I wish I had seen The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. when it first aired on television. I was 6 at the time, and it would have been the perfect addition to the lineup of shows I watched from the greatest of all vantage points, my dad's lap: Bonanza, The Rifleman, Zorro, a one-season wonder called Bordertown, and Star Trek: The Next Generation (the western in space). Unfortunately I didn't discover it until its fortuitous DVD release a few years ago, but better late than never, I suppose.
The pitch for Brisco County was probably something like "Indiana Jones in the Old West"--in fact, co-creator Jeffrey Boam penned the screenplay for Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. The show obviously took its inspiration from the same old serials George Lucas was so influenced by, where the hero was forever caught on a wagon about to go over a cliff or standing in the cross hairs of the vile villain. Like Indiana Jones, eponymous protagonist Brisco County is armed with an unconventional set of weapons and tools, a quick wit, a square jaw, and a smarmy sense of humor. The show was generally light-hearted in tone, getting a lot of comic mileage not only from the quirky banter between the denizens of Brisco's world, but also from a deliberately anachronistic and absurd sensibility. One episode, for example, features a sheriff who's a dead ringer for Elvis Presley, decades before the star was even born. The viewer is also treated to inaccurate origin stories for Dunkin Donuts, drive-through windows, and the phrase from which a certain Robert Plant-led rock band took its name.
The strength of Brisco County lies in that miraculous intersection of great writing and the perfect cast. Bruce Campbell is perfect in the title role. Brisco County Jr. is a hero who relies mostly on strategy, intuition, a Harvard education, and a wise guy outlook to get him out of scrapes, but he can still throw a punch when he needs to. Because Brisco is generally a noble character, the writers tended to invent more clever solutions to problems than simply having him whip out his pistol and shoot someone, and for that reason the show is both more inventive and surprising than it might have been, and also family-friendly.
The late Julius Carry is perfect as brash, pompous rival bounty hunter Lord Bowler, another testament to the writing. It would have been easy to make Lord Bowler a bumbling, incompetent fool who was never any real threat to Brisco. Instead, Bowler is actually a worthy adversary who simply fails to come out on top because he can't swallow his pride. Watching the relationship between Brisco and Bowler grow throughout the series, from rivals to grudging allies to, ultimately, friends, is one of the highlights of the show.
Christian Clemenson is Socrates Poole. He's officially Brisco's lawyer, but as Brisco is a lawyer himself Poole is more often relegated to the role of babysitter, clean-up crew, and sidekick. Poole is essentially the straight man, reacting to and commenting on the endless absurdities that Brisco more or less takes in stride.
Kelly Rutherford is Dixie Cousins, the obligatory on again/off again love interest who draws out Brisco's inability to settle down and commit to a relationship. Dixie is sexy and beguiling, the Bad Girl with a Past who ultimately possesses a heart of gold. John Astin is a charming riot as Professor Wickwire, a spacey but forward-thinking brilliant inventor who often shows up to provide Brisco with the "coming thing," usually in the form of futuristic gadgets such as rockets, diving suits, and blimps. John Pyper-Ferguson is hilarious as Pete Hutter, the strangely likable outlaw who just won't stay dead (a running gag of the show is that Hutter returns in a future episode with no explanation as to how he survived a seemingly fatal incident). Billy Drago is coldly menacing as John Bly, the villain with the viper smile who gunned down Brisco's father and who always seems to be just a step ahead of Brisco and justice. And R. Lee Ermey is great as Brisco County Sr., the father with whom Brisco Jr. had something of a troubled relationship (shades of Sean Connery and Harrison Ford in Last Crusade).
In the "odds and ends" category, Brisco has the same brilliant scope as classic westerns of yore, having been shot on the Warner Brothers back lots that, as I understand it, simply don't exist anymore. Randy Edelman's theme music is brilliant, heroic, and moving, and was appropriated, after the show was canceled, for many NBC sports programs.
Was the show perfect? No, and there's one big reason for that: the Orb. Apparently the writers didn't think Brisco's quest to track down the members of John Bly's gang was enough to keep the show going, so they introduced a vague, powerful, mysterious artifact, the Orb. It's clear that nobody on the writing team figured out exactly what this plot device did or meant, which resulted in its uncanny ability to do whatever was needed for a particular episode, including resurrecting the good guys, incinerating the bad guys, giving people superhuman strength, and enabling time travel. It was the failure to clearly define the Orb's mythology or purpose that makes it feel like a clunky, frustrating deus ex machina, and toward the end of the series its storyline starts to get both convoluted and pretty silly, resulting in a very unsatisfying exit for the character of John Bly.
That aside, The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. is a top notch western/sci fi/adventure/comedy/action/romance with great performances and a unique, fun flavor. I hate writing conclusions so I'm just going to stop writing...now.