Bill & Ted: The Series

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As 1990 was the era of the animated spin-off, it’s a given that Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure landed a Hanna-Barbera cartoon. More surprising is the original cast reprising their roles, with Keanu, Alex Winter and George Carlin all returning as voice actors. Season two of Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventures (plural) saw a move from CBS to Fox Kids, with production switching from Hanna-Barbera to DIC, who we all remember from the logo where a little kid yells “dick! But Fox recast, binning Keanu and co, and the show was cancelled at the end of the season.

Seven months later, in June of 1992, the live action Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventures — confusingly the same title as the cartoon — made its debut on Fox. It had been due to air six months earlier, but a contract clause stipulated Bogus Journey first needed to hit a specific mark at the box office. Consequently, the show’s dialogue always refers to present day as 1991, while captions mark it as 1992. They kept the main cast from the re-jigged cartoon, with Alex Winter’s Bill now played by Evan Richards — Billy Warlock’s buddy in Brian Yuzna’s Society — and Keanu’s Ted by Christopher Kennedy. There’s a decent pedigree to the rest of the cast, with Christopher Guest regular Don Lake as Bill’s dad, and comedian Rick Overton (Willow, Groundhog Day) filling the Carlin role as Rufus. Missy’s played by Lisa Wilcox aka Alice from the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise.

01

This is less Bill & Ted than Invasion of the Body Snatchers, leaving distressed viewers feeling like the last uninfected human — “It’s not them! Can’t you see?!” They’re in the iconic outfits and doing the voices, but these are impressions, not performances. Richards, taking the place of Alex Winter, is not terrible, but Christopher Kennedy’s Ted amps up Keanu’s slacker swagger by perpetually swaying, with one shoulder always a foot lower than the other, and swinging his arms like he’s on a rocking ship. Plus, he’s got a creeping hairline which suggests he’s got a year, at best, to enjoy those long Ted-locks. God knows, I shouldn’t looks-shame, being I resemble a 17th century witch-finder, but Keanu’s one of history’s most beautiful people, while the TV incarnation…

02

There’s none of the charm or self-awareness of the movies, though the unaired pilot spends its entire runtime in a metaphorical howl of “hey remember when you saw Bill & Ted at the cinema? This is the same! Exactly the same!” There’s a ton of air guitaring and “no way!” and the scripts mimic the classic film dialogue, which is that weird mixture of Cali-slang and overly-portentous, almost medieval formality, in a kind of surfer Stuart Hall. Missy — “I mean, mom” — is there to luridly make out with Bill’s dad (whom she’d left for Ted’s dad in Bogus Journey, to which they obviously didn’t have script access) and serve the lads drinks in a tiny bikini, giving Ted “a full-on chubby” in a 7pm timeslot.

The story here is they’ve blown out their amp, so apply for a job at hardware store, World of Nails. The manager agrees to hire them, but only if they take his daughter to the dance. They react in that grossed-out 90’s way of signposting that someone’s fat, so get thrown out, as Rufus shows up in the phone booth, warning them the fate of mankind is now in jeopardy. No amp means no performance at the dance, and no Wyld Stallyns-based future-utopia. They go back in time 15 minutes, so’s to not be rude about the daughter, but accidentally get sucked inside the Crime Stories magazine they use to fix the aerial. Oh yeah, no longer just a time machine, they can travel inside books and shit now.

03

Accidentally flattening a tommy gun-toting goon, they bring back a noir dame, who’s black and white in a colour world — an effect achieved by painting the actress grey. Missy befriends her, while the store-owner pays them to take his daughter to the dance, in some reverse-escorting. They still have to get the dame back home, but Missy’s sent her away in a taxi to start a new life travelling round the world, hitting us with a “no way!” and TO BE CONTINUED, only 17 minutes in.

