“Pinned!” (season 3, episode 10; originally aired 12/7/1996)
Straight up, “Pinned!” is one of the best episodes of The Adventures Of Pete And Pete. It’s a bold statement, and it doesn’t come without some hesitation on my part. Little Pete is barely in this episode, and that kind of imbalance usually causes weakness in an episode’s story. Moreover, this is an episode of kids’ TV dealing with real, high-school issues. At least, I think they’re high-school issues: Are 10-year-olds interested in how varsity letters are obtained? “Pinned!” makes it all work, though. With snappy writing, solid pacing, and a sublimely weird performance from Rick “Endless Mike” Gomez, this episode is, to mix sports metaphors, a total knockout.
A brief rundown for the unfamiliar: Big Pete is interested in getting his varsity letter, and thus takes up wrestling. He stinks, so he’s content to obtain his letter by just going to every practice and running his mouth at the other wrestlers. Unfortunately for him, though, he runs afoul of Endless Mike, who then transfers to the rival Sludgely High. Pete’s fourth string, so he doesn’t think he’ll have to wrestle Mike at the upcoming match, but then Mike systematically takes out the three wrestlers ahead of Pete with a mysterious explosion, a hand-dryer vacuum, and a vibrating-bed accident, respectively. Pete still tries to get out of their bout by going down a weight class, but Mike matches him pound for pound, ultimately removing (in amazing fashion—I love this scene) one of his molars to make the last two ounces he needs at weigh-in. Thus the showdown is set.
All this time, Ellen’s been cheering Pete on from the sidelines, as she knows a ton about wrestling from her uncle, Gentleman Bill Hickle, the greater-Pensacola wrestling champion. Wrestling coach Beano Glattner doesn’t take kindly to this and forces her onto the pep squad because that’s where girls go, of course. Once Pete finds himself matched with Mike, Ellen reminds him that he could, duh, actually try to learn to wrestle and gives him an all-night tutorial in the grappling arts against “Endless Teddy” Forsman. As it turns out, when Pete applies himself, he’s not half bad.
Of course, that’s all for naught when Mike shows up at the match looking absolutely terrifying in skeleton face paint and a zebra-print-and-skull encrusted wrestling uniform. (If this has inspired any Halloween costumes, I need photos please. And if not, I think I know what we should all dress as this Halloween.) Mike wipes the mat with Pete for a bit, but then Pete realizes that he doesn’t just want his varsity letter for participation, but rather he wants that “W” because he’s a winner. He gets his courage up and ultimately beats Mike using a move that’s straight out of Ellen’s playbook. The bully is vanquished and all is right in Wellsville for at least one more day.
If you think about it, The Adventures Of Pete And Pete was on in a weird time slot. When it wasn’t part of SNICK, the prime Nickelodeon Saturday night bloc that gets all the glory, it aired new episodes Sundays at noon or 6 p.m. Eastern. That’s prime homework time, or “out running errands with mom” time, right? It’s amazing that we caught these shows at all so religiously in hindsight, and even more amazing that something like this managed to endure. That’s why an episode like “Pinned!” works, though: It’s a show made for kids that works for kids—theoretically, at least. I don’t know if today’s children would enjoy—I don’t know any I can ask right now—but I like to think that what worked in 1996 works in 2012.
- Pete’s punishment for being a bad wrestler is to practice with Roy, a floppy dummy who is somehow still better than Pete at the sport.
- “P-E-P pep is important to M-E me!” Ellen makes a great sarcastic cheerleader.
- Some of the funniest lines come once the characters realize that Endless Mike is eliminating the better wrestlers. I love “I’d sure hate to be Frank Fazzini,” and Little Pete’s speech in the hotel room. (“I don’t have to be here. I’ve got a nice bed at home and a mom who gets Turkish radio on the plate in her her head.”)
- Endless Mike’s alter ego is The Doctor Of Death, who’s there to “cure [Pete] of [his] life.” The puns that come after that are pretty good, too, like “round one was just the diagnosis, my friend. Round two is the surgery.”
- I started writing this recap just as I heard that the Beastie Boys’ Adam “MCA” Yauch had died. The story came as kind of a crushing blow to the entire A.V. Club office, including myself. Thus, I had kind of a hard time writing this. Every sentence seemed to make no sense, and every word choice seemed poorly made. Hopefully that’s not reflected when you read it. While I’m on the topic, though, let me say this: I like The Adventures Of Pete And Pete for the same reason I like the Beastie Boys. Both came out of a culture of having great influences and knowing wholeheartedly what they wanted to do. They didn’t make sacrifices in their respective visions, and as such, the love the Petes and the Beastie Boys have for their product is palatable. Just like Pete isn’t the biggest show of all time, the Beastie Boys aren’t the biggest band of all time, and I think that’s how the members of the group wanted it. They wanted to do what they wanted to do the way they wanted to do it and hopefully do a little good along the way. It’s a nice, smart way to live, and that’s why today is so sad. Rest in peace, MCA.