Last week, Nickelodeon announced that beginning this fall, they would start airing many of their most popular shows from the early- to mid-1990s, including All That, Clarissa Explains It All, and, my personal favorite, The Adventures of Pete and Pete, the ultimate nostalgic example of, “Nick’s not as good as it used to be.” There are so many things to like about Pete and Pete — the main cast, the odd plotlines that somehow made sense to all us kids, the music from Polaris — but the show’s most underrated aspect was its guest stars. Below are 10 of the most memorable.
Steve Buscemi Character: Phil Hickle Episode(s): “Apocalypse Pete,” “X=Why?” and “Space, Geeks, and Johnny Unitas”
Although he appeared in three episodes, Buscemi wasn’t a full-time cast member by any measure. But he did play an important role: Phil Hickle, Ellen’s father and Big Pete’s guidance counselor, and was featured prominently in one of the show’s best episodes, “Apocalypse Pete,” where Little Pete and Dad face off against as Phil in a neighborhood war that’s been brewing for years. After they catch him cheating in a station wagon vs. remote-controlled car race, Little Pete and Dad steal Phil’s cherished action figure and keep it hostage. The devilish fiend that he is, Phil blasts polka music through Mom’s metal plate until the figure is returned.
Ellen Cleghorne Character: Bus Driver Sally Episode(s): “Day of the Dead” and “Yellow Fever”
Cleghorne was a featured cast member on Saturday Night Live from 1991-1995, notably only the second African American female in the show’s history to do so. Before she became a joke for leaving SNL to star in her own show, Cleghorne! (which lasted all of 15 episodes on The WB), she appeared on Pete and Pete as the love interest of Bus Driver Stu. Their favorite song (at least until they broke up): “If You’re Happy and You Know It.”
Chris Elliot Character: Meter Man Ray Episode: “Sickday”
“Sickday” featured one of the more eclectic guest star groups in TV history. You’ve got LL Cool J as Little Pete’s Teacher, Bebe Neuwirth as a mail carrier, Sarah Shannon of Velocity Girl as a grocery clerk, and Chris Elliot as Meter Man Ray, who really loves his job. He helps Little Pete get a piece of cereal that resembles President Eisenhower unstuck from Pete’s nose, and according to Big Pete, he sees more than kilowatt hours, he sees the future, a future that includes Martin Van Buren and a nuclear bomb.
Because Pete and Pete aired in the 1990s and because it was hip, of course Garofalo appeared on the show (seriously, she was also on The Simpsons, The Ben Stiller Show, Mr. Show, Dr. Katz, Ellen, The Larry Sanders Show, The Chris Rock Show, Mad About You, Felicity, NewsRadio, Space Ghost: Coast to Coast, Seinfeld, and, of course, Saturday Night Live). She played the buttoned-up Ms. Brackett, one of the teachers who called out Ellen’s father, the aforementioned Steve Buscemi, because his daughter asked a teacher’s least favorite question: “Why do we have to learn all this stuff?” Also a one-time teacher in this episode: Gordon Gano, singer of the Violent Femmes.
Best known as a kidnap victim then member of the Symbionese Liberation Army, Hearst began her acting career with roles in two John Waters’ films, Cry-Baby and Serial Mom, then lent her voice to an episode of Fraiser. Two years later, she played Mrs. Krechmar, an extremely nice housewife who Little and Big Pete sell their house to when their parents leave them alone for the weekend.
David Johansen Character: Park Ranger Thorsen Episode: “On Golden Pete”
The same year as appearing in Mr. Nanny, the lead singer of both the New York Dolls and Buster Poindexter guest starred in Pete and Pete as a too-serious park ranger who had a thing out for the Wrigleys — until he figured out the reason why they’re camping in the middle of the woods. He’s also not a big fan of tattoos; in regards to Petunia, he asked Little Pete, “Do you have a license for that tattoo?”
Notable not because she’s a big star (or even a star at this point…) but because she appeared on Pete and Pete as a nurse who helped Little Pete recover from creamed corn poisoning at the same time as starring in a Nick show of her own: The Secret World of Alex Mack, which ran from 1994-1998 and provided many-a boy with their first celebrity crush. If you’re wondering like I was about what she’s doing now: mostly one-time roles in popular TV shows, like playing Ken’s fiancée in a recent episode of Mad Men. She didn’t morph into a silver puddle, though.
Iggy Pop Character: James Mecklenberg Episode(s): “Dance Fever,” “Farewell, My Little Viking,” “Halloweenie,” and “Road Warrior”
Pete and Pete has featured a dream lineup of rock stars, with none more impressive than James Newell Osterberg, Jr., a.k.a. Iggy Pop, who appeared in five episodes of the show as James Mecklenberg, the father of Little Pete’s best friend Nona, played by Michelle Trachtenberg. Although he never busted out into “Your Pretty Face is Going to Hell,” he did sing a tender ballad called “Dance with Me” to his daughter at a school dance.
Michael Stipe Character: Captain Scrummy Episode: “What We Did On our Summer Vacation”
Long before I learned to love R.E.M., I knew the band’s frontman as Captain Scrummy, the RC Cola to Mr. Tastee’s Pepsi. The Petes and Ellen feel they scared away the purveyor of ice cream to the kids of Wellsville, and do their best to bring him back. While spending a day at the beach, Big Pete meets Stipe’s Captain Scrummy, who only sells Sludgesicles and tells him that the job of an ice cream man is to sell ice cream, not be your friend. To this day, I haven’t learned to fully trust anyone who hawks ice cream. Kate Pierson from the B52s appears in “Summer Vacation,” too.
Adam West Character: Principal Swinger Episode(s): “Last Laugh” and “Allnighter”
My favorite episode of Pete and Pete is “Allnighter,” where Little Pete, Monica, and Wayne are trapped in their middle school over night. The three are sent to the office of Principal Ken Swinger (West), who keeps a sign above his desk that reads, “Rules Set You Free,” because Wayne impersonated a hall monitor, Monica got stuck on a rope in gym class, and Pete saved some soon-to-be dissected worms. West, usually the daffy good guy, plays against type and becomes an arch-nemesis for the students of his school (a forgetful one, too; he leaves them in his office…all alone).
Josh Kurp believes Michelle Trachtenberg will always be underrated.
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