“When Petes Collide” (originally aired Jan. 9, 1994)
Sibling relationships are kind of tricky. Depending on how far you are apart, how similar or different you are, or just how prone to physical torture you are, a brother or sister can be either your best friend or your worst enemy. For me, growing up, there were times when my brother—six years younger—and I got along like little angels, playing Nintendo and watching TV together. Those were few and far between, though. A good 90 percent of the time—and this might not be true, but this is how I remember it—we were biting, kicking, punching, pushing, and saying the absolute worst stuff to each other, because we knew what would really hurt.
Now, of course, we get along very well, for the most part. We’ve grown up and we’re a lot alike in both personality and musical taste. We tell all the same jokes, and no one’s funnier to me than he is—no one. Growing up, though, it seemed like we’d never work it out, like our parents just put us together in adjacent bedrooms to torture each other for eternity. It was his fault, for example, that he had to learn the guitar so loudly right next door while I was trying to talk to my friends on the phone. I didn’t need to hear the first line of some Jimi Hendrix song over and over for weeks on end. It was his fault that I had to babysit him all the time, without choice and for a measly $2 an hour (most of which paid for stuff my mom bought on my request, like Wet ’n’ Wild nail polish). To him, I’m sure it was my fault that he got dragged to soccer games and could never use the computer, and all sorts of other things I’ll have to ask him about.
But I digress, because we’re supposed to be talking about The Adventures Of Pete And Pete here. For all their brotherly qualities—meaning the fact that brothers are supposed to fight and roughhouse and all that—the Petes were just friends, pure and simple. They never fought, and they loved each other because no one else could see the world they did, in that Pete way. Until Rolling Thunder entered the picture, that is.
Rolling Thunder is, of course, a 10-pound bowling ball given to the Petes’ great-grandfather by a Tibetan man whose dishwasher great-grandpa Wrigley once fixed. It holds great powers of both good and evil. It cab get you through the eighth frame doldrums and, despite its weight, feels as light as a feather when held. In short, it’s magic.
That magic is passed from male Wrigley to male Wrigley and after Don’s fingers grow too large—despite his vigorous fingeroebics—for the holes, he knows he has to pass the ball on to one of his sons. Enter Grandpa Wrigley, a gaunt and amazing looking old man played by the late, great William Hickey. He sounds like Andy Rooney but looks like Carol Channing, and that makes perfect sense. He’s like Big Pete, but ancient and conniving. Once he enters the Wrigley home, all of Don and Joyce’s rules go out the window. (Don is relegated to milk-only beverages, for one.)
Anyway, whereas neither Pete wants the ball to begin with, once they realize its power, they are at each others throats for control of the relic. The Pete that gets it will have to exhibit the best qualities of a Wrigley, meaning it will go to the one that sucks up to Don the most. Big Pete cleans the garage while Little Pete makes a Technicolor celebration of Don’s dad qualities. Big Pete tries to paint Don’s room only to find that Little Pete has already painted and wallpapered it. Both produce amazing TV commercials (“Paid for by the committee to give Pete the bowling ball”) and specials explaining why they should get the ball, but it’s neck and neck. Don tries to leave the ball four hours away over the Canadian border, but it comes rolling back to Wellsville, louder than ever. Artie senses a disturbance in the force and tries to tame the ball himself, only to be overcome by Rolling Thunder’s strength.
Ultimately, control of the ball comes down to a staring contest, one thing the Petes are great at. They know the contest could go for days or even years, until one of them smiles, but neither are in any mood to smile. Even after Little Pete’s barrage of face twitches and tongue twirls, Big Pete’s Wisconsin ear wiggle he “picked up last summer in Sheboygan,” and a whole bunch of fish faces, nose flares, tongue rolls, and insane wackiness, neither cracks. Only after they unleash everything they have and started hallucinating—Little Pete makes a pretty sweet Abe Lincoln—did they realize that they were brothers first and bowling ball owners second. Heck, they probably don’t even like bowling that much. They laugh it off, hammer their bunk beds back together, and, after Grandpa teaches Artie how to throw the ball using the mighty Tibetan Power Jam, send Rolling Thunder off into the world to bring joy—or pain—into someone else’s life.
It feels like I go through this every week, but yes, there’s a reason Pete And Pete is a special show. Most kids shows have this adversarial relationship between brother and sister—Hannah Montana, Lizzie McGuire, occasionally Full House, the infamous Clarissa Explains It All—where, other than the occasional time when the siblings realize they have to come together to make things right, they’re at each others throats in full cats and dogs mode. Pete And Pete was different. While it might not have always seemed realistic, at least in my life, it seemed like an ideal. There was a chance, someday, that my brother and I might be civilized human beings to each other. We might be like the Petes, joking and walking in our comically oversized flannels with sleeves so long you couldn’t even see our hands. Granted, that might not happen, but there was a chance, and either way, it was nice to see a couple of dudes who were as weird as we were and had every reason to fight but who just didn’t.
Nowadays, I think that sibling friendship comes through a sort of calmness that comes over you as you get older. Nothing’s that big a deal anymore. So what if someone went into your room and watched your TV while you were watching the other TV in the basement? It’s just a TV, right? So what if your brother or sister’s arm encroached the neutral zone in the car’s backseat just a little? They might be bigger than you and need that room. Besides, it’s not like you’re using it. Unless a sibling does something as an adult that’s just glaringly horrible—and believe me, it’s possible—the good you have in that relationship outweighs the past. That’s something the Petes realized long before the rest of us—or at least the creators of the show did. It makes more sense to be friends with someone, to love someone than to naïvely hate them for silly reasons. It’s another silly little lesson the showrunners and writers ingrained in our young brains back in ’94, but it’s a good one, and one that, thankfully, most of us remember or figure out for ourselves as we mature. We can, hopefully, all be Petes, whether it’s with our families or our co-workers, just happy to be alive and existing in our own little worlds, but more than happy to tell someone to bite your neck hair when they tick you off.
- Bite my neck hair” is, of course, the Little Pete insult of the week, though I’m also fond of “No comment, Grungebag,” and “Cut to the chase, Squirmy.”
- At one point in this episode the Petes communicate only via Ellen who stands on the lawn with semaphore flags which she is, of course, super good at using. Her movements are very crisp.
- Big Pete calls Little Pete, “One of the greatest natural generals ever born,” which seems pretty apt.
- Toward the beginning of this episode, the Petes play a bitching question game with each other, asking both, “What if you could be rich forever but you had to go to the bathroom through your nose?” and “What if you could get your drivers license now, but for six months you’d have a trout head?” Good questions all around.
- Literally every single time I’ve gone bowling since I saw this episode I’ve picked a ball at the lanes and named it Rolling Thunder. I can’t be alone in this, right?