Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by the week’s new releases or premieres. This week: In honor of Underground, we’re revisiting our favorite television episodes featuring a great escape.
Note: This originally ran in 2016.
The Adventures Of Pete And Pete, “Grounded For Life” (season two, episode one; originally aired 09/04/94)
The Adventures Of Pete And Pete always lived up to its title. In fact, one reason why creators Will McRobb and Chris Viscardi were able to attract such a multi-generational fanbase was their uncanny ability at making the mundane feel profound—like an adventure. In the first season alone, the two masterminds elevated routine childhood activities like family road trips, shop class, and dodgeball into larger-than-life spectacles seemingly stripped out of American history books. So, it was only a matter of time before the show tackled the youthful terror of being grounded all summer, and lo and behold, that moment arrived in the form of a muddy escape in the season two premiere, “Grounded For Life.”
For this chapter, Big Pete recalls the summer when Little Pete ruined his father’s sweet Kentucky Blue Grass, a.k.a. the Wrigley’s emerald front yard. Naturally, Don’s ticked off—after all, he has an annual bet with his oddball neighbor, Mr. Lerdner, over who has the better lawn (loser has to mow both)—so he banishes Little Pete to his room for “one month,” which means he’ll miss the Fourth Of July and the fireworks! This doesn’t sit too well with the youngest Wrigley, and he retaliates by digging his way to freedom with the help of a Lady Liberty statue, a box of Christmas lights, and the friendly companionship of his newest neighbor, Nona F. Mecklenberg. It’s a struggle, and director Don Pietra does a fine job capturing the scope of the task by taking viewers down into the mucky depths of Earth and high into the watchful trees of Wellsville.
Everything clicks in “Grounded For Life.” McRobb and Viscardi string together the show’s iconic eccentrics (Artie! Mom’s Plate!) with fresh characters (Nona! Nimbus!) for an epic half-hour of television that hits home hard. Who hasn’t been grounded before? Who hasn’t felt the urge to rebel? Fueled by tongue-in-cheek patriotism and dreamy summer imagery, the episode capitalizes on those feelings by subverting the humility of childhood, from Nona’s own quirky homesickness to Pete’s messy quest to “live free or die.” Better yet, there’s a total payoff at the end of the tunnel, which is an absolute must-have for any escape narrative, and it’s one awash in good spirits. By the time Big Pete wraps everything up, the tender sound of Polaris feels like a victory lap.
Availability: “Grounded For Life,” as well as the rest of The Adventures Of Pete And Pete seasons one through two, is available on DVD.