just a short ride from San
Francisco, apparently. Here, Brisco, Socrates, and Dixie set aside the usual
gunplay and instead create a long con to nab the villain. Said con involves
convincing Bowler to step into a boxing ring against a champ. This one is
notable for getting Brisco out of his usual cowboy suit and into a different
outfit for once.
Many writers believe that any story
you want to tell can be told within the confines of a Western. This episode puts
that to the test, by taking the square peg of the pirate genre and forcing it
into the round hole of the Western genre. Some rascally pirates are the villains
here, complete with a wagon made up to look like a pirate ship, so of course a
barroom brawl in a saloon ends up as a swordfight.
• "Senior Spirit"
After another encounter with
the always-mysterious orb, Brisco starts seeing visions of his dead father (R.
Lee Ermey, Full Metal Jacket). Going
face to face with Bly, Brisco questions his own confidence, so it's good that
Brisco Sr. is there to help him out. Wickwire returns in this one as well, to
get his first look at the orb. Plus, we get our first real hints that the orb is
part of a much bigger story.
• "Brisco for the Defense"
Suddenly, this is a
murder mystery show, as Brisco becomes a lawyer again and has to defend an old
college buddy accused of murder. Although some have criticized this one as being
overly talky, it does contain a memorable jailbreak scene, as well as a great
guest starring role for voice actor Tony Jay (The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Brisco and Bowler pay a visit to
Brisco's hometown, which has become a haven for criminals. To clean up the town,
Brisco temporarily becomes the new sheriff, with Bowler as his deputy. The
writers always had fun with historical anachronisms, and they're everywhere in
this one, with Brisco pulling over some kids for drunk horse riding, and Bowler
dealing with a domestic situation. Also, skinny dipping!
• "Deep in the Heart of Dixie"
Dixie's back in
the spotlight when everyone's after a piece of key evidence in her possession,
which was made on a "recording machine." Here's where we get a look
into Dixie's past and her and Brisco's true feelings for one another. This one
also features character actor David Warner (Titanic) as one of the show's more
memorable villains, a quick thinker always one step ahead of our heroes.
• "Crystal Hawks"
A member of John Bly's gang
whom everyone thought was dead turns up very much alive, framing Brisco for
murder. While on the run, Brisco runs afoul of rival bounty hunter Crystal Hawks
(singer Sheena Easton). If this weren't enough of a complication, the orb
reenters Brisco's life, as well as talk about Brisco's orb-related destiny. Here
we have the "episode 12" phenomenon, wherein the creators aren't sure
if the show will be renewed for an entire season, so an attempt is made to wrap
everything up in this one. Fortunately, Brisco lasted a full 27 episodes,
but that means the conclusion to this one is more of a fake-out than a
• "Steel Horses"
Brisco and Bowler are hot on the
trail of a gang of speedsters riding some "motored cycles." What could
be so important that the Bly gang would need these super-fast cycles in order to
steal it? I'll give you a hint: It rhymes with "the blorb." Wickwire
makes another welcome return in this one. This is one of the more comedic
episodes, and Wickwire walks away with some of the best lines.
• "Mail Order Brides"
The wonderfully dim-witted
Swill brothers pay another visit in this one, stealing the dowries of a group of
feisty mail order brides. Hey, I just thought of something: each Swill brother
episode deals with gender issues. Is this the creators' way of saying that men,
in general, are idiots? You could make that case, I suppose. Fortunately, this
episode is far from serious, with some great slapstick action and a silly
subplot about Socrates and a royal bull. It also introduces one of my favorite
running gags, in which Bowler is mistaken for Brisco's "faithful
• "A.k.a. Kansas"
A lot of shows follow the
pattern of stand-alone episodes mixed with "mythology" episodes about
a season-long arc. This is one of the latter, as we learn a little bit more
about the orb, after one of Bly's men concocts an outrageous, cannon-based plan
to steal it. We also get a look at Bowler's home life, some Fatal Attraction-style action for
Socrates, and more unbelievably steamy sexual tension between Brisco and Dixie.
Directed by Rob Bowman (The X-Files: Fight
the Future), this one has plenty of nice visual flourishes, including a
nicely-shot scene at sunset.
• "Bounty Hunter's Convention"
It's another trip
to murder mystery territory as this one mimics Ten Little Indians as Brisco, Bowler
and Socrates attend the titular convention, where guests are being bumped off
one by one—except Ten Little Indians didn't feature a nefarious
killer dressed head to toe in black metal armor.
