Holiday Triumphs: O’ Christmas Pete

Continuing the fabled tradition begun all the way back in 2009, Scratchbomb presents Holiday Horrors and Holiday Triumphs: an advent calendar of some of the more hideous aspects of this most stressful time of year–with a few bits of awesomeness sprinkled in.

artie.jpgI’ve been rediscovering The Adventures of Pete and Pete lately. I don’t know how it started, but I got The Baby into this gem, and her love of it has rekindled my own love of it.

I’m very glad Pete and Pete hasn’t totally disappeared down the memory hole, which would be very easy for show that didn’t run for very long on a cable network. Whenever I mention this show to people in my relative age bracket, they will inevitably break into a smile caused by remembrances of awesome past.

If you’re too young or too old to remember Pete and Pete, here’s the background: It began in the early 90s on Nickelodeon as a series of shorts, then expanded into half-hour specials, and finally became its own series that ran for three seasons. It was basically about the titular brothers (yes, they were both named Pete) and their, well, adventures in the fictional town of Wellsville.

The show was definitely aimed at children, yet had enough weirdness and sly references to appeal to adults (or very hip kids), little touches and running gags that separate a mediocre show from a great one. Like how every piece of electronic equipment was a Krebstar 2000. Or how Little Pete had a 50s-style tattoo of a lady on his forearm named Petunia (who received her own credit in the opening titles), something bizarre that never came close to being explained, or even questioned. Or how both Petes were constantly terrorized by bullies with insane nicknames like Endless Mike, Open Face, and Gravy Breath.

Pete and Pete had tons of out-of-nowhere cameos by celebrities, often from the world of music. Kate Pierson, Michael Stipe, Julianna Hatfield, and Marshall Crenshaw had one-off roles, and Iggy Pop had a regular gig as the father of Little Pete’s friend Nona.

Of course, the best character was Little Pete’s personal superhero, Artie The Strongest Man in the World, who would perform feats of strength, enable Little Pete’s crazy schemes, and perform gymnastic dance moves like The Voodoo Crispy.

Pete and Pete did one Christmas special during their run, and though it did not feature Artie (he had left the show by that point), it was definitely one for the ages. In some ways it is almost as touching as A Charlie Brown Christmas, while being infinitely more strange.

When the show begins, Little Pete has come to the sad realization that Christmas spirit is fleeting and usually tossed in the trash on December 26th. He convinces the rest of the family to keep it alive with caroling, a front lawn Christmas pageant, and copious fruit cake intake.

One man stands in Little Pete’s way: The Garbage Man, who delights in crushing discarded Christmas trees (and dreams, according to his countrified theme song) every year. When Little Pete refuses to allow the family Christmas tree to be discarded, he makes a powerful enemy.

The Garbage Man refuses to pick up any of the Petes’ trash until the Christmas tree is relinquished, thus creating a gargantuan mountain of refuse in front of their house and earning Big Pete the unfortunate nickname of Garbage Boy. When Little Pete’s resolve does not waver, The Garbage Man ups the ante by refusing to pick up anyone’s trash on the block. As the garbage piles up and and the stench becomes unbearable, the citizens of Cranston Street turn against Little Pete and his attempts to keep Christmas alive.

Little Pete’s response: To organize a boxing match against Santa Claus. The bully Pit Stain tries to take him on, then realizes he can’t hit Kris Kringle. “It’d be like punching Christmas!” Just when it looks like Wellsville might swing back into Little Pete’s camp, The Garbage Man steps into the ring and kick’s Santa’s butt. Big Pete points out to Little Pete that the whole town is now cheering on Santa’s brutal beating. He realizes he is defeated, that they’ve given up the holiday spirit. Sadly, he throws in the towel.

His dreams crushed, Little Pete hands over the Christmas tree to The Garbage Man, who relishes this opportunity to bring about “the death of Christmas!”

But then, just as The Garbage Man begins to crush the last vestige of Christmas spirit, a miracle! Big Pete fires up the lights on the family house, revealing that they’ve turned their heaping mound of trash into a “Christmas tree”, complete with festive bulbs and tinsel. Houses up and down the block turn on their own lights and show off their own Garbage Trees.

The Garbage Man feels strange emotions he’s never felt before, all warm and tingly inside. Little Pete thinks the Christmas spirit has finally taken hold of him.

“How long does this last?” The Garbage Man asks, sounding (and looking) a bit scared.

“I don’t know,” Little Pete says. “Maybe forever.”

And so it ends, with Cranston Street aglow in delightful, smelly holiday spirit.

I hope this special gets revived someday (or at the very least released on DVD, which currently it is not, along with the rest of the show’s third and final season). You don’t need to know anything about the show to enjoy this as a standalone special. It is strangely beautiful, and beautifully strange, and the only Christmas special I know of that ends with the glittering glow of illuminated trash.