Sunday, March 15, 2015

LIVE-ACTION TV REVIEW: Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventures

I wasn't aware of the cartoon series at first, but along with that information I discovered that a live-action TV series. Turns out that it died from the two-hit combo of the FOX curse and utter awfulness. How bad was it? Well, let's just say that Alex Winter went on The Arsenio Hall Show before Bogus Journey hit theaters to advise people not to see it.

For the people who skipped the link, I'll spell it out clearly: the men who made the live-action Bill and Ted show did not use Winter, Keanu Reeves, or even George Carlin to play their roles. In fact, they didn't even want any input from the trio. After a year of production hell, the show hit the airwaves.

"But wait," you say, "if Winter, Reeves, and Carlin didn't come back, who played Bill, Ted, and Rufus?" Well, back in my review of the cartoon series, I stated that the show was moved from CBS to FOX. When FOX announced a Bill and Ted live-action series, Chris Kennedy and Evan Richards (who voiced the Stallyns in the cartoon's second season) reprised their roles with Rick Overton as Rufus.

Upon first seeing stills from the show on the Bill and Ted website many years back, I was instantly reminded of Weird Science, which I had said good things about in an earlier entry. How (mostly) wrong I was!

The staff of the live-action series clearly didn't get Bill and Ted as a whole, thinking they were just idiots and nothing more; I've dealt a bit with what makes them tick back in the EA review, so I won't go in depth now. Furthermore, the staff wasn't used to writing episodic comedy. "It's difficult to do a series where the lead characters don't grow or have an evolving arc," said Campbell. "Bill and Ted stay Bill and Ted, so the challenge in creating scripts was to come up with stories that were wrapped around incidents they bump into in their everyday lives. The idea was that Bill and Ted are basically fish out of water, dealing with things that don't make sense to them."

Sentiments like this trickled down to the actors. Because the writing staff didn't give a hoot, neither did Richards and Kennedy. Richards, the FOX version of Bill, said that while Bill and Ted were just naive, the scripts made it seem like they were much stupider than they let on; he had similar sentiments about his work on the cartoon.

The characters you'd expect return: the Stallyns, Missy, Mr. Preston, Captain Logan, and Rufus. A new character, Mr. Kielson (Danny Breen), was added. Kielson was Bill and Ted's boss at Nail World, a hardware store. When I learned about him, I half-expected him to be kind of a Chett figure who would be the butt of all the time travel stuff. This was another expectation that flopped.

Since the show didn't last that long, thanks to a combination of bad reception and the FOX curse, I will go over each episode as I had done with the Napoleon Dynamite cartoon

0. Pilot

Here's a riddle: what is red, convenient, helps people know where to look for
a source of income, and managers are too scared to use today?

The intro begins with Rufus preaching the good word of the Wyld Stallyns at the "Church of Bill and Ted" (yeah, it would seem the fandom evolved into a religion by the 2600's). This unaired story is about when Bill and Ted destroyed a $500 amplifier with their bad guitar playing. Mr. Preston refuses to buy a replacement and the duo apply for a job at Nail World. Mr. Kielson refuses to hire both of them, unless one of them goes out with his daughter. They wind up insulting her in front of Kielson's face and get kicked out of the store. Okay, time for a time-out.

The issue here is that Bill and Ted never acted like this. Sure, they called the kids in Latin class "dweebs" in the cartoon, but it had the same amount of intentional offense that "babe" had. They never directly insulted people unless they did something heinous (the knight that was thought to have killed Ted, the evil robotic copies, and the devil are examples of this). What a person looked like, in the eyes of the Wyld Stallyns, was only superficial; character was more important.

The dudes attempt to salvage their interview, but a Frisbee breaks the antennae on the booth. Bill and Ted mend it with a comic book Mr. Kielson was reading, but this takes them into that comic's story where they wind up saving a girl from a gangster and carry her to San Dimas. They correct where they screwed up in the interview (no mention of their past selves) and discover that the girl they saved, Roxanne, came from Kielson's comic... and they're now involved in the story. If she doesn't go back, her boyfriend Johnny will die. To compound matters, Roxanne has run off in a taxi.

What happens next? Who knows. The pilot ends on a "To be continued" title, but the second part was never seen as far as anybody knows. Obviously, the duo would land jobs, but nothing of Roxanne's fate is known.

1. Nail the Conquering Hero

The intro has been redone completely. No more Church of Bill and Ted. We hear the theme song a bit more clearly it sounds like "Break Away" by Big Pig (from the EA soundtrack) fused with a little bit of "Jingle Bells".

Bill and Ted have been abusing the phone booth for a nine-hour video game binge. They arrive at Nail World and slap an "Out of Order" sign on the booth. The general manager of Nail World is coming and Mr. Kielson is frantic about the situation. The Stallyns take a bunch of cans of water sealant and build a castle out of them. Kielson panics, but the manager loves the thought put into it. Kielson promptly states that it's his idea. Kielson uses the phone booth (the "Out of Order" sign has vanished for reasons of poor continuity) and winds up becoming the ruler of Camelot.

Will the Stallyns be able to recover Kielson and restore King Arthur to his throne?

"You will take me to Jabba now."

Also, since when was Rufus Force-sensitive? He actually uses a Jedi Mind Trick on a Nail World customer!