• "Fountain of Youth"
You know it's going to be
one of those episodes when it begins with Brisco and Bowler asking people if
they've seen Professor Coles. Yes, this one's all about the orb. It occurs to me
that some viewers might groan and think, "Not the orb again." Sorry,
but the orb storyline is what makes this show and its main character stand out.
Brisco might have been just another cowboy, but when you put the orb in his
hands, suddenly you've got an iconic image worth remembering. This one also
makes Coles a little more human and a little less enigmatic by revealing his
relationship with his daughter. There's also a funny subplot about a gang of
unnaturally good-looking thieves, and a guest spot by James Hong (Big Trouble in Little China), reprising
a character he played in the pilot.
• "Hard Rock"
Bowler reunites with an old flame
who has moved to the town of Hard Rock, where she plans to open a café.
From there, the music references just keep on coming, especially around Sheriff
Aaron Viva (Gary Hudson, She's Too
Young), who bears a strong resemblance to a certain king of rock and
roll—or a certain Texas rest home mummy fighter. Amid all the laughs, this
episode is also notable for the first appearance of Whip Morgan, (Jeff Phillips,
Best Men), poker playing genius and all-around troublemaker, who
eventually becomes a regular fixture in Brisco's adventures.
• "Brooklyn Dodgers"
Brisco and Bowler end up
escorting two precocious orphans to San Francisco, where a huge inheritance
awaits them. With the exception of some fights against Irish gangsters after the
tykes, the plot here is mostly cutesy kids stuff, making this the weakest
episode of the series. On the plus side, Buffy fans will be happy to see
a young Mercedes "Harmony" McNab as one of the orphans, and any Garth
Ennis fans watching will just about faint when an Irish killer introduces
reveals his name is "Tommy Monaghan."
• "Bye Bly"
The orb. John Bly. Brisco's destiny.
It all comes together in this episode, along with a French safecracker,
secretive government agents, and a nude female time traveler. There's a complex,
twisty-turny plot to follow, but stick with it, because the payoff is huge.
Drago delivers another cold-hearted performance as Bly, proving to be quite the
evenly-matched nemesis for Brisco. On the negative side, this one recreates a
scene from an earlier episode, but with different dialogue. We should expect
better from a series that sticks so well to its own continuity.
• "Ned Zed"
One of my favorite episodes. After
the head-spinning orb plot went overboard in the previous episode, this one gets
back to good old-fashioned adventure storytelling. By using a framing device of
a father reading a "dime novel" about Brisco to his son, the creators
are able to make this one a little more outrageous and over-the-top than usual.
There's a great villain in this one, too—Frenchie Bearpaux, a man who
replaced his severed hand with a bear's paw, complete with razor-sharp claws.
Ash would be impressed.
Brisco is hired by his new
employers to escort a British female spy named Emma to Mexico aboard a
stagecoach filled with quirky characters. These include a coach driver with
similarities to a New York cabbie, and an "herbalist" played none
other than counterculture legend Timothy Leary. Pete Hutter shows up again after
a long absence, with a funny throwback to the first episode.
• "Wild Card"
While chasing some bandits, Brisco
and Bowler end up in a small town lined with electric lights advertising a haven
for gambling and casinos. Just what sort of town is this "Reno" place,
anyway? It's here that Brisco learns Dixie has a sister, Dolly. The sisters have
gotten themselves into trouble, and it's up to our cowboy heroes to help them
out, of course. Whip Morgan is back in this one, and he gets awfully flirty with
• "And Baby Makes Three"
Pete Hutter returns for
more squirrelly fun, leaving a surprise package for Dixie. This sets a chain of
events in action that leads to Brisco and pals under attack by the Black Lotus
gang, another gaggle of Chinese martial artists. Soon enough, everyone is kung
fu fighting. Along the way, we get to see a new side of Dixie's personality, and
we learn the tragic story of Brisco's mother. James Hong is back for another
guest spot, and Whip further establishes himself as a series regular.
