A Fox hit and an NBC miss part of tonight's lineup Out of the 'Wild West' rides a hip 'Brisco' Television Previews

August 27, 1993|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Television Critic

l "The Adventures of Brisco County Jr." is a classier, bigger, hipper version of "The Wild, Wild West."

It's got the same violence and sexism of old-time westerns. But, though set in California in 1893, it's got a 1993 sensibility and nifty edge.

The new Fox show has enough references to popular culture to rival "The Simpsons" and make it one of the brighter lights of the new season.

Tonight's two-hour premiere, which airs at 8 on WBFF (Channel 45), opens with a big nod to the Indiana Jones movies, as a group of miners finds an orb with wonderful and terrible powers. The references mushroom from there to include "Mr. Ed," "Chinatown" and "The Wizard of Oz."

The pilot looks almost lavish by today's network standards -- with lots of action, sets, stunts and a huge cast.

This may be because Fox hired writers and producers with genuine credentials. Writer-producer Jeffrey Boam wrote "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" as well as "Lethal Weapon 2" and "Lethal Weapon 3." Producer-writer Carlton Cuse developed the films "St. Elmo's Fire" and "Sweet Dreams."

This is a smart, knowing western that winks at a lot of movie conventions and genres. Most of the "big drama" scenes from straight westerns are here, but played at least half the time for laughs.

The hero, Brisco County Jr., is part of the wink. He's the son of a famous lawman and has come to round up the gang of bad guys that sent his papa to Boot Hill. But, he's also a Harvard Law School graduate and something of a visionary.

Sitting at a cafe in San Francisco, he points out a window at all the construction and talks about the future of cable cars and, then, cars that move with no tracks at all. (He doesn't foresee the Japanese takeover of the car market, but even visionaries can't see everything.)

Brisco is played by Bruce Campbell, who can do deadpan humor with drop dead good looks and lasso, well, whatever you've got. Campbell has his own cult following from horror films, like "Evil Dead."

The show plays at several levels. Its primary audience probably needs to be the 8- to 12-year-old set if Fox is going to have a ratings hit. Remember that, if some of the humor seems, well, young.

Meanwhile, there are more than enough pop culture delights for adults to savor. Listen to the sweeping violins from "How the West Was Won" and "Big Country" -- another layer of pop culture referencing and a running commentary on the action.

The supporting cast includes John Astin as Professor Wickwire. He's the older, bumbling-but-brilliant scientist who admires Brisco. His eyes start where Marty Feldman's end. Christian Clemson plays Socrates Poole, a lawyer who becomes Brisco's sidekick, a la Artemus Gordon in "The Wild, Wild West."

There are also appearances by James Drury, Stuart Whitman and Robert Fuller. Ten points if you can match each with the old western he starred in: "Cimarron Strip," "Laramie" and "The Virginian."

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