“Saturday” (season 3, episode 13; originally aired 12/28/1996)
Endings are inevitable, but that doesn’t always make them any easier. Sure, sometimes you want the door to hit an ex on the way out, but other times, if you really care about something—a job, a relationship, a loved one—then it’s hard to say goodbye. There’s no good way to do it, really. Is it better to know in advance that something’s ending and then really think up a heartfelt goodbye? Would that be enough? Or is it better to just, one day, have something disappear and hope that you let that thing, person, or, in this case, TV show, know that you truly cared about its time on this Earth.
“Saturday” is the last episode of The Adventures Of Pete And Pete that ever aired, and it burned off on a random Saturday between Christmas and New Year’s in 1996. The creators of the show, Will McRobb and Chris Viscardi, didn’t know that this episode would be the last one, but in a way, that’s alright. After all, what would the series finale of Pete And Pete have looked like if they knew? Would it be any different? Would it be better, or more tortured? It's unfair to second guess anything now, 16 years later, so we have to accept “Saturday” for what it is.
“Saturday” is not the best episode of The Adventures Of Pete And Pete. Little Pete is barely in it and the Wrigley parents don’t show up at all. Nona disappeared weeks ago. Artie, well, we all know what happened to Artie. It’s not the worst episode, either, even though Big Pete gets a really dumb haircut. Damien Young is fantastic as always as Bus Driver Stu Benedict. The one scene that Little Pete is in—a mob-style interrogation of Lou the barber—is pretty funny. Even Wayne and Monica have pretty good, inventive subplots. (searching out a ninja and keeping his new Krebstar Knight Walkers clean, respectively.) The way the episode ends, with all the Cranston Street kids pushing Stu’s out of gas bus toward the garage, is kind of nice too.
What “Saturday” is, though, is a sad goodbye. The Adventures Of Pete And Pete ran in some shape or form for about eight years, including the shorts. From what the cast and crew have said about working together, it was a great time. Still, everything has to end. Alison Fanelli and Michael Maronna were probably heading off to college. Michelle Trachtenberg had gone on to be in the Harriet The Spy movie. Danny Tamberelli went on to be on other Nickelodeon shows, including Figure It Out and All That. And, honestly, even audiences were aging out of this show. Fans who were seven—Nickelodeon reportedly targets its live action shows at kids ages seven to 11—when the shorts started were 15 when they ended. Sure, the show probably gained new audiences of new kids at every turn, but it was also about to be outshone, in the Nick universe at least, by the Dan Schneider kind of Nickelodeon, which had started back in 1994 but was really finding its legs by ’96. Schneider’s programs, like All That, were broader, jokier, and more Disney-like in format than Pete And Pete, which basically lived in a world of nuance. Schneider’s shows were also more popular than Pete And Pete. The writing was on the wall.
Perhaps it’s a testament to subtlety’s endurance, though, that almost 20 years later, we’re still talking about The Adventures Of Pete And Pete. Kids who watched that show found themselves in it more—I would wager, at least—than in any other Nickelodeon show. After all, it’s a natural tendency for kids to feel weird, different, and out of place with the rest of the world around them. Throw on top of that the notion—very popular in the ‘80s and ‘90s especially—that being weird was and is awesome, that we should let our freak flags fly (see the school picture episode of Clarissa Explains It All as an example) and Nickelodeon was kind of setting the stage for the culture we 20 and thirtysomethings have going on today. It’s why we like offbeat programs like Community, Internet videos about cat massage, and don’t try especially hard to dress like what we think we’re supposed to dress like. Every day that someone puts on a dumb hat or gets a stupid tattoo, that’s an homage to Pete And Pete, whether we like it or not. Pete And Pete was and is a show that reminds us that we can be who we want to be, and that’s okay.
Moreover, it reminds us that the world is kind of a weird, wonderful place. There are people that inspect underwear for a living. A person could have his or her own personal superhero, or maybe be one for someone else. Two brothers can have the exact same name. Moms with metal plates in their heads are helpful, and boys and girls can be friends, but not boyfriend and girlfriend. The Adventures Of Pete And Pete makes viewers realize that something offbeat and amazing happens every single day, and that if we slow down just a little and take notice, we’ll be rewarded handsomely, whether it’s by a nice frosty Blue Tornado bar or maybe just by the notion that, weird as we are, there’s a place for us out there too.
- I cannot thank every reader enough for keeping with me and The A.V. Club throughout this TV Club Classic series. It’s been an immense pleasure coming to read and participate in the comments every week. Equally big thanks goes out to the cast and crew of Pete And Pete who have participated here, or reached out to me and got this whole weird thing rolling. If you’d have told me, 15-odd years ago, that I’d be working with the people responsible for making my favorite show ever, I’d have shit twice and died. Fortunately, 31-year old me is still alive, but still can’t believe that I know the brains behind some of what I consider to be the best television ever made.
- In a way, “Saturday” is an episode about breaking down the boundaries between kids and adults. Once Pete got Barber Dan to open up, for example, he learned that he’s just another guy with just another mundane interest—footwear. If you want to get deep about it, it kind of speaks to Pete’s gradual transition into adulthood himself, as in what kind of adult does Pete want to be, or what’s his place in the world?
- “Saturday,” as an episode, is extremely true to Ellen’s character as well. She’s virtuous to a fault, unwilling to let down her place of employment or her friends when they’re, let’s say, stuck in a field and worried about getting grass stains on their shoes. As the bunny delivery person for Quick As A Bunny pizza, too, she won’t let the customers down, no matter what. It’s not unlike the way she wouldn’t let down the band in “Day Of The Dot” or the way she kept the weird kid’s secret in “Space, Geeks, And Johnny Unitas.”
- Why is the world always trying to kill Stu’s soul? Here’s hoping the dude’s on a beach somewhere right now hanging out and being free.