"New Year's Pete - aired in 1993
Does anyone really like New Year’s Eve? For kids, especially, it’s an exercise in pointlessness. You get all hyped up for something that doesn’t really matter. At midnight, it’s just another day — or another night, for that matter. The only thing that changed was the calendar.
That’s what this week’s episode of The Adventures Of Pete And Pete is about — futility. “New Year’s Pete” aired, according to Wikipedia, in 1993, sometime around New Year’s Eve, probably. (I remember watching this as part of Nickelodeon’s special “your mom and dad are out having fun and you’re at home” New Year’s Eve slate of programming, but I could be wrong there.) It’s the first pre-season one episode narrated by Little Pete, and it’s all about his New Year’s resolution to change the world.
That’s a big quest for a little kid, especially when what he needs to do it — in his mind, at least — is a Riley retrofire jetpack, which runs a cool $456. If Pete had a jetpack, he could fly from world summit to world summit, stopping at the White House for a surprise meeting. His mom, in comparison, wants to work on her hand strength for the year, but that Pete, he thinks big. “If you’re going to change something, change something that matters,” he grumbles.
For a kid, though, $456 is an absolutely insurmountable sum. (For a lot of adults, too, but that’s another story.) Pete decides to make the money through a few sketchy endeavors, as well as a good old-fashioned paper route. First up, the Wrigley brothers check neighborhood lawns for landmines. They’ve booby trapped them before they go door-to-door, of course, so it’s an effective pitch, even at a steep $49.99 per screening. Big Pete gets “suckerpunched by puberty,” though, and goes head over heels for Ellen yet again, saving her from an ill-placed landmine. That’s a little inconsistent, considering he’s just friends with her one week and then totally out of the picture another because he’s so in love, but whatever. If we choose to overlook everything else outlandish in Pete And Pete, we can overlook this, right?
L’il Pete recruits his own personal superhero, Artie, to help him with a paper route and a guest stint as a “canary yellow juggernaut of pure bowling thunder” on his dad’s league team, Cranson Spackle, for which Artie makes a telepathic bowling ball that somehow involves a hamster. Pete bets his wad on the team’s victory, and when Artie gets signed — using a battery powered squiggle pen — to the professional bowling contract, Pete’s all alone. He says “The only place I ever saw him after that was on TV,” but we all know that’s not true.
Left to his own devices and with his two besties off living their lives, Pete starts hanging out with Frank, the chain-smoking crossing guard. (Can you even imagine someone chain-smoking on a kids show now?) Keegan’s not afraid of Pete’s blowhole retorts, and tells him all about how, after a cat named Mr. Boots got wasted on catnip and had a close call with a Ford Imperial, he made a pledge to never leave the crosswalk again. He’s there 24/7/365. While that’s improbable and impractical at best, it appears to be true. After taking the crossing guard pledge, Pete lets his new friend take a nap while he charges pedestrians $20 a head to cross the street. Kenneth catches him, sadly, after he leaves the corner to catch a crosser gone rogue, but that is what it is. “I knew Frank had trusted me,” he says, “but when you’re on a mission like mine, a few people are going to get hurt.”
That makes sense considering what we know about Little Pete, right? He’s kind of an asshole, but he’s fiercely loyal to everyone who matters to him. If you don’t matter to him — whether you’re a neighbor’s landmine sniffing dog or another kid in his gym class — he’s going to call you a blowhole. You’ll be lucky if he even knows your name. Pete’s made this resolution to save the world not for, well, the world, but rather for himself. Think of his majestic hair blowing in the wind while he was traversing the globe in that jetpack, right? Sure, good things might get done at that meeting with the President, but what really matters is that Pete, himself, would be there, telling the President what he thought was right.
As it turns out, though, Pete’s not really an asshole. Or, at least, he’s not an asshole by the end of this episode. After he mistakenly — or on purpose, really — gets shipped a Riley brand leaf blower instead of that awesome jet pack, he comes unglued. He rages against New Year’s, saying, “For one night you get all wiggly thinking about changing everything, but in the end you’re just a feeb. I tried, but what happened? I love everything — my brother, my superhero, and my dream.” He goes on about this terrible feeling he has that life might be like his bike, which he pushed down a hill and past a guy who is definitely not Hunter S. Thompson, “on a bumpy, out of control ride to nowhere.” That’s nihilism at its finest, really.
Suddenly, for some reason, Pete abandons all that we know about him to go and celebrate New Year’s with Frank, because while he couldn’t make the world better for all mankind, at least he could do it for just one person. It’s hard to say if he does this because he feels sorry for Frank, who opened up to him totally, or just because, well, it’s something to do, but he does it, and they celebrate the New Year riding in circles on the runaway bike and tooting a noisemaker. Frank resolves, once again, to quit smoking in the new year, and Pete decides to continue trying to save the world, saying, “Why not? I have a whole year."
I love “New Year’s Pete,” mostly because it has this really grown-up sense of pure bleakness. Sure, there are things we can do to make life better, but really, we’re all just concerned with hand-strength and whatever, so I’mma do me, right? Or like so many people around today — and I’m sure back in the day as well — it’s just all talk and no action. (“I am outraged that this celebrity is a celebrity! I can’t believe I’m looking at pictures of her on the Internet all day!”) Little Pete’s refreshing most of the time in that when he says something, he means it. Sure, he might be saying that you can bite his scab, but he really means that. If he thinks New Year’s sucks, he thinks it sucks, period. If he wants a jetpack, he’s going to get a goddamn jetpack.
He’s also refreshing, though, because he has a heart. It’s a heart that probably has a dancing lady tattoo on it, but it’s a heart all the same. He’s friends with Artie, even though he’s mega-weird. He screws over Frank, but he feels bad about it eventually. He doesn’t blame Big Pete for bailing on him, he blames Big Pete’s glands. And he doesn’t hate New Year’s, really. He just hates that he’s little, and he can’t zoom off on his jetpack to Berlin to use his new German language skills. (“beiße mirSchorf, blowhole.“) All those are things that’ll change, eventually, but it’s going to take at least a few more New Year’s Eves for any of that to happen.
• Why is it a Riley brand jetpack and not a Krebstar jetpack? Maybe this has something to do with why they screwed Pete over. Krebstar would never make that kind of mistake.
• Little Pete insult of the week: "Blow it out your nosehole, Frank!" (Frank responds with "Scrape me sideways, pipsqueak!")
• I particularly love how Artie sniffs the bowling alley ball return hand dryers. "Mmm, free air." To this day, I honestly think about that every single time I go bowling.
• Both Debbie Harry from Blondie and Vincent "Big Pussy" Pastore appear in this episode.
• A commenter last week said that in the DVD commentary, they talk about how Toby Huss ad-libs a lot of the Artie stuff, like the motions and the things he says. Given that, I can't believe Danny Tamberelli wasn't cracking up at him, like, constantly. All the more reason to respect that kid, right?