“Yellow Fever” (season 2, episode 12; originally aired 11/27/1994)
Fresh off the heartbreak that is “Farewell My Little Viking,” Pete fans have been dealt yet another powerhouse episode, “Yellow Fever.” Starring Big Pete, his friends and classmates, and Damian Young as the always insanely insane Bus Driver Stu, the episode takes place almost entirely inside one giant instrument of doom: a yellow school bus.
Pete’s class is taking a trip to the Glurk County Milk Museum located apparently hours away from school. This comes after other successful field trips to the Sioux City Moth Hatchery, the Triple A Ice Farm, and the International Creamed Corn Expo. A secret admirer has written Ellen a note saying that he’ll reveal himself by sitting next to her on the bus, which is packed full of characters like Della (who has to pee a lot), future Bar Mitzvah singer Wendell Hyde, and the potentially tortured Mark Twib.
Twib’s claim to fame—or hell, as it were—is that his ears are perfectly flickable. Once, post-flick, one wobbled a record 79 times. (When this show aired, my brother and I spent a lot of time trying to get more than two wobbles and instead just got a lot of red ears and solid punches in at each other.)
Long story short, Pete pisses off Ellen by sitting next to her, even though she’s just a girl who’s his friend and definitely not his girlfriend. He gets sent to the back of the bus by Stu, putting him in the only available seat right next to Endless Mike. Mike, of course, tries to make Pete part of his gang, convincing him to hot lather Bill and, ultimately, twib Mark Twib, sending him over the edge.
I should mention here that Bus Driver Stu has recently had his heart broken by long-term girlfriend Sally Knorp. Their song, of course, was “If You’re Happy And You Know It,” and thus, it’s verboten on this very long bus trip. Once Twib snaps, though, he sings it, sending the whole bus into peril once Stu leaves the driver’s seat to sing and the bus hurtles toward the edge of a cliff—albeit one surrounded by the very lovely leaves of what’s presumably rural New York or New Jersey. Portable mic in hand, Wendell Hyde comes through to save the day singing “Hava Nagila” and Stu returns to his seat just in time to stop the bus. Pete takes the blame for singing the song once the bus reaches the farm, earning him an “F” on whatever project they’re working on and four weeks detention.
Shock and surprise, it was Mark Twib who sent the love letter. He realizes though that Pete and Ellen have some shit to work out and leaves them be. Ellen waits on the bus with her friend Pete during the field trip and they, presumably, totally don’t make out because, ew.
“Yellow Fever” works on a lot of levels, but mostly because of the intense insanity that is Bus Driver Stu. While he’s not the center of attention most of the time, he drives the action with his frustrations. Young’s a great actor, of course, and his sight gags are both funny and tortured. At a traffic stop, for example, he just can’t manage to hit a stack of doughnuts with a tennis serve. Or, as Endless Mike talks Pete over onto the dark side, Stu’s in the background maiming—at length—a scarecrow who he thought was a person. It’s weird, but viewers kind of believe his heartbreak, even though he’s definitely a weird cat. Plus, his enthusiasm, when he has it, is enchanting. Who wouldn’t join him in a dancey version of “If You’re Happy And You Know It”?
I didn’t remember “Yellow Fever” all that well before rewatching it, but I’d been looking forward to it given some of the recent comments about how it’s a great episode, one of your faves, and so on. You know what? It is really, really good. It’s ageless, timeless, and charmingly existential, all in 22-odd minutes. While none of us, presumably, were ever stuck on a bus going to a milk farm field trip, the whole bus experience is relatively universal, as is the general feeling of uneasiness that just comes along with being a teenager. Are you doing the right thing at any given time? Will everyone notice that you, Teddy, ate your whole lunch right away again? Do buses make you have to pee too, modern-day Della? It’s a universal imperative, that teenage hell, and short of having our own personal super heroes to save us, we all just had to grin and bear it.
- This episode features yet another of my favorite lines of all time: “Passengers will refrain from killing my soul.”
- Also, the breakup between Stu and Sally is amazing. He sings, “If you’re happy and you know it,” and after hearing no claps, asks what’s up. Sally responds, “I’m not happy, Stu.” He says, “You can stamp your feet.” Sally, crushingly, replies, “I can tap my head, click my heels, wiggle my ears. It’s over, Stu. We have to break up.”
- What’s up with the animated butterfly that appears at the beginning of the episode and then again as the bus almost plummets off the cliff? It seems kind of like a weird thing to just throw in there, like someone on the film crew learned how to do animation that week or something.
- The way this episode ends, with Wendell singing over the credits, is perfect.