The Adventures Of Pete And Pete: “The Call”
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The Adventures Of Pete And Pete: “The Call”

“The Call,” (season 2, episode 3; originally aired 9/18/1994)

There are a couple dangers in writing about something old, especially if it’s something you harbor any kind of nostalgia for. First off, there’s the golden haze trap. This is the one that befalls most of the Internet, and it’s where a person, show, or concept can do no wrong, no matter how shitty it turns out to be in actuality. Second and no less dangerous, though, is the “meh” hole, where you actually remember something, but you don’t remember it being any good.

Now, the “meh” hole, while dangerous, can also be totally justified. Maybe a particular episode of Hey Dude just wasn’t up to snuff. Then again, maybe you were pissed at your brother the day you watched it, or at nine, you were just too young for the subtle romantic subtext that was woven throughout.

For this week’s episode of The Adventures Of Pete And Pete, I nearly lost out to a gigantic “meh” hole, one that had been building all week since I glanced at the DVD cover to see what episode I was reviewing this week. “The Call,” an episode about a ringing payphone that plagues Wellsville, hardly existed in my Pete memory bank. I remembered the phone, and I remembered the episode being kind of blah, and that was it. Boy, was I wrong.

Strike that, actually. I was wrong about everything except the existence of the ringing phone that is, in fact, the spoke around which this episode’s proverbial wheel spins. There’s so much more to this episode, though, like this oppressive, steamy heat that permeates the whole town and every person in it which, when combined with the ringing, drives people slowly crazy. Mailwoman McGinty, played by Bebe Neuwirth, tries to break free of the Earth’s gravitational pull just to get away from it. Also, a psychologist tries to shoot the phone with a harpoon gun.

It’s an incredibly effective plot device, that heat. Even now, sitting here in near-frozen Chicago, I can feel the sweat building on the back of Little Pete’s shirt as he lies in the grass of his front lawn. I can sympathize with Big Pete, who is perfectly content lying on the cement floor of his basement. (My brother and I basically spent our entire young lives lying in our basement, though some of it was carpeted.) I can’t quite get behind Little Pete and his crew’s attempt to slog through the humidity to answer the phone, but, hey, I don’t deal well with heat.

Meanwhile, Joyce Wrigley, Ellen, and Big Pete all man the Ringing Phone Crisis Hotline, helping people who have a screw loose because, well, that’s what they do on this show. Big Pete has only been there for one day, but that’s all it takes for him to figure out the phone, which has been ringing since May 15, 1967, is ringing for his mom.

Cue the climactic music as everyone in the whole town races to the phone, where we discover—gasp!—that Hub, the phone company man, has kept the phone ringing because he’s been in love with Joyce since seventh grade. He called her one day when she walked by and since she didn’t answer it, he just kept hoping she would—for 27 years.

Maybe it’s because I saw Breaking Dawn last night or because I’m a sap in general, but I’m a sucker for this kind of romance, and that’s something I’ve come into as an adult. I’m sure I liked princess movies and Christian Slater growing up or whatever, but a true, adult-on-adult—don’t go there, pervs—romance, that’s kind of sweet. When Joyce joins Hub in his phone company lift bucket, he tells her that he “just hoped that some day [she’d] pick it up.” Joyce looks into his eyes and says, “Well, Hub, I like you, but I love my husband. You understand, don’t you?”

Frankly, Hub’s much cuter than Don, but that’s not what it’s about, and I know that now, as a 30-year-old woman. At the time, I was probably disappointed that the caller on the other end of the phone didn’t, as Mailwoman McGinty surmised, tell you the exact “day, hour, minute, and second that you die.” That drama would have been a lot more, well, dramatic. Finding out a phone call was about a crush? That just didn’t stick with me.

That’s why this episode was all the better now, though. Watching it with these grown-up eyes, I saw it anew, and frankly, when Big Pete’s voiceover chimes in at the end, saying “Hub knew that mom would never pick up the phone, but to him the rings were like an eternal flame he kept lit by simply staying on the line. To this day when we hear the phone, it reminds us that true love, if it’s really true, doesn’t need an answer,” I damn near shed a tear. Call me crazy, but that’s sweeter than most romantic schlock out there these days, and I almost let it pass me by. Not only did I pull myself out of a “meh” hole, I now have a whole new sap-imbued way to look at ringing phones.

Stray observations:

  • Little Pete insult of the week: “See you later… when we’re on a lunchbox.”
  • It’s episodes like these where you realize that long underwear really doesn’t hide much, particularly on a flexing man in full lunge. Toby Huss, God bless you for just going for it.
  • Big Pete’s giant shirt in the opening scenes is so 1994, it’s amazing.
  • The way Joyce keeps breaking the glass when a phone rings is comic gold, really. I laughed out loud several times.
  • “Soon you will be as cheese, boy. Melty, melty, melty.”
  • Little Pete’s special power is that he can “produce seven kinds of body cheese.” Clem Linnell can hypnotize dogs.
  • Love the poster in the Crisis Center that reads, “A phone booth is not your enemy. It is your friend.”
  • “Would you rather have your face on a postage stamp or a license place? Or you know one of those cereal bowls where you eat all the cereal and see a face?”
  • I love that Joyce says, “You could have just called me at home.” It suggests a level of simplicity that this show just doesn’t have. Why drive a car, for example, when you can take a lawnmower?

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