Reader, we most certainly do not continue. Episode one proper starts from scratch; most notably with Ted’s hair, switching from the balding bed-head to an absolutely horrendous Beatles wig, which spends every scene flopping around hideously like a smelly penis next to your plate at a naturist BBQ. They’re now working at Nail World, where boss Mr. Keilson has just landed the big promotion, which Rufus warns will destroy the future. Keilson goes to call the wife, but uses Bill & Ted’s phone booth, sending him back to England, 512 AD.

04

The costumes are on a par with It’s a Knockout, and this week’s historical celeb is Deidrich Bader’s King Arthur, who hands the freshly-pulled sword to Keilson and — uh-oh, mix-up — Keilson’s crowned the king! He’s mostly just excited about having sex with Princess Guinevere, hornily rolling on the bed together, readying to take it out of his boxers, while Bill and Ted, a pair of highschoolers, stand chatting with him the whole time.

King Keilson’s dragged into a battle against an evil knight, which was clearly shot hurriedly in the ten minutes before dawn with no lighting, as you can see fuck all, but faints, and is taken back to 1991/1992 where he thinks it was all a dream. Far more intriguing than the actual show is an over-credits announcement for Charles S. Dutton sitcom Roc, whose entire 2nd season was aired live. Oh, right, this is a sitcom too. Honestly, I struggled to find a single joke-joke, and this is probably the best example of what we’re dealing with. A delivery man asks for the lads’ signature; the ol’ John Hancock.

     Bill “Who’s John Hancock?

     Ted: “I don’t know.

What a timeless gag, as funny now as it was 30 years ago. Speaking of timeless, Excellent Adventures‘ use of time travel makes zero sense. Sure, time travel’s not real, but it has to stick to its own rules. Every episode has Rufus coming back in a panic to make them fix something that’ll ruin the future, if gone unchecked. But hasn’t that stuff already happened? Hasn’t everything already happened? There are no evil time travellers going back and altering the existing timeline, so how are these butterfly effect jeopardies cropping up? And if there’s a future world where the entire history of Bill and Ted is already written, why are they still entering Battles of the Bands and Elvis lookalike contests to win recording contracts? Surely their path to success is set in stone?

05

In more things which make dick-all sense, episode 2, As The Dude Turns (The Lives That We Live), opens with Missy drooling over hunky soap opera doctor, Lance Steelflex. Bill’s dad runs in from his lunchbreak, tie already off, ready to get his lunchtime shag in. But Lance confesses that he’s living a lie. “I don’t feel angry… I feel pretty,” dramatically peeling off his lab coat to reveal a pink dress. “I’m trapped in the body of a lie I can no longer live… a life that’s a lie is only a half-life!” Revealing he’s booked in for sex-change surgery, a sobbing Missy is distraught, while JK Rowling must be spitting up blood. Missy’s so mad, she’s in no mood for sex, punching Bill’s dad, who’s immediately so sexually frustrated, he takes over the Wyld Stallyns rehearsal space fixing up a greasy old car, rather than just having a tommy tank and getting on with his day.

As Rufus shows up with his latest dire warning, let’s be clear what the stakes are: if the TV doctor becomes a woman, Missy permanently goes off sex, leaving Bill’s dad dangerously backed up with cum, the Wyld Stallyns unable to rehearse, and the future destroyed. Cool, cool. The lads wire the phone booth to the TV cable and get sucked into the satellite, where a channel-surfing Mr. Preston, with a full day’s worth of semen bubbling in his inflated bollocks, sees them appear onscreen. They’re glitching with a “b-be excellent, p-p-party on!” as Max Headrooms; they’re working out with sexy aerobics ladies, which Bill’s dad should not be watching in his condition, as he’s liable to shoot a new skylight into the ceiling.

