Rich Howells

INFINITE IMPROBABILITY: ‘Pete and Pete’ cast reunion celebrated the weirdness of Wellsville – and childhood

INFINITE IMPROBABILITY: ‘Pete and Pete’ cast reunion celebrated the weirdness of Wellsville – and childhood
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I had this bizarre dream the other day that one of my best friends, my boss, and I were hanging out in some ballroom with the entire cast of “The Adventures of Pete and Pete,” chatting about the ‘90s Nickelodeon show and snapping pictures until the wee hours of the following morning.

Oh wait, that was actually my Friday night, and I have the autographed Mr. Tastee poster to prove it.

It all came together just as randomly. Tickets to spend “An Evening with the Cast and Crew of ‘The Adventures of Pete and Pete'” at the Bowery Ballroom in New York City, hosted by The Onion’s A.V. Club, sold out almost instantly last month, so I figured that my one and only chance to meet the reunited gang had moved on as quickly as an ice-cream man pestered by nosy children. I sent an email to the venue inquiring about press credentials but received no response.

I put it out of my plate-less head until my editor, Chris Hughes, who is an even more diehard fan of the show than I am, encouraged me to follow up the day before the event with a phone call. As I pulled up the website for the phone number, I glared at the screen as if I were in a staring contest for a few solid minutes before it sunk in that a second later show on Feb. 24 had opened up with tickets readily available. Not even an Orange Lazarus-induced headache could have stopped us now.

Joined by my friend Sophia, we took off for the Big Apple the following evening, unsure of what to expect from such a random occasion. After all, when was the last time you ever heard of the cast of a cult TV show reuniting after 16 years apart? The A.V. Club may have held a similar gathering earlier in Los Angeles, but I doubt it was as surprise-filled as this evening.

We were greeted by a big screen playing episode clips while cameras from VH1 shined brightly in the faces of star-struck fans as they shook hands with Michael C. Maronna, better known as Big Pete or that guy from “Slackers.” Danny Tamberelli, a.k.a. Little Pete, made a much more dramatic entrance soon after, taking the stage with actual members of The Blowholes, his character’s fictional band, to play several songs from the music-heavy show, including that catchy opening theme, “Hey Sandy,” by Polaris.

Surrounded by other 20-to-30-somethings likely relapsing into their own nostalgia-induced comas, we listened to an hour-and-a-half question and answer session with Pete, Pete’s brother, Pete; Mom and Dad Wrigley; Ellen; and Artie, the Strongest Man in the World, through we heard most from the show’s creators, Will McRobb and Chris Viscardi, and writer/director Katherine Dieckmann. All seem surprised, but delighted and humbled, that we so vividly recalled every quirky episode after almost two decades, but as our lives can attest, shows as odd, touching, and captivating as “Pete and Pete” don’t come around, or avoid TV executives and their censors, very often.

Much like on the series, Toby Huss, still instantly recognizable as Artie, stole the show with his raw energy and dirty one-liners, but each person onstage had a story to tell. Among the highlights:

  • Pete’s brother was originally going to be a dog named Pete, but having a dog would have been “too much of a pain.”
  • Maronna, who was thrilled that being a redhead actually gave him a casting advantage for once, was mainly hired because he was the only child actor who didn’t repeatedly blink during his audition.
  • Being an oddball low-budget show that the studio didn’t “get,” the creators never knew when the last episode would be and just kept making them while hoping for the ratings to improve, though they unfortunately didn’t.
  • Huss was accosted and knocked to the ground by a complete stranger simply for wearing the Mr. Tastee mask during a shoot.
  • Huss came up with the character of Artie on his own and was brought onto the series after the creators saw his comedy act, and he later left the show in Season 2 of his own accord.
  • Alison Fanelli, who played Ellen, was so embarrassed to kiss Maronna on-screen as a kid that she made her mother leave the set so she couldn’t watch. Maronna brought a toothbrush.
  • The Wrigleys, Judy Grafe and Hardy Rawls, acted like second parents to the Petes on the set but said they weren’t above “corrupting” the young actors. Though when Grafe gave Tamberelli a VHS copy of “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” she edited the parts with nudity out, which he never knew existed until he saw the film later in college.

If none of this is familiar to you, I apologize, but “Pete and Pete” was just one of those things you had to grow up with to understand its magic. Starting out a series of (ultimately) 26 shorts, five specials, and three seasons containing 34 episodes, Viscardi and McRobb said that their goal was to capture the spirit of what it’s like to be a kid, and when kids tell their stories, they don’t always make sense, which explains the show’s peculiar tone entirely – “funny, sad, weird, and beautiful.”

With so many sitcoms desperately trying to capture the typical American family, “Pete and Pete” instead defied conventions and authority, embracing and championing weirdness. What fascinated me most about the evening wasn’t the fact that there were fans showing up with Petunia tattoos and singing along to every word of “Summerbaby” – it was that the cast and crew themselves were just as touched by its eccentric legacy.

Rawls sported his “Don’t Give Up Hope” T-shirt, and Tamberelli, now a musician, recalled that his interest in music started because of the show, learning bass from frequent guest star Iggy Pop himself. Members of the supporting cast, including those who played bus driver Stu Benedict, Teddy Forzman, “Wayne the Pain” Pardue, and Kreb Scout Monica Perling, unexpectedly showed up and hung out in the audience of their own volition. They all seemed just so thrilled to be in the same place together again, and that’s what really made the night for me.

It’s one thing to revisit your childhood by popping in a DVD of one of your favorite TV shows as a kid, but it’s completely another to relive it with those who brought it to life in the first place. And thank Artie they did, because if the International Adult Conspiracy had won out and “Pete and Pete” never aired, who knows where we’d all be?

Certainly not in Wellsville, which for one night reappeared in a small room in NYC. I couldn’t think of a better series finale.

Infinite Improbability is a longstanding column that examines various topics in geek culture for both dedicated fans and those who don’t get the reference. Look for new entries exclusively on NEPA Scene.