Sunday, October 07, 2012

Nostalgia Theater:
Bill & Ted's Excellent Adequate Adventures

In 1989, Orion Pictures released Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, and history was made. The time travel comedy, chronicling the escapades of the titular dim-witted teens as they interact with various historical figures, is perhaps most notable today for launching the headlining career of star Keanu Reeves, but at the time, its out-of-the-blue success at the turnstile ($40 million against a $10 mil budget) led to the two "Wyld Stallyns" (air guitar) manifesting across the space-time continuum of merchandising and tie-ins. Let's take a brief trip through time as we look back at Bill & Ted's excellent franchise.

First up, animation house Hanna-Barbera spun the premise of the film into Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventures, a Saturday morning cartoon that aired on CBS in fall of 1990. The biggest coup of this show was that they managed to rope in movie actors Reeves (Ted), Alex Winter (Bill), and the late, great George Carlin (mentor from the future, Rufus) to reprise their roles via voiceover. The premise stuck pretty rigidly to the movie's format: the boys use their phone booth time machine to journey through time and meet various historical figures. Wash, rinse, repeat. Check out the intro:


This version of the show lasted for thirteen episodes on the eye network, during which time it coincided with a concerted multi-platform push by the time travellin' Stallyns. To wit, Bill & Ted's Excellent Cereal, produced in 1990/'91 by Ralston, now-defunct provider of sugary breakfast crap, to tie in with the Hanna-Barbera show:


And let's not forget Kenner's Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure action figure line, released in summer of 1991 in the lead-up to the second Bill & Ted feature, and which allowed kids to own their very own plasticized versions of Bill, Ted, murdered president Abraham Lincoln and, of course, noted genocidal tyrant Genghis Khan -- all of whom *ahem* jammed when you squeezed their legs.


Afterwards, and after the less-than-stellar reception for 1991's Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey, which cost more and made less, the animated series' second season was picked up by then-nascent Fox Kids for their Saturday morning lineup. Fox retooled the show, adjusting the premise so the teens travelled into TV shows, books, etc. instead of just through time, and handing it over to DiC (yep, them again). As you'd expect, the quality hit the floor. This version had no room in the budget for the film's stars, and apparently audiences had no room in their heart for it. It was gone after eight episodes.

(You can watch the entire series on Hulu, FYI.)

But that wasn't the end of Bill & Ted on TV. At the same time they picked up the animated show, Fox also had a live action show in the works, also titled Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventures. Naturally none of the movies stars turned up for this thing, and the leads were occupied by actors Christopher Kennedy and Evan Richards (who also voiced the duo in the Fox toon version). Developed before the sequel took things in a wholly different direction, this show also stuck to the "time travel of the week" format, but it was held for airing until after the second film's summer '91 release. In the end, they burned off its seven episodes during the summer of '92:


The end of the TV show marked the end of the Wyld Stallyns' brief reign of error atop the pop culture landscape (there was even a requisite Marvel Comic series that came and went shortly after the second flick). While that was two decades ago, fandom has remained strong for the property, largely on the strength of the fun first film. There's even whisperings of a third movie in the works, with the original Bill & Ted, Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves, attached to reprise their characters two decades on. I don't know if that'll end up actually happening, but even if it doesn't, we'll still be able to look back at the time when Bill & Ted were a most excellent franchise. Party on, dudes!

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