Sunday, January 13, 2019

Yellow Fever: Pete Flicks His Way to the Dark Side

In the previous post about Season 2 Episode 5 "Halloweenie", we see Big Pete struggle with an inner darkness. He has a personal vendetta against Halloween that causes him to have a secret sympathy for Endless Mike and his band of Halloween terrorists. Endless Mike uses this against Pete to gain a follower, and we learn that even a good guy like Big Pete can be manipulated into bad behavior. Luckily Big Pete comes to his senses before he's become fully initiated into the Pumpkin Eaters.

In the same season several episodes later there is a similar conflict occurring. Though instead of a rambunctious holiday causing bizzaro Pete to surface, it's the tried and true tradition of the school field trip.

As Pete narrates, "The real education takes place on the way there." A bus becomes, "a giant incubator, filled with the churning psyches of 48 kids. Inside a kind of chemical reaction takes place."

"On a long bus ride, people reveal parts of themselves no one was meant to see."

S2 E12, "Yellow Fever"
Air date: November 27, 1994

Bus Driver Stu Benedict (played by Damien Young) has recently been broken up with by his fellow bus driver, Sally Knorp (played by Ellen Cleghorn). Their "song" was "If You're Happy and You Know It" a bus ride classic. Everyone at school knows that this is a triggering song for Stu, who has the lives of children in his hands every day. Never the less, Big Pete's teacher, Mrs. Drapoozie, must reiterate to the class that on their bus ride to the Glert County Milk Museum, singing the song will result in detention.

To further drive home Stu's fragile state, his pre-departure announcement includes the line, "We will be going a swift 55 miles an hour, away from the twisted wreckage of my shattered LIFE!"

At the beginning of the episode Pete explains in his narration that the bus ride on a school field trip always brings out the oddest mutations of a kid's personality.

The shyest kid in school Wendell Hyde tries out his lounge singer alter ego.

Della Sump needs to use the bathroom every five minutes.

Teddy Foresman always eats his lunch before they even get to their destination - but he has a plan to prevent it this time.

Bill becomes a relentless practical joker.
Pete warns, "But of all the mutations that took place that day, mine was the weirdest."

The second drama unfolding involves a disruption in Ellen and Pete's usual seating arrangements. Ellen always sits next to Pete on field trips. However, she received a love letter from a secret admirer who says he will reveal himself by sitting next to her on this bus ride. While Ellen and Pete are not officially dating, they have always had a will-they-wont-they relationship. They even kissed in the first season, but it never came to anything. Pete is upset by this note for reasons he can't yet wrap his head around. This causes him to pretend he doesn't care about the note, and tries to sit next to Ellen as usual.

Putting a sign in the window, saying "Help! Being Kidnapped! Call Police!" Bill causes Stu to get pulled over by the cops. One of many moments delaying them from getting to the Milk Museum.

Stu has to go through numerous sobriety tests, which include one of the best lines in the show. After trying to hit a stack of doughnuts with a tennis ball, and missing, Stu exclaims, "Well put a crueler there!"

After he gets the clear to drive on, Stu says another gem: "Passengers will refrain, from CRUSHING MY SOUL!"

Still furious that he would prevent her from meeting this mystery man, Ellen bickers with Pete until he gets in trouble with Stu, who makes him move to the back of the bus.

Pete is met with your typical back of the bus dwellers, Endless Mike and his crew. As usual Mike is doing his best to feign hospitality. Pete knows Mike is bad news if not a frightening individual, and Mike knows that Pete can be easily molded. Sensing the tension in Pete's relationship with Ellen, Mike and his cronies ensnare Pete.

Soon after Pete is banished to the back of the bus, Bill sits next to Ellen. He says he wanted to switch things up because Ellen doesn't have to sit next to Pete all the time. Pete is crushed his own friend Bill would try to put a wedge between him and Ellen - even if he doesn't like her in that way (sure, sure). Mike tells Pete he needs to act because Bill is making a fool of him. They whip out a hot lather machine - like you do - with mentholated shaving cream. "Do you know what that can do to a popped zit?"

Meanwhile Stu has become lost and stops to ask a farmer for directions. As it turns out, "Farmer Extremely Unhelpful" is a scare crow. Stu loses it on the man made of straw before returning to the bus.

Ellen, turned off by Bill's intention of performing more escalating pranks, tries to breach the topic of the note.

Bill has no idea what she's talking about. Ellen realizes he isn't her secret admirer and it's just a coincidence he wanted to sit next to her. Despite this, Ellen hams it up in front of Pete, putting her arm around Bill's shoulder's.

Meanwhile,  like a soldier on a mission, Pete crawls on his belly down the aisle with the lather machine cord dangling from his mouth. Into Bill's conveniently outstretched hand, Pete dispenses the body temperature foam.

Pete jumps up to say hi, and point out that zit on Bill's face. Bill promptly puts his left hand to his face, planting the foam right on his open wound, causing him to squeal "Menthol!!!"

Pete retreats back to his giggling new cohort of friends who rejoice in Pete's devilish dare.

