I was introduced to Bill & Ted early in life, but not through the films. In fact, I didn’t realize Bill & Ted was originally a movie for years.
You see, I learned about the goofy time-traveling duo through an early ‘90s animated spinoff called Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventures. In terms of memorability, I would say this cartoon falls into the “Was That A Real Show?” category. It's one of those shows that was so bizarre and so brief in its run that it only registered as a blip in the memories of your average ‘80s and ‘90s kids. We might have hazy memories of it, but they’re so vague we wonder if we just hallucinated the show’s existence. But if you have even a hint of recollection of this cartoon, I’m here to tell you that you didn't dream it — Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventures was a real Saturday morning cartoon.
Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventures premiered on CBS in 1990, just one year after the first film’s release and before Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey. I was around three or four-years-old at the time — too young to see the films, but old enough to follow my eight-year-old brother’s lead and watch the cartoon on Saturday morning. For obvious reasons, the show isn't streaming anywhere now, but some kind soul has uploaded a few episodes to DailyMotion for your viewing pleasure.
Season One was pretty awesome by default just because the three original film actors — Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter, and George Carlin — all voiced their animated counterparts. It also had a kick-ass theme song which is definitely a bop. I warn you, it’s also an earworm.
Each episode’s structure is admittedly formulaic. Bill and Ted encounter a real-life problem that prompts Rufus to show up with the time-traveling phone booth. Then, Bill and Ted have to take a few trips through history to solve their dilemma.
They usually encounter quite a few historical figures over the episode — all of whom speak perfect English regardless of their country or culture. Unlike in the films, where language was a legitimate issue in some cases, there are no language barriers in the cartoon. (I admit this is a nuance that’s hard to develop in a 30-minute kids’ cartoon so, I’m going to let it go.)
Is the cartoon cheesy and goofy? Yes. Do historical figures speak in ‘80s and ‘90s vernacular and exhibit far too much knowledge of future pop culture? Yes, to an eye-rolling degree. But it is entertaining and fun to watch? I’m going to say yes, it is.
If you can get past the show’s corniness and general silliness, it’s actually an enjoyable watch — if for no other reason than it’s great to hear the original actors as their animated characters.
There’s even a touch of meta-humor, too.
The show is also in keeping with the spirit of the film. Bill and Ted still have their warm, genuine friendship (and extensive vocabularies), which made us love them in the movie. The cartoon doesn’t diminish the duo’s bond — there aren’t any episodes where the two have a stupid fight and temporarily stop being friends. In one episode, Bill and Ted get discouraged with their lack of musical success and decide to break up the band, but it’s not the end of their friendship. The Wyld Stallyns can go away, but Bill and Ted are forever.
The cartoon is definitely ridiculous, but then again, so was Bill & Ted the movie. And Season 1 performed well enough to get a Season 2.
And it was all downhill from there.
I really enjoyed Season 1 of Bill & Ted, but Season 2 wasn’t nearly as much fun. Season 1 was produced by Hanna-Barbera and aired on CBS, but Season 2 was produced by DIC and aired on Fox.
As you can see, it's safe to say that the animation quality definitely took a turn for the worst.
Also, an entirely new cast of voice actors meant no more Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter, or George Carlin. Part of Season 1 charm was the original actors reprising their roles in cartoon form — the new voice actors just added to Season 2's downgrade in quality.
Season 1 had a basic formula for each episode, but it worked well for the show’s format. Season 2 still had the same setup of Bill and Ted using their phone booth to solve their real-world problems, but the writers decided to get more “creative.” Instead of strictly being for time-travel only, the phone booth can now travel into TV shows, video games, books, and even shrink people down to go inside the human body. It felt like the writers were desperate for the show to seem more "cool" and threw the kitchen sink at it.
However, the time-traveling phone booth as a plot device works better when it has limitations. Before, Bill and Ted may have had a time machine, but they had to figure the rest out on their own. Giving the phone booth infinite possibilities gave Bill and Ted too much power, which takes away from their relatable everymen status.
And to add insult to injury, Season 1’s catchy opening song was replaced with a decidedly less awesome and completely forgettable new theme.
The new season was not a hit with viewers, and Bill & Ted was soon canceled. Season 2 only aired eight episodes versus season one’s thirteen.
My verdict? Season 1 of Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventures is definitely worth looking at — especially if you’re a fan of the films and the original actors. It’s a fun watch, and it’s enjoyable to hear beloved performers Keanu Reeves and George Carlin as cartoon characters (As always, Alex Winter is great too.). Just be prepared for a lot of ridiculousness. But then again, isn’t that what the movies essentially were? Season 2 is easily skippable. It just feels like you’re getting a totally bogus imitation of the real Bill and Ted — not excellent at all, man.
Rewind is an Inverse series that remembers the forgotten performances we love.