2. As the Dude Turns

Missy is an avid viewer of the soap opera The Lives That We Live. When the male lead, Lance, announces plans for sex-reassignment surgery, she is left in such a monstrous depression that she will no longer cook. The side effect of this is that Mr. Preston is now using the garage, where the Stallyns "practice", to renovate vintage cars. The only chance they have is to enter the TV and convince the main character to keep his gender. Will they become the most hated men among SJWs or will they be left without a garage to practice in?

Easily the best episode of the show. It makes fun of all the soap opera conventions you can think of: the underhanded love triangles, secret relatives, cheesy dramatic dialogue, organs, etc. If only the future episodes were handled like this, but alas, it's mostly downhill from this point.

3. It's A Totally Wonderful Life

Ugh! This one!

Rufus travels back in time to see the Wyld Stallyns after a series of nightmares involving the dudes in lederhosen. He mistakenly gets "Chicken Kiev" engraved on a plaque to be awarded to Captain Logan... and he hates Chicken Kiev! This makes Bill and Ted break up, killing the band. Bill becomes a greedy corporate cutthroat and Ted becomes a loose cannon cop who doesn't play by the rules. Will Rufus be able to patch up the Stallyns' friendship?

Out of all the episodes this show had, this episode garners the most hate from the fanbase. The idea of Bill and Ted hating each other (especially over something as silly as a mislabeled plaque) is as alien as a xenomorph to anyone familiar with the characters.

4. Hunka Hunka Bill and Ted

Bill and Ted's entry into an Elvis Presley look-a-like contest falls flat on its face. They go back in time and run into the real King, who is having trouble finding his big break. They get the idea to take Elvis back to San Dimas and enter him in the contest... and he doesn't win! Elvis, feeling defeated, tries to give up on music. It's up to the Stallyns to make sure that rock exists.

An improvement over the last episode. The dance at the bowling alley was surprisingly well done.

5. Destiny Babes

All the kids at San Dimas High seem to have a significant other... except for Bill and Ted. 

Yeah, for some reason, Joanna and Elizabeth are nowhere to be seen! Even though they only got into one episode of the cartoon, at least they were acknowledged! If this were a reboot and retold the story of the Wyld Stallyns getting the time machine at the beginning, I'd probably let it slide.

They enlist the help of Giacomo Casanova to land girls, but didn't realize that the greatest lover in history hit on women who were taken.

6. Deja Vu

Bill and Ted are too late for the school's Battle of the Bands competition... but Ted's mother gets into a catfight with their music teacher (it's a really annoying scene). 

You read that right, Ted's mother is present in this show. She was never seen in EA and it was confirmed that Captain Logan was single in BJ. Ted DID have a Mom in the early drafts, who had gland problems (fat glands).

The teacher, Ms. Pearl, is a hippie and an old flame of Logan's. The Stallyns travel back to 1969 and meet up with younger versions of Ted's father and Pearl. They attempt to go to Woodstock and get arrested. Will they be able to improve Pearl's outlook on the world? Or will she be a bitter old shrew forever?

The writers try to bring in elements from the movies: Bill and Ted "philosophizing" by reciting song lyrics (in this case "Signs" by Five Man Electric Band) and flipping the "Shut up, Ted" gag on its ear when Bill ogles Ted's mother in the past; the wooden acting, though hampers that skit.

7. Stand Up Guy

The Stallyns humiliate themselves during Math class. After being called "Einstein" in a disparaging manner, they think he's a guy in the classroom. After talking to the smartest kid at the school about who the man is, the dudes go back to 1916 to find Einstein forlorn with doubt about his abilities. Soon, he wants to give up on physics and do stand-up comedy!

Not one of the best episodes, but not one of the worst either.


I really wanted to give this show a stellar write-up, but the stuff it had going for it was offset by numerous missteps. Kennedy and Richards, like in the cartoon, gave it their best shot, but their hearts clearly weren't in it. Richards had studied the movies ahead of time and came to enjoy the Wyld Stallyns, but his efforts could not counteract the creative team's disdain for Bill and Ted. The writing staff was more into Teen Dramas and tried to impose many of those elements onto the Stallynverse.

While the live-action series will live in infamy, it had its moments. Perhaps if it were given to someone who understood the Wyld Stallyns a bit better, it could have lasted longer. Perhaps, if Matheson, Solomon, Reeves, or Winter had a say about what was going into the project, it could have done better. If it were its own thing, independent of the Stallynverse, it could have done better.


Before I bid the Stallynverse adieu, I must say that there were other mediums that Bill and Ted were seen in, like an annual Halloween show at Universal Studios and -- believe it or else -- a musical (No, I'm not going to cover them. What do you think I am, obsessed?). Most recently, the duo started making a comeback in comic series from BOOM! Studios

Oh, one more thing...

...Bill and Ted 3. Will it happen?

If it were made, I'd definitely see it. These are such great characters!
Even if the first half was just them revisiting sites from EA and BJ to reflect on what all had changed, a la Rocky Balboa, I'd go see it.

Everyone should give these two wannabe rockers who changed the course of history a watch.
They went to the past, they went to the future, they went all around the afterlife.
Bill and Ted are a duo that cannot be forgotten or replaced.

I'm DLAbaoaqu. Catch ya later, Bill and Ted!

*Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventures (Live-action) is owned by FOX.