To "celebrate" Mike suggests they open up a bottle of bubbly, two liter bottles of Krebben Up, that they turn over on the floor causing a flood of sticky soda to wash over everyone's feet.
Stu has to pull over for Della, presumably because the liquid reminds her that she has to pee again.

As they're stopped for Della, Ellen chides Pete for pranking Bill and not being himself.
Ellen jabs at Pete, "Bill knows how to have fun." Pete shouts back, "Oh yeah, well so does Endless Mike. I don't know why I've been hanging out with you." They decide to end their friendship right there.

Meanwhile, Stu is on the verge of a nervous breakdown. He's screaming Della's name and yelling at the kids not to think about her, because according to Della, she can't "go with everyone thinking about me." Simultaneously, Stu realizes Wendell Hyde is missing, and he must track down the singing and dancing prodigy in a field.

A third branch of this story involves a classmate named Mark Twibb who has larger than normal ears, or at least ears that stick out enough to be flicked -  "Twibbed" as the kids say.

Mark gets harassed on school field trips all the time. It's another one of those field trip anomalies. People just can't resist. 

Mike makes it clear to Pete that in order to truly prove himself and take revenge on Ellen, he must do the thing most antithetical to his personality. Mike says, "What would make Ellen really mad?" They stare at an unsuspecting Mark Twibb. "One flick and you're your own man." Pete must twibb Twibb.

As they head back to the bus, Pete stalks Mark like and animal of prey.

In just a matter of seconds Pete changes the whole dynamic of the trip and the social structure of their group.


Mark is shocked that it was Pete. "Pete... you?" In a dramatic slow motion sequence, the entire class recoils. Ellen says, "I'll never speak to you again!"

Pete feels lousy, but Mike and his gang are thrilled.

They give Pete tons of encouragement for his move to the dark side. But the consequences of this action are more dire than they would ever predict.

In these moments Mark is becoming unhinged. He's ready to take down this ship and everyone on board.

Suddenly in a shocking twist of Mark's normally docile personality, Mark starts singing the forbidden song. He stands up and screams it.

Someone tackles him to the ground to stop him. Everyone is tense as they wait for Stu's reaction. Stu starts calmly continuing the song. The tune of "If You're Happy and You Know It" plays in the background as Stu leads the bus in a rousing rendition of the song.

Then they realize that Stu is not driving the bus.

As the kids scream and plead for Stu to get back to the steering wheel, they see that he is in a trance. Wendell Hyde's singing ability comes in handy, as he tries to sing some other songs to snap Stu out of it.

The "Hokey Poky" does the trick. Stu rushes back to the driver's seat just before they run off a cliff on a closed down road.

The class erupts in applause.

"We journeyed to the outer limits of our own souls, and came out safely on the other side."

As they arrive hours late to the Milk Museum. Stu is met with an angry teacher and a pair of police men. The details of the ride emerge and Mrs. Drapoozie demands the student's spill the beans on who sang the song.

It's clear this is going to ruin Mark Twibb. Pete knows that he was the catalyst for all of this nonsense.

Pete comes forward and takes the blame. Endless Mike is furious. He tells Pete, "Once a dink, always a dink! You're outta my gang!"

Mark thanks Pete and apologizes for sending Ellen the letter, which is what he thinks Pete was taking revenge for by joining in on the flicking. Pete is taken aback. He had no idea Mark wrote the letter. Mark says he didn't realize he and Ellen were a couple. Pete tries to explain to him that he and Ellen aren't together, but clearly it's more complicated than that. Mark agrees to just take a step back and not mess with whatever Pete and Ellen's thing is.

Bill tells Pete that he forgives him for the hot lather prank earlier, admitting they all got a bit crazy on the bus. Bill pat's Pete on the back with a "Kick Me" sign and walks off.

One of Pete's many punishments is that he is forced to stay on the bus for the entirety of the class trip. Ellen strays from the group to tell Pete that he did a good thing and she forgives him. Pete says that he takes back all the things he said to her, and she lets him know she understands and takes back her mean statements as well.

They sit together on the bus while Wendell Hyde sings out the episode with an original song sung in the style of Frank Sinatra's "Summer Wind."

The way The Adventures of Pete and Pete address bullies and bullying is actually quite nuanced. It's not always about being terrorized, but about the psychology of why people bully and the power play that can be inviting for young naive kids like Pete. It really adds depth to Pete's character, showing that even a good guy who means well can have weaknesses and fall into bad behavior. It shows that jealousy and resentment can poison a friendship. Mike will never see Pete's redemptive behavior as a strength, and that's just too bad.

This is one of my favorite episodes. It has amazing camera work, a hilarious performance from Damien Young as Bus Driver Stu, and the concept is perfectly relateable while also being translatable to a more over the top drama/action movie style. You can hear me ramble on about this episode on the podcast TeaBD. I recorded this episode way back at the end of June last year, so if you want some more supplemental information about the episode please listen.

Also, I'm going to continue focusing on the bullies of Pete and Pete. My next episode will be about Pinned, which is told in the style of the gangster film genre, and conflates pro-wrestling with high school varsity wrestling.