• "Bad Luck Betty"
Socrates is kidnapped, in the
middle of his own birthday party, no less. Brisco, Bowler and Whip track his
trail to Midnightville, a town filled with superstitious residents and numerous
references to Hitchcock films. In fact, this episode was filmed at Universal
Studios in Hollywood, allowing the characters to visit a very familiar-looking
• "High Treason" Parts One and Two
County Jr. were a comic book, this two-part season finale would be the big
crossover event. To prove themselves innocent of treason charges, Brisco and
Bowler round up a small army of guest stars from previous episodes, including
Whip, Wickwire, Pete, and even the hip-gyrating Aaron Viva. All these characters
team up and square off against a gang of NFL players turned cowboy bounty
hunters, led by Terry Bradshaw. Although the series was on its last legs by this
time, no expense was spared on these final two episodes, giving them an epic,
blockbuster feel. There'll probably never be a Brisco movie, but watching
these back to back are pretty close. Before it's all over, you'll see Wickwire's
stairway to heaven, a cappella dueling banjoes, a ruthless kidnapping plot, and
Brisco and Bowler's final moments—in front of a firing squad.
Put any one of these eight discs into your machine and within seconds, you
hear the theme song. Composed by Randy Edelman (Ghostbusters II), the theme is a
rousing and catchy one, evocative of both classic Westerns and modern action
blockbusters, and it perfectly sets the mood for what's to come. (Never mind the
fact that this same theme was played constantly during the most recent winter
Olympics.) Brisco owes a lot to the old-time Saturday matinee serials,
using its act breaks for wild cliffhangers. Continuing the serial feel, each act
in each episode has its own chapter titles, many of which are very funny
in-jokes about the plot. Cartoons and comic books are another big influence
here. Consider the pilot, in which bandits stop a train by placing a boulder on
the tracks, and painting on image of the horizon on it. Yes, it's the old Wile
E. Coyote gag, only done in live action this time. That might sound like the
stupidest idea of all stupid ideas, but the creators actually make it work. And
yet, as comedic as the series gets, it never skimps on the action, which is
plentiful, or the character development, which is welcome. It's rare that a
series can be this silly and this well-made at the same time.
Like any good comic book or adventure serial, there are both friends and
foes to keep track of. Here's the list:
• Bruce Campbell as Brisco County Jr.
"Now this is the coming thing."
Are you a Bruce Campbell
fan? If so, I have good news for you. This set is 27 hours (plus extras) of
pure, non-stop, unfiltered, 100 percent Bruce. Everything you like about this
guy and his onscreen persona is here in full force. He does the cocky tough guy
swagger with ease, and he can throw punches, ride horses, and shoot outlaws as
if it's second nature. He also has a knack for making even the cheesiest of
lines work. When Brisco opens his hotel door, thinking it's his room service, he
finds a gang of Chinese assassins ready to do him in. His response: "I
didn't order Chinese." It takes a gifted actor to pull off that joke
without overdoing it, or unnecessarily winking at the audience. When Bruce
Campbell says it, it's funny, but we also accept that it's something the
character would actually say in that situation. How does he do this? It's
because of the earnestness he brings to the role. No matter how weird or screwy
the series gets, there's never any question that Bruce is Brisco.
But Bruce's performance here is more than just a comedy one. We learn in the
first episode that Brisco gave up his cushy job as a lawyer to explore the West,
because he's in search of "the coming thing." This concept is carried
throughout the entire series. The "coming thing" is that which
represents to the future. When you and I think of the Old West, we normally
consider it as the past. But for Brisco, the West represents the future. It's
unexplored land, rife with endless possibilities. Brisco's quest might be to
find John Bly and the orb, but it's really a quest for anything futuristic, such
as new technologies or new ways of thinking. As noted in the episode list above,
there are numerous anachronisms scattered throughout the series. These are the
writers having fun with us, of course, but they also represent how Brisco is
very much a man ahead of his time.
• Julius Carry as Lord Bowler
"You little law
book-reading, robber baron butt-kissing, Brisco-hiding sissy, you tell
Bowler's arc through the series is a fairly consistent one. He
starts out as Brisco's rival, almost villainous, threatening to blow up Brisco
with dynamite on their first meeting. As their paths keep crossing, though, they
end up as reluctant partners, and, ultimately, as friends. If Brisco is the
educated problem solver here, then Bowler is the muscle, charging headlong into
any situation with sawed off shotguns a-blazing. Always the tough guy, Bowler
fills a crucial role in the series. After all, someone has to fill in for the
audience and say lines like, "Are you crazy? That plan will never
work." He can be a scary guy, with a constant scowl and fiery glare. But
during those few times when he lets his guard down and lets us hear his
distinctive laugh, we get a sense of how much of a nice guy Bowler really
• Christian Clemenson as Socrates Poole
of the general's staff in Washington, I will be aiding in the defense. I brought
my own chair."