06

Bill and Ted jump into the soap, claiming to be Dr. Lance’s son. As nobody yells cut, it’s not performed by actors on a set, but its own universe filled with sentient characters. Earlier, Bill’s dad was complaining over the phone to the network, but now they’re all real? It plays with TV conventions, like Bill and Ted hearing each other’s thoughts as narration, or stepping harmlessly out of a ‘moving’ car. By now, the doctor’s draped in pearls and Pat Butcher earrings, in a tiny skirt and heels, acting all effete. “I didn’t know I had two sons!” he says; “We didn’t know we had two mothers!” His girlfriend wakes from her faint to ogle the schoolboys — “mmm, a little young, but cute!” — and they try to talk him out of the operation, with the advice “dad, historically, dudes do not make good babes!” Bill and Terf, more like!

But it turns out, his girlfriend was cheating on him with another doctor, who’d been blackmailing Lance’s psychiatrist into tricking him to believe he was trans, so he could marry her instead. Lance decides he’s happier being a dude than a babe, cancelling the op, as Missy rushes home to give Bill’s dad a thorough despunking, saving the future once again. It was almost worth sitting through this trash to see, tucked away in the credits playing a senator, the incredible ‘very nearly a ribbed condom’ name French Tickner.

07

Episode 4, It’s a Totally Wonderful Life, is the Back to the Future II trope, with one tiny change in the past resulting in a dark and fascistic alternate timeline; like say, the commissioning of a reality show called The Apprentice. It’s all so dumb, it sounds like I got bored and made something up, but honestly, Rufus goes back to 1991, and after a nightmare about being served one, accidentally gets ‘Chicken Kiev’ engraved on a Policeman Of the Year award for Ted’s dad, who’s so humiliated, he sends Ted to military school, changing history.

Back in 2692, everything’s bedecked in Nazi-esque banners, in a society based on the music of Gunther and Plotnik, a 22nd century polka band. Rufus is imprisoned by black-clad troopers, but breaks out to 1996, where Bill’s a corporate yuppie arsehole and Ted’s a street-tough in a bandana, busted by an undercover cop for dealing drugs on skid row. Perfectly normal in a sitcom for kids. But it’s just a ruse; Ted pulls his own badge — “Detective Logan, internal affairs!” — and military academy’s turned him into a hard-nosed stomping boot of the police state.

As the pair now hate each other, Rufus drops an anonymous tip about Bill so that Ted goes after him, wearing a wire when they meet for dinner, and brings the 1991 lads along too. The ’91 Bill and Ted berate their future counterparts; who roll around on the floor in a brawl; before fixing the engraving and the future. “Millard, my love, who directed this episode?” you ask; “presumably a raccoon that got into the set through an open window?” Mate, it was David Nutter; the one who won an Emmy directing Game of Thrones.

08

Indeed, the most Excellent Adventure I’m having is in the credits. Episode 4, Hunka Hunka Bill and Ted is co-written by the writer of Hollywoodland and Nic Cage psychic magician flick, Next. Honestly, the title’s enough for you to guess the plot; they bring a pre-fame Elvis to an Elvis lookalike contest and he loses, but finds his mojo back in 1954 when they play one of his future tapes in a bowling alley, for a full-on choreographed dance number. The time-fixin’ stuff’s ditched from here, with an episode which feels more like Quantum Leap, and marks Rufus’ last appearance in the series.

Destiny Babes is another ‘collect a historical figure’ ep, enrolling Casanova to help them get off with a couple of girls who look like Brian May. By now the laboured B&T speak is really irritating, padding the script with lines like “we must expeditiously rectify this most non-triumphant situation!” Casanova’s got the worst wig in the series, which is really saying something; a pony-tailed, joke shop Eddie Large, which gives me horrible flashbacks to drama in school, when a class loudmouth pulled a curly wig out of a costume box to get massive laffs by slouching around going “my name’s Stuart!” in a miserablist voice. It’s fine, I’m over it. He’s dead now.

