I forgot the pilot was a two-parter. Way to start me out with a challenge, Wishbone.
Just a note – I tried writing this as a straight summary, but it got kind of confusing switching back and forth between the real life and book recreation, so I decided to just split the summaries in two. It turns out summarizing the actual literature portion is a bit dry — shocker. Do elementary school teachers just want to light book reports on fire? I thought I would try and keep book summarizing to a minimum, and focus on the strengths and weaknesses of the reenactment instead.
Here we go:
What’s going on in Oakdale:
Okay, so we begin the episode with Wishbone introducing us to his life. He lives in Oakdale, in a house with his “people,” Ellen Talbot, and her son Joe Talbot. Wishbone also has a big red chair that he hangs out on, and clues us in that while we, the audience, can hear him talk, his “people” cannot. That would be a really different kind of show, I’m guessing. There would probably be a lot more crime solving, or something. Actually, knowing what a shithole Joe is, the pilot would probably be Joe figuring out how to monetize his talking dog instead of discussing literature or becoming a crime fighting duo.
Ellen is typing away on her giant brick of a nineties’ era computer, when Joe comes in, asking what Ellen is up to and invading her personal space. She’s writing a speech for the neighborhood picnic. Are neighborhood picnics a common thing? My childhood neighborhood never felt that organized. Or friendly. We just had a neighborhood witch that turned out to just be a hyper conservative old lady who hated gay people and handed out bible tracts at Halloween.
Anyhow, Joe is moping about his middle class ennui, and Ellen, instead of telling him to fuck off and check his privilege, figures out that he is craving adventure. As he’s whining, he’s spinning a book in his hands (probably because he is illiterate and doesn’t know that books are for reading), which he casually leaves behind on the couch because he’s a spoiled slob who thinks putting things away is a job for his mom. Wishbone takes a gander at it, and what do you know? It’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain. Wishbone notes how the book is about a boy who doesn’t have to look very far to find adventure. Wishbone should have said this in a more caustic tone, but he’s too cheerful and conditioned to like Joe to see his obvious flaws. I imagine even Checkers liked Nixon, after all.
Joe’s cool friend Sam shows up at this point asking if Joe can hang out. Though I may change my mind now that I’m re-watching these episodes with a more critical eye, Sam was always my favorite character– she’s smart, sporty, and way more thoughtful than the rest of the cast. She was also way more attentive to Wishbone, so I thought she should have been Wishbone’s owner. Her main problem is that she thinks Joe is worth hanging around. Sam, Joe, and Wishbone head off to fetch their friend David, but not before encountering Joe’s kooky neighbor Wanda.
I always thought Wanda was a real buzz kill. Maybe it was the fact that she had her own theme music that brainwashed you into thinking she’s annoying. Mostly she just comes on way too strong. She’s one of those people that you can’t really describe as anything other than “just too much.” Additionally, she does tend to blow things out of proportion — typically about things related to Wishbone behaving like a dog. For example, Wanda acts like finding a squeaky toy Wishbone buried in her backyard is tantamount to having her house robbed and ransacked by a desperate drug addict looking for anything worth selling.
Next we’re introduced to David, who is pegged as the geeky, techy, science nerdy friend. I pegged him as the friend who needed to get off his high horse and stop being so condescending because he’s like eleven years old, not a god damn rocket scientist.
Joe decides he wants to go to the “No Name Grave,” which is a part of the park that the gang has never been to and is rumored to have a ghost that is horrifying to look at and can suck people into the grave. Frankly, my guess is that the “No Name Grave” is where the older kids go to drink cheap beer and experiment with what my high school sex-ed course dubbed “heavy petting.” Which is way more horrifying than a disfigured ghost, I say.
The gang heads out to find the grave, and there’s a very exciting sequence in which they swing across a ravine/stream/river. I’ve got to say, I hate Joe even more for complaining about being bored because this park is INCREDIBLE. It’s vast, lush, and beautiful. Basically, it serves as a cruel reminder that it is February, a month in which I forget what warm feels like and what green looks like.
