Howard the Duck was one of my favorite movies for an embarrassingly long stretch of childhood, so I think it’s safe to say I didn’t have particularly great taste. However, one of the undoubtedly few good viewing choices I made was The Adventures of Pete & Pete, which, unlike a certain comedy starring Marty McFly’s mom and an intergalactic mallard, has only gotten better in the rear-view.
Rewatching the series as an adult, you realize two things. The first being that back in the Wild West days of cable television, Nickelodeon could get away with being both very strange and very good, especially compared to the channel’s more recent laugh-track sitcoms like iCarly and Drake & Josh, which seem to be preparing an entire generation of children to chortle until they choke at the wacky antics of Two and a Half Men. The other realization is exactly how much you missed as an unhip youngster, particularly when it comes to the series’ eclectic list of guest stars.
Everyone remembers “What We Did On Our Summer Vacation,” in which the Petes search for Mr. Tastee, a swirl-headed ice cream man who has gone missing during the dog days of summer. The episode has all of the bittersweet suburban malaise of an early Updike short story, but it also had surprise turns by Michael Stipe of R.E.M. and Kate Pierson of the B-52’s, of whom I was completely oblivious despite the fact that “Rock Lobster” was one of my favorite songs. (Seriously, that’s a great kids’ song, with all those narwhal sounds and whatnot.)
Another guest that added to the show’s retroactive awesomeness was Pierson’s collaborator Iggy Pop, who showed up fairly regularly as Mr. Mecklenberg, father of Michelle Trachtenberg’s Nona. Lest you think it was all just CBGB-era musicians (although Blondie’s Debbie Harry and the New York Dolls’ David Johansen both also stopped by) actors like Janeane Garofalo and Steve Buscemi made appearances long before I would ever see the likes of The Larry Sanders Show or Reservoir Dogs. And pre-empting Family Guy’s Mayor Adam West, Pete & Pete had Principal Adam West.
But likely the weirdest and least youth-accessible guest the show ever had was Patty Hearst. If, as a 10-year-old, you saw the episode “35 Hours” and said to yourself, “Hey, isn’t that kidnapped heiress and Symbionese Liberation Army member Patty Hearst in the role of the subversively Stepfordian Mrs. Kretchmar?”, then you were one scarily precocious 10-year-old. But if not, then it’s just another treat for us adults with nothing better to do but rewatch the shows of our youth and sigh wistfully. If you’re feeling particularly nostalgic, take a look at this supercut of all of the show’s best cameos.
Bonus question: How many of you tried to fight the waves at the beach like Artie, the Strongest Man in the World?