Bruce Campbell: legend! What other way could you describe the star of such seminal Horror hits as ‘The Evil Dead’ (1981), the gloriously over-the-top medieval-horror romp ‘Army of Darkness’ (1993) and the slow moving dark-fantasy ‘Bubba Ho-tep’ (2003). However Bruce’s greatest moment was perhaps not on the silver screen but on the small screen in the innovative steampunk-meets-Old West-meets Fantasy television series ‘The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr.’, a short-lived cult hit of the early 1990s held with affection to this day by many former viewers (as well as some newer converts).
The show aired in 1993 with a pilot that introduced us to the Bruce’s character, Brisco County, Jr, a Harvard-educated lawyer turned bounty hunter who was searching for the infamous John Bly and his cutthroat gang who murdered his father, Marshal Brisco County, Sr. and stole an ancient artefact called The Orb. Along the way we met his rival and later partner Lord Bowler (played by the late Julius Carry), a former Civil War Union soldier, his employer Socrates Poole (the wonderful Christian Clemenson who gained later fame in ‘Boston Legal’) and the inevitable mad scientist Professor Wickwire (the celebrated John Astin) who acted as the ‘Q’ to Bruce’s frontier ‘Bond’. Throughout the series, which willfully subverted and played with accepted genres, strange steampunk science shattered the quaintness of 19th century Midwest America, as Brisco underwent all sorts of weird and wonderful adventures. Funny, surreal, and at times downright perplexing the show was all these things and more, never falling into any easy-fit niche for TV schedulers, critics or audiences. Soon eclipsed by the behemoth that was to become the ‘X-Files’ (1993-2002) it was cancelled after one open-ended season.
Fondly remembered as one of the few attempts to bring the steampunk genre to mainstream television (and which arguably influenced the Will Smith led 1999 steampunk action-comedy film, the ‘Wild Wild West’) it retains a small but loyal cult following who appreciate its continued wry charms and knowing ways. ‘The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr.’ are only available in a fairly old hefty Region 1 edition, with few extras, but it remains a good choice for a quiet night in. Not as great perhaps as some fans would have, and certainly as bad as the critics claimed, it is fun, it is simple and it is steampunk. And like Bruce Campbell himself, a bit of a legend.