They find the grave, only to discover that someone has been digging there. Rather lazily, I might add. They’ve maybe moved three inches of dirt before taking off. Were they using a mop?
Joe wants to wait for whoever it is, David and Sam want to leave, and Wishbone wants to eat the lunch the no name-digger has left behind. Personally, I’m with Wishbone. Free lunch trumps adventure any day.
It takes Joe all of three seconds to convince Sam and David to hide in wait. What kind of dark magic does this jackass have over his friends? Is he blackmailing them? Does the key to his power lie underneath all of that t-shirt fabric? Anyway, hiding shouldn’t be too difficult, given how thick the forest is and how easy those trees look to climb.
The digger returns. Wishbone, being adorably curious, crawls towards the digger, alleging that he wants a closer look, but more likely he just wanted the sandwich. The digger hits whatever is buried after literally one shovel full of dirt. Man, I bet that guy is glad he took a break to prep himself for that strenuous task. He definitely needed to put on gloves to make sure he didn’t get any blisters. He sees Wishbone, and tells him to get away, gesturing at him threateningly with his shovel.
Joe, in a move that both slightly redeems him and yet still highlights his suckitude, leaps out and says “Hey, don’t hurt my dog!” I applaud him for defending his dog, I do. But really, what kind of moron thinks “Hey, I’m just going to assume that my dog KNOWS we’re hiding, and not bother to tell him to sit, stay, or any of that nonsense. Training be damned. He’ll just intuit the game plan.” Show just an ounce of forethought, Joe.
“To be continued…” flashes across the screen.
What’s going on in St. Petersburg, Missouri:
A quick summary: For those of you who have not read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, it is a pretty prime piece of Americana. Wishbone primarily tackles two of Tom’s Adventures. First, Tom and his vagabond friend Huckleberry Finn decide to pretend to be pirates, and run away to a small river island, only to eventually figure out that everyone thinks they’re dead. They end up attending their own funerals, and everyone is psyched that they’re alive.
Next, Huck and Tom go to the graveyard to get rid of Huck’s warts. There, they witness the murder of Dr. Robinson by Crazy Joe – though Crazy Joe convinces Muff Potter that he, in fact, is the murderer. Tom and Huck swear never to tell a soul what they’ve seen, only to feel rather guilty at Muff Potter’s trial. Tom tells the truth on the witness stand, and Crazy Joe leaps out the window.
— Wishbone’s adorable costume, obviously.
— Holy shit. That dog is well trained.
— While Tom Sawyer clearly can’t be fully summarized in ten minutes (or twenty, given that this is a two-parter), it is actually a fairly good book to tell in such an abridged fashion, as the adventures do stand-alone pretty nicely. For example, in the book the murder actually occurs before Huck and Finn run away to the island. Not sure why the writers swapped the order, but it doesn’t seem to break the pace. Additionally, another friend named Joe Harper joined them on the island, but to be fair, he’s not particularly interesting and is easily edited out. You’ve got to abridge somewhere!
— The beauty of these reenactments is that they give you a taste of the story, but still leave enough out to encourage you to actually read the book. Yay literacy!
— The Wishbone writers decide not to tackle the issue of race by renaming “Injun Joe” “Crazy Joe.” Dammit Wishbone writers, children are going to have to learn about the fact that America comes with an intensely racist backstory that has shaped our nation into the slightly less racist present. Let’s discuss it, not ignore it!
To be fair, even PBS probably would have yanked a show that tried to have a dog discussing race relations, but wouldn’t it have been amazing to see them try it? “While Tom Sawyer had his own adventures, the real adventure was Mark Twain’s examination of the morals of the society in which he lived. Um, woof!”
Well, that’s it for my first real entry. Will Joe manage to defend Wishbone from a full grown man with a shovel? Will Tom Sawyer be hunted down by Crazy Joe? Tune in next week for A Tail in Twain (Part Two)!