“Inspector 34” (season 2, episode 6; originally aired 10/16/1994)
Underpants. Tight, white men’s briefs. That’s ostensibly what “Inspector 34” is about. Briefs that don’t bind, chafe, or ride up, no matter how many karate kicks, splits, or swings of the bat Little Pete might take. It’s about the little things, right?
Of course, “Inspector 34” isn’t really about underwear, though props to the Pete And Pete crew for getting briefs on kids’ TV, even if no one was ever actually wearing them on camera other than Little Pete, but that was over his clothes and we’ll get to that. “Inspector 34” is really about perfection. It’s about not getting caught up in the little details and about the fact that messy stuff—problems, bullies, and whatever else—are what makes life interesting. The Adventures Of Pete And Pete, for example, wouldn’t be as fun without Endless Mike. Little Pete couldn’t tunnel to freedom if he wasn’t grounded for July 4 and that endlessly ringing phone is what gives Wellsville its charm.
Here’s the skinny on “Inspector 34”: Pete believes his underwear inspector is his guardian angel. Turns out he kind of is and wants Pete to teach him to have fun. This succeeds for a little while and he, in turn, teaches Pete to be an inspector, believing that together they can solve the big problems of the world like “the oceans” and the ozone layer. After getting mildly squicked out by some crap in the teeth of his date, Parking Enforcement Officer MacMillan, 34 goes full maniac and runs to Pete, declaring that perfection is, well, perfect for him and that while he once sought to find fun, he knows now that being perfect is it for him.
All the while, 34’s been inspiring those around him—the Wrigleys, mainly, as well as the neighborhood kids—to seek perfection in their own lives. Big Pete has a falling out with Ellen. The kids quit playing Kick The Can, instead choosing to calculate the probabilities of who would win each game. Don becomes obsessed with stacking chicken bones. Watching this happen, Pete realizes that perfection is ruining the people around him and must be stopped at all costs.
Pete, via a defective pair of underwear, puts out a call to 34 and challenges him to an Inspector-off, challenging him to put an ice cube tray in the freezer without spilling any water, parallel park, and so on. He succeeds with flying colors until he neatly and cleanly eats some BBQ chicken, causing everyone to realize that you’re not supposed to be clean when you eat BBQ. Inspector 34’s perfection was imperfect, and therefore he failed. Everyone loosens up a little and then they eat some chicken. Sauce even gets on 34’s face.
“Inspector 34” is weird, but it’s not outlandish. It’s an episode with a message, but it’s a subtle one. It’s well acted, particularly because of John Ottavino’s performance as Inspector 34. It’s also nice—refreshing, even—to see Danny Tamberelli’s Little Pete be so damn in awe of an adult, even if that adult eventually turns out to need Pete more than he needs said adult. It’s also nice to see everyone going just a little bit crazy, but in a way that’s totally understandable. Haven’t you ever started cleaning the kitchen and ended up sorting through all your clothes figuring out what you could give to charity? It’s like that. Perfection steamrolls. Progress steamrolls. It’s only when everyone realizes, though, that people aren’t like underpants, that we’re not supposed to be perfect, that we can move on.
- Pete phrase of the week: “C’mon chowderheads. Let’s play can.”
- Inspector 34 has a bunch of good turns of phrase including, but not limited to, “loose wood, never good,” “I’m trained to catch defects before they become defeats,” and “before you can inspect anything, you have to first inspect yourself.” Also, you can’t forget, “Is there more to life than underpants?”
- That inspector outfit was pretty nifty, Kreb-O-Loom underpants patch and all. That would be a fun little Halloween costume, though you’d have to explain to almost everyone who you were.
- Don wears a 37 stout in underpants. Inspector 34 notes he’s “watched [Pete] grow from a toddler three to a 14 regular.”
- There’s also a ton of good descriptive language in this episode, like Pete first meets Inspector 34 “behind the pine-disinfectant plant.” Big Pete notes that once they had a taste of perfection, “everything else tasted like chunky milk.”
- When Little Pete’s hat finally comes off, his hat head really is impressive.
- I should note here that Big Pete and Ellen are back to being best friends in this episode. I would complain about continuity or whatever, but I really don’t care at all. Half the joy of this show is that there’s no rhyme or reason to anything going on in the world of Wellsville, so whatever, man.