In the early ‘90s, Nickelodeon was king of kid’s sitcoms, and perhaps the most fondly remembered of all those series is The Adventures of Pete & Pete. An inspired series about ordinary suburban kids living in an abnormal reality, it was often eerie and bizarre but only rarely went directly for scares.
The season 3 episode, “The Allnighter” (November, 1996) aired a little late for the Halloween season, but was clearly meant to be one of the show’s spookier offerings. While it may not have been one of the best episodes of the series, or maybe even one of the scariest, it seemed appropriate for 30 Days of Halloween.
Feel free to watch it along with us!
MARK: You mentioned in the review for “Perils of Punky” that you didn’t have Nickelodeon as a kid, so all these early 90s children’s sitcoms were off-limits to you. The Adventures of Pete & Pete is often considered the best of the Nick sitcoms from the 90s.
NICK: Yep–and now I must admit, part of me appreciates my mom’s overly strict rules.
MARK: Didn’t quite do it for you now that you’re in the throes of adulthood, I take it?
NICK: Yeah–I think some of it could be that I’m an educator, too. Although the part about the kids taking over the kiln in the art room did make me laugh. And I think we all had a friend like Wayne.
MARK: Pete & Pete, as a series, takes a little bit of context, I think. It’s a very surreal show, but done in a very specific way. It operates on “kid” logic, in that it tries to see how the universe would work if the way kids explained things were fact.
Like, when you were a child, you would make up explanations in your head to figure out something you weren’t quite old enough to understand. It made perfect “logic” to you when you were six, but looking back it was utterly crazy.
MARK: Pete & Pete presented things through that sort of prism, which is why I think it worked so well for kids at the time and appeals to the nostalgic adults now ‘n days (well, at least to some extent).
NICK: The music was SUBSTANTIALLY better than what we heard in the Punky Brewster episode and the “life lesson” was a lot better.
MARK: Yeah, I think it was a band called The Polaris who did the tunes for Pete & Pete; they were of a higher caliber than most kid’s shows of the era warranted.
Pete & Pete was a weird show, but it didn’t get spooky too often. “The Allnighter” is one of the show’s more intentional attempts at being “scary”. It’s not “Perils of Punky”, but it has a charm all its own, I think.
NICK: Gotta admit, the scariest part to me was hearing Adam West threaten to gut a kid like a fish.
MARK: Yeah, Adam West as Principal Shwinger. Nickelodeon threw some weight around back in those days and their shows would randomly get some higher tier guest stars. Gilbert Gottfried popped up in damn near everything they made back then.
NICK: If you want some real scares, go find video of Gilbert Gottfried back in his SNL days speaking like a normal person.
MARK: His Jerry Seinfeld impression is damn near flawless. But moving on…
The plot of “The Allnighter” sees Little Pete and his friends, Nona and Wayne, locked in overnight at their school. It’s all fun and games at first, but soon they discover that they aren’t alone. To their horror, a knife-wielding madman named the Nightguard is in the school with them, threatening both their carefree goodtime and their lives.
NICK: I think I would have liked Pete & Pete if I watched it as a kid. But without the shiny veneer of nostalgia, I turned into my dad and constantly rolled my eyes as it played.
MARK: In that respect, it’s hard for me to form an unbiased opinion of the show. It hits all the right buttons for me, but that’s because I grew up with it. But heck, I don’t think I’d ever be able to stomach an episode of Punky Brewster if it didn’t have man-eating spiders and severed heads, so I see where you’re coming from.
“The Allnighter” wasn’t as over-the-top freaky as “The Perils of Punky”, surely, but looking at it I think they did a decent job of building dread and eeriness for something aimed at elementary schoolers. The imaginary backstory of the Nightguard is described in as gruesome a way as possible, with Wayne insisting that he chops up kids, skins them to make clothing and eats their flesh. Graphic, considering the demographic.
NICK: Dude was basically Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs (in the legend, anyway). And I liked how heroic the kids (Little Pete and Nona) were. They actually went back to get Wayne after he abandoned them. I would have left his ass for dead.
MARK: That makes two of us. Wayne was the fat little spaz stereotype of the series and rendered the butt of most jokes. I don’t think anyone really liked him, but you weren’t supposed to. And yeah, we all knew a kid or two like that, I think.
Big Pete doesn’t play much of a role in this episode, but since you aren’t familiar, he was always used as the narrator for each story. In this episode, though, because it was spooky themed and made in the early 90s, they went for a straight up Robert Stack from Unsolved Mysteries impression with him. At least in the way his narrative segments were framed.
