Sometimes TV shows drag their unfunny, uninteresting, yet highly rated feet across our living rooms for years. “Who let this happen?” we ponder as our foreheads turn red from frequent smacks. Other times, the powers that be get things right. That’s where “Brilliantly Canceled” comes in, looking at the shows that didn’t pass their pilot and saved us all a ton of grief.
Among the many to-dos of television, selling ad time and beating a dead horse appear at the top of the list, especially if there’s an existing fan base. Oh, how marketing synergists love a good fan base. So when the purveyors of our culture observed the success of the time bending exploits of SoCal Valley boys Bill and Ted, their first three instincts (produce sequel, Nintendo game, and cartoon) weren’t enough. Enter Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventures, a failed eight episode season of further bodacious, live-action excitement.
Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure was an instant hit when it opened in 1989. The unlikely pairing of surfer slackerdom and time traveling physics clicked with a nation pining for an MIA Marty McFly. The film was successful enough to spawn a sequel, which featured the leads dying and going to hell, as well as a Saturday morning cartoon, which featured neither of those things. An eight episode live action TV series, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventures, was soon ordered, following what had to be a deal with the devil, because who else would approve such an awkwardly inoffensive take on the characters?
The episode in question is the show’s unaired pilot. Once again, we find the boys hanging out in Bill’s dad’s garage in the lovely Southern Californian town of San Dimas. With one day until the big dance, Bill S. Preston, Esq. and his esteemed musical associate, Ted Theodore Logan, (Evan Richards and Christopher Kennedy) practice their dueling guitar solos, which are sure to impress everyone and make them a lot of money. Then, the unthinkable happens: Bill blows the $500 amp his dad bought him for Christmas. Bill’s dad, who enters the room groping his new wife, Missy, a former classmate of Bill’s, tells his gawking son to get a job and buy a new amp.
Mortified, but without options, our two most excellent hosts make their way to Nail World, a local hardware store, and inquire about a couple of jobs. Unable to afford both of them, the shop’s proprietor, Mr. Kelison, makes an indecent proposal: Take his heavyset daughter to the dance and the jobs are theirs. Disgusted by the prospect of having to be seen with Big Bernice Kelison, Bill and Ted express their concerns to her father, who promptly escorts them from the premises and tosses a Crime Stories comic book at Ted.
After being removed from Nail World, Rufus (Rick Overton, who has the unfortunate duty of filling in for George Carlin) shows up to let them know that if they don’t play the dance, something bad’s going to happen in the future, because, in the future, their missing the dance hasn’t already happened, for some reason. Luckily, Bill and Ted have a time machine, allowing them to travel 15 minutes into the past and reintroduce themselves. The stakes couldn’t be higher. However, after a chance meeting with Frisbee, the time machine was damaged, a most relatable problem. So, Ted fashions the Crime Stories magazine to the antennae, sending them into a comic book. Wait, what?
The pilot explores what everyone didn’t know they wanted in the first two films: Bill and Ted traveling in and out of a comic book. This plot, which dominates the second act of the pilot, features Bill and Ted rescuing Roxanne, a black and white film noir vixen, from a Tommy Gun-wielding gangster. When they get back to San Dimas, Roxanne, still black and white, is amazed by the color yellow and suntan lotion. Yet, looking through the comic, Bill and Ted realize that Crime Stories — not the past, present, or future — has changed, and they must return Roxanne to her world or suffer a consequence of some sort.
Things play out a lot like a watered down version the first film. Roxanne acts as a stand-in for Napoleon, while Nail World is a stand-in for the Circle K. Meanwhile, Bill and Ted race against time, attempt to do as little as possible, and bring rock music to the desperate teenaged masses of San Dimas. The pilot ends with an ellipses, promising the search for Roxanne would extend to following episodes, yet the adventure remains unfinished. The next episode abandons the arc and starts anew.
One of the problem’s with sequels is expanding an already complete universe into something worth revisiting. Characters designed to last 90 minutes can’t really sustain much more than that. Bill and Ted, for instance, spend most of Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, the film’s proper sequel, dead — apparently, there’s more to be done with them dead than alive. Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventures brings this weakness to the forefront. Each punchline revolves around rehashed lines from the first movie, with a young Keanu clone squinting and mouth-breathing his way through each “Whoa.” Strange things may also be afoot at Nail World, but Bill and Ted, experienced time travelers by this point, should catch on to history repeating itself.
The pilot of Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventures faired better than others on Brilliantly Canceled. Its getting a second episode, however, may be do mostly to the clamor for more Bill and Ted. It also doesn’t hurt that Excellent Adventures isn’t terrible, but it is bland. The jokes are standard, and the plot is headache inducing. Yet, the reason this failed is because the Bill and Ted ground was so covered. So much had already been made of these two, that the expanding Bill and Ted universe popped, leaving nothing but rumors of a third film, which will probably feature Bill and Ted entering a comic book.
Matt Schimkowitz is freelance writer, critic, and Class-A dungeon master, despite having never picked up a 20-sided die. Like you, he enjoys the finer things in life: drinking from coconuts, the latest Italian vogue, and complaining about movies, music, and TV. Find more writing about canceled TV shows on the Twittersphere @borntoslug.