Watching the pilot, I get the sense that Socrates was
originally intended to at Brisco's side during his adventures, with that honor
eventually going to Bowler. The nerdy Socrates is more at home in the upper
class Westerfield Club, handing out job assignments to the bounty hunters,
rather than helping them in the field. Although he's mostly played for slapstick
and gawkishness, Socrates at times proves himself to be a worthy ally for
Brisco, offering contacts and information that Brisco would otherwise not be
able to get. Clemenson at times is in danger of overdoing Soc's awkwardness, but
he really shines in those moments when he gets to enjoy some heroism of his own.
Whenever Brisco, Bowler, and Socrates are in a scene together, they enact the
classic cartoon character archetype of the nice guy, the angry guy, and the dumb
guy. Okay, Socrates is more naïve than dumb, but the archetype still
applies, and it's as successful as it's always been.
• Kelly Rutherford as Dixie Cousins
"At least they
left you your drawers, Whip."
Wow. Wow, oh, wow. I have a crush on
her. Not only is Rutherford skull-implodingly sexy, but she perfectly captures
the femme fatale thing, so that as much as you adore her, you're never really
sure where her loyalties lie. Rutherford's performance is clearly a throwback to
Mae West. And I mean the classic sultry May West, not Rich Little impersonating
Mae West. Why Rutherford didn't become the most sought-after actress in
Hollywood after this series, I'll never know.
• Billy Drago as John Bly
Played with pure iciness, Bly is evil straight to the
core. He's unpredictable and manic, and yet always in control of the situation.
Drago and Campbell have genuine hero/villain chemistry, whether they're verbally
sparring or just plain sparring. It's great fun to watch their rivalry play out,
to the point where it's almost sad to see it come to an end. Every good hero is
only as good as his villain, and Bly makes for an ideal nemesis for a hero like
• John Pyper-Ferguson as Pete Hutter
Comedic villains are tricky to get right. Where does a writer
or actor know to draw that line between menace and buffoonery? Too often,
villains like Pete become so dumbed down that they do not threaten the heroes in
any way, robbing a plot of its dramatic oomph. Fortunately, as funny as Pete is,
the writers never forget that he's trouble, and his purpose in any story is as
an antagonist first, and as comic relief second.
• Carlton Cuse as the orb
"Not the orb again. I hate
Okay, so Carlton Cuse isn't actually on
screen as the orb, but as the show's co-executive producer, with the late
Jeffery Boam, we can put the orb plotline on his shoulders. It's this plot that
really makes Brisco wildly different from any other Western. When it's
first introduced, we know nothing about the orb. Then, hints are very casually
dropped here and there, until later in the season, when the sci-fi aspects of
the series almost take over, and the orb becomes the MacGuffin that drives the
entire plot. Cuse is currently riding high off the success of Lost, where
he is a writer and producer. Like the orb, the Lost island is a source of
mystery with sci-fi overtones driving the plot.
With so many fans so eagerly awaiting this box set, you'd think the picture
quality would look better than it does. Instead, sadly, viewers must prepare for
several nicks and scratches on the picture. Colors generally are good, but can
be a little flat at times. The 2.0 sound fares much better, making the most of
the music and the booming gunshots.
Campbell and Cuse sit down for a commentary on the first episode. As most of
Campbell's fans already know, his commentaries are good ones, with both
information and humor. The commentary offers details for several other episodes,
so save it until the end if you're going into this one spoiler-free. The
"Brisco's Book of Coming Things" featurette features Bruce Campbell
reading from Brisco's diary, describing futuristic items from the series. It's
cute, but it mostly repeats jokes from various episodes. The other featurettes
are much better, covering the series creation, production, trivia, and where a
second season would have gone. The writers' roundtable reunites the writing
staff for memories about the show's creative process. It also attempts to answer
the big question of "What is the orb?" After a while, the guys get a
little too jokey and drunk off their own self-congratulations, but it's still
worth seeing. Finally, Campbell reads a chapter from his book, If Chins Could
Kill: Confessions of a B-Movie Actor, which is all about Brisco, and
is peppered with some behind the scenes footage. It repeats some of the
information in other extras, but there's still some nice info here, as well as
Bruce's winning personality. He refers to his work on Brisco as "the
longest and most exciting year of my life."