“Das Bus” (season 3, episode 12; originally aired 12/21/1996)
The creators of The Adventures Of Pete And Pete have said that one of their goals for the show as to put some mystery back into childhood. At the time of the show’s production, and especially now, nothing’s really that mysterious for a kid. You know why your bike works the way it does. You know how to solve that math problem, or at least that there’s an explanation in your book. You know how to recapture the princess in that video game.
There are childhood mysteries that remain, though, like why bedtimes are when they are (à la “Nightcrawlers”), or why adults drink coffee. “Das Bus” speaks to other mysteries, like what exactly adults do when they go to work or how to muster the courage to talk to that cute girl on the bus. It addresses little mysteries, too, like how fun it must be to use a time clock or swing that handle to open a bus door. (I know those are mysteries to me, at least: To this day I’ve never done either of those things, but I’ve spent a good 20-plus years absolutely dying to.)
“Das Bus” is all about Big Pete entering the world of work. Specifically, it’s about him entering the exciting world of bus driving with everyone’s favorite borderline personality, Stu Benedict. As part of his school’s career week, Pete decides not to be a ice-cream man, chef, or bear, but rather to learn to eat donuts with Stu. Of course, that also means he’ll be spending time with his crush, the lovely Penelope Ghiruto (played by Selma Blair).
What Pete doesn’t realize, though, is that while bus drivers barely get a modicum of respect, substitute bus drivers get even less. The mere mention of the word “substitute” activates a gland in a kid’s brain that makes him want to destroy. Thus Pete becomes the target of thrown sandwiches and dirty glances. That’s all good, because he’s trying to get fired, lest Penelope see him in such a lowly state. He succeeds, but later begs Stu to take him back; Pete realizes that, as Penelope’s the last person off the bus, he would get to spend some alone time with her if he was the driver. (Here’s the part where we ignore the fact that they’d let a kid who just received his license drive a school bus full of his screaming peers. It’s Wellsville. Anything goes.)
Pete ultimately gets that honor, along with the coveted bus-driver-service pin, which reads, “Trust. Loyalty. Niceness.” After completing the normal route in record time by basically throwing kids from the bus into their yards, he gets a solid 29 minutes alone with Penelope, during which he takes her to Smedley’s Creek, which is apparently a hot local makeout spot. As he asks her if she’s okay with the detour, Pete trips the bus driver radio, thus tipping off Stu and Ellen as to his devious, bus-privilege-abusing plans. Stu goes absolutely apeshit (“CARROT TOP JUDAS! THOU HAST FORSAKEN ME!”) and chases after Pete, only to eventually spy on the flamehead telling Penelope that he just can’t make out with her, because Stu trusts him and he has to get the bus back to its berth. He wants to be trusting, loyal, and nice whether it costs him the girl or not.
Ultimately Pete gets the bus back in time and clocks out at 5:11, right when he’s supposed to. Ellen tries to use her assigned job filling vending machines with things “of the future” that would never normally be in vending machines—especially ones in a bus garage—to send Pete on a last-minute trip to Venezuela to escape Stu’s wrath. Stu shows up, though, a little worse for wear having fallen off the top of the bus while spying on Pete, but all is forgiven and the two share a break snack of Krebbin’ Donuts. As it turns out, Stu’s always hated donuts, but he likes Pete, so they’ve enjoyed them together the whole episode. As Pete says, “little did he know when Stu invited him into the wonderful world of bus driving just how wonderful it would be.”
“Das Bus” is a great episode, and mostly because of how great Damien Young is as Bus Driver Stu Benedict. He’s had opportunities to shine before, but this is his magnum bus opus. In this episode he has room to stretch out and be as weird as he can be. He wipes donut detritus off his face using a raw steak at one point. He lets his voice sing with intonation even when saying the most mundane stuff. His jokey lines are delivered in just the right tone and his serious lines are read with just the right aplomb. Stu makes us interested in the fact that the bus’ steering wheel is 32 inches wide. He makes us care about bus-driver underwear and think that it’s so sweet that he made Pete a celebratory cake using the engine-block cooking method. Ellen’s job in vending seems cool, but Pete’s is better because of his charismatic mentor. Stu makes going to work seem like not the worst thing in the world, which just possibly gave all the kids watching back in ’96 the sense that being an adult could be a little fun after all.
- For the curious: The statement from Will McRobb and Chris Viscardi that opens this review comes from a super-special, secret project coming soon to The A.V. Club.
- Little Pete doesn’t have any really choice insults this week, though he does call Big Pete a "fudgesucker" and mulls over whether his older brother’s uniform indicates he’s going to bus-driver prom. For what it’s worth, though, I thought Big Pete looked cute as a bus driver.
- You can use the letters in Penelope Ghiruto’s name to make 27 different words including pop, upright, elope, pure, glee, and Pete.
- In the “exciting world of bus driving, you’ll travel to exotic places like West Platelet Avenue and East Platelet Avenue.”
- Bus-driver underpants apparently entail an elaborate system of rainbow suspenders that make them look a little like lederhosen.