Casanova is very horny, and if his penis ever touched with Bill’s dad’s, they’d be sparking like lightsabers. They take him back to a singles bar in 1991 where he ogles some arses and works his magic, surrounded by doe-eyed babes and stroking a woman’s hand — “I am in you, you are in me.” In fashion from centuries past, with shit facial hair, and manky, touchy ‘deep soul connection’ flirting techniques, we’re witnessing the prototype for the modern pick up artist. Bill and Ted use his lessons to win a date with their ‘destiny babes’, but ho-ho, they turn out to be boring bimbos. If nothing else, Excellent Adventures is aspirational, as this whole cacky mess was written by Joel Surnow, the co-creator of 24, who’s probably a billionaire now.

09

Penultimate episode, Deja Vu, does BTTF‘s ‘meeting your parents in highschool’ deal, centring on music teacher Mrs. Pearl, who despises Ted and has history with his mom, with whom she gets in a MILF catfight, throwing each other into lockers and getting arrested. Back to 1969, Pearl’s leading a group of hippies protesting the lunch menu, in what may be the single tightest collection of Summer of Love cliches ever compiled. There’s beads and Lennon shades, a VW camper painted in flowers and peace-signs, a soundtrack of sitar music, and every other word of dialogue is “man” and “groovy!” Of course, Captain Logan’s revealed as a hippie too — like when cool young Mr. Belding was running Bayside’s school radio — and the gang head to Woodstock together. When the local sheriff shows up (whom Ted recognises as his maternal grandfather), the face he pulls when he opens the van, along with sex noises and a shocked plea to “put your clothes on” indicates there’s an actual highschooler orgy going on, in this sitcom for kids.

As it’s not time travel without incest, Ted’s mom gets a wide-on when she sees him in jail, and asks him to the dance, but Ted talks her into taking his future-dad instead. Captain Logan immediately drops the hippie stuff, revealing himself a Blue Lives Matter bootlicker, who was just pretending so he could sleep with Mrs. Pearl, who sobs as Ted’s future parents leave together. The lads head back to 1991, giving her a final mantra of advice; “remember, dudes are the weaker sex, babes bounce back,” only to find 90’s Pearl has straightened her frizzy hair (which denoted misery and spinsterness), and now loves the Stallyns. Gotta say, huge missed opportunity to not have Kevin Pollack guest star as Charles Manson, bringing a little Helter Skelter to San Dimas. “Missy — I mean, mom — where’s your head?”

10

Final episode, Stand Up Guy, kicks off with the boys in math(s) class, humiliated by the teacher for being thick, and mockingly called Einstein (who they’ve never heard of), so they go back in time to learn from the man himself. The big ticking clock here is they only have 11 hours to become smart before needing to return in time for class. You’re time travelling; return whenever you fucking like! Stay there ten years and return one second after you left. (Note: as I’ve since been reminded, this is how it works in the movies too, so fair enough) Unfortunately, Einstein decides to quit science and become a stand-up comedian, performing in a castle-looking pub called Ye Olde Comedy Cabaret. 1916; the dark ages; it’s all the same!

11

How did the writer throw this episode together? Bill and Ted get threatened with weekly stand-up tests in class and called “Einstein,” so now the real Einstein wants to be a stand-up? Was this written by an alien?! In random added weirdness, the smartest kid in San Dimas High is called Glen Nevis, in a pun of a Scottish mountain. Sadly, big Albert’s gag “I knew this man who didn’t have a cent to his name, so he changed his name!” is the strongest joke in the entire series. B&T trick him into giving his speech about relativity, preventing more causality shit and saving all future timelines, apart from the one in 2020 where I had to painstakingly sit through Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventures taking 5,000 words of notes, and wishing someone had dropped a phone booth on my ancestors.

This piece first appeared on my Patreon, where subscribers could read it a month before it landed here. If you’d like to support me for as little as $1 a month, then click here to help provide the world with regular deep dives about weird-bad pop culture, early access to my podcast, and all kinds of other stuff.

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~ by Stuart on August 25, 2020.

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