NICK: I liked that part, actually.
MARK: Big Pete typically provided exposition as the narrator, but never in a way that eliminated the surreal aspect of the series. He usually explained the insanity of a plot device, but in a very matter of fact sort of way.
NICK: As a teacher, I myself have caught students messing around with a skeleton from science class (Girl was twerking with it in the courtyard). So that was pretty believable.
NICK: I like how the parents were totally cool with them spending the night somewhere in a school night. Gotta love 80’s and 90’s show parental neglect.
MARK: Perhaps the least believable part of the episode. No one I knew was EVER as latchkey as the kids in media. Like, you’re 11 year-old just waltzes out the door at 5pm on a Tuesday and yells out, “I’ll see ya later, mom!” and there’s no question about it.
NICK: It makes everything possible–from this to stuff like Stranger Things.
MARK: But if kids on TV were as forced to stay at home and abide curfews as the kids in reality, nothing would ever be fun to watch.
NICK: I also like how the janitor kept their secret for them. That couldn’t possibly foreshadow anything weird down the road.
MARK: Yeah, so the Nightguard turns out to be the friendly janitor and his big scary knife is just the trowel he uses in his garden on the roof. It’s a saccharine ending, but this is Nickelodeon we’re talking about.
NICK: The implied decapitation was a bit brutal, especially with the accompanying sound effect.
MARK: It’s kind of weird, since this was the spooky episode but it offered a realistically logical explanation for a ludicrous situation, which was abnormal for Pete & Pete. Like, there’s another episode where a family bowling ball has a mind of its own and can move around of its own volition. Or one where a traffic light is alive and deliberately messes with a bus driver just to ruin his weekend. So for THIS episode to offer a reasonable explanation for something weird is almost out of character on the show’s part.
All that being said, I think my favorite moment in the episode wasn’t even a “scary” part. It was when they let Nona into the Boy’s Room and she sees a urinal for the first time. Little Pete and Wayne proceed to trick her into thinking that the urinal is a foot wash, complete with a cake of “soap” at the bottom.
NICK: LOL yeah that was good stuff. Urinal cakes can smell good, though.
MARK: Now for a confession: The truth is that “The Allnighter” isn’t the nostalgic 90s Nickelodeon sitcom episode I originally WANTED to make you watch for this review.
MARK: I wanted to show you an episode of Salute Your Shorts called “Zeke the Plumber”, but the damn thing isn’t on You Tube. Eh, it probably wouldn’t have held up any better than this, anyway. (Editor: I found it, though. Feel free to watch along, kids. And let Mark and Nick know what you think, of course. E-mails and home phone calls accepted.)
NICK: I’ve seen that actually. It was pretty messed up.
MARK: That’s how I remember it
NICK: Now that you helped me understand the ‘kid logic’ aspect of the show, it looks better in retrospect.
MARK: There are some really out there plots that are inspired for any series, I think. Like one about a payphone that’s been ringing for over 10 years and everyone in town is afraid to answer it. The whole town builds up this mythology about the ringing payphone. Like, one person believes that if you answer it, a voice on the other end will tell you the date and time of your own death.
NICK: See, that to me sounds infinitely more terrifying.
MARK: So everyone’s afraid to pick it up. Little Pete, in an act of bravado, announces to the town that he’s going to answer the phone. And so the whole town shows up to watch him pick up the phone, and he’s scared shitless because he’s psyched himself out. He finally picks it up and, if I’m remembering this right…
THE SHOCKING RESOLUTION TO THIS 22 YEAR-OLD EPISODE OF PETE & PETE HAS BEEN PURGED FROM THE CONVERSATION FOR YOUR BENEFIT. I mean, the episode is on YouTube; you can go watch it.
NICK: Good lord, that’s tragic and poignant. And infinitely better than that episode you had me watch. :b
MARK: A sweet ending to an episode that had built itself up on being really creepy, but it’s the same kinda bait and switch that “The Allnighter” had with the Nightguard. From a Psychology 101 for Kids standpoint, I think it’s meant to show them that things aren’t as scary as they seem. Often people will build something up in their minds that’s way worse than the reality.
Well, that about wraps up The Adventures of Pete & Pete, “Allnighter”. Like a lot of nostalgic stuff, it’s a “Maybe you had to be there” situation, but I think it was pretty innovative regardless of the generation. All that being said, we’re going to leave behind the “scary episodes of not-scary shows” theme and try out some GENUINE horror. Nick chooses and it seems he’s going with a Twilight Zone episode written by Stephen King. I’m psyched.
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