Retro Recaps: The Adventures of Pete and Pete ( Season 1, Episode 5) – Tool and Die
In going over several episodes of Nickelodeon’s The Adventures of Pete & Pete, I was soon enamored with how entertaining a lot of them could be. Sure, some dealt with stories that defied logic, but oftentimes, there was something tangible to keep many of the stories, grounded.
While some of the Pete’s adventures outside of the school would be some of their more entertaining episodes, there were a few entertaining nuggets within the youthful prison known as “public school.”
Only a few school episodes made their way into the 8-episode first season, and one of them, I felt would be good for a recap.
As the episode begins, (big) Pete quickly relates to us how he is largely against the use of power tools…mainly for the fact that they can easily mutilate you.
However, he soon has to come face-to-face with this fear, when he receives his latest school schedule in the mail, with one word that he dreads the most: Shop.
Several of Pete’s friends have also made it into the class. Out of all of them, Ellen is the only one eager to get her hands dirty. Pete meanwhile, has just one goal in mind: to blend into the class, and get out of it with a ‘C’ (and with all of his appendages intact).
Of course, some schools have kids that never seem to go beyond a certain grade level, and this class has one of them, in the form of “Endless Mike” Hellstrom, a Shop Class “lifer.”
Mike’s taken shop enough times, that he knows the ins-and outs of the class. As well, he hints that if the instructor likes what you’re doing, he may assign you to work on his “special project.”
The class’ instructor, Mr Slurm, is definitely a notable presence, for the fact that he is missing his left hand, and has replaced it with a metal claw (that also has multiple attachments). Just like what his special project could be, most of the kids speculate on how Slurm lost his hand…well, all of the kids, except for Pete.
The class also becomes a lucrative business opportunity for (little) Pete, who shows up after the first class, to sell insurance to those who value their lives (“Our motto is: ‘When you least expect it…expect it!'”).
(big) Pete tries to slack off on paying attention during class, but is called out by Slurm during a discussion about different kinds of wood, meaning he may need to rethink his plans to coast through the class.
He attempts to find some sympathy in Ellen, but she soon abandons Pete, growing ever more fascinated with crafting an interesting project using metals and wood.
When it comes time for MidTerm projects, Pete takes the easiest route possible: taking a piece of wood, sticking a nail in it, and topping it off with a candle.
“It’s Danish-modern,” he insists to his friends.
While Slurm goes from person-to-person dispensing grades, he stops at Pete’s project, declaring it to have “real poetry,” and calls for the rest of the class to see what he’s done.
Slurm then surprises Pete and the rest of the class, when he tells that Pete will also be helping out on his, “special project.”
As Pete is put to work on it, he is only given cryptic instructions on what to do (usually aided by Endless Mike). All his efforts result in little information, with the work he’s done, padlocked in a green metal cabinet.
The more he works on the project, the more convinced Pete is that he’s working on something dangerous. Ellen suggests that he ask Mike about it, but Hellstrom refuses to divulge anything.
One day, thanks to some of his friends and (little) Pete, (big) Pete manages to have both Slurm and Mike distracted, giving him a little time to take a look at the blueprints for the project. However, before he can fully make sense of them, Slurm returns, and informs Pete that his work on the project is now finished.
Even so, concern eats away at Pete’s mind. Breaking into school after hours before the final day of class, he attempts to look for proof, but is caught by Slurm, and taken to his office.
Pete demands to know what he has been an accessory to, and that is when Slurm reveals the secret: Pete was helping to build an air conditioner, for Slurm’s office (with three settings!).
Scrabbling for something to say about this secret project being little more than a way to cool off the office he’s in, Pete blurts out, “But, that’s not fair!”
“Fair?” asks Slurm, the jovial sound of his voice becoming serious. “You have no idea what ‘fair’ is, Mister Wrigley. What’s fair is when someone thinks it’s worthless to take Shop, and so he makes worthless things because he has no respect for the wood, or what he can do with it. What’s fair is for that worthless student, to get an ‘F!’
“Now, what’s not fair,” continues Slurm, holding up his metal claw, “is when something’s taken away from you at a very young age, before you have the chance to discover its power.”
Slurm then goes on to tell Pete that every year, he has a student just like him: they expect to do little work, and get out of the class with a ‘C.’
With the Final day of class just hours away, Slurm assures Pete that he’ll get his ‘C,’ but that there’s no need for him to come in, since he doesn’t want to be there.
“Besides,” mutters Slurm. “You couldn’t make a chopping block if you tried.”
This sends Pete to start retrieving some wood, telling Slurm that he will have something to show the next day. Slurm just lets him to it, and Pete gets to work (unsupervised, and even using the power tools).
The next day, Pete is there with his finished product: a spice rack.
Slurm tests Pete’s knowledge of certain techniques, and Pete responds appropriately. Slurm is also impressed with how Pete was able to get such a nicely-crafted product, by only using the power saw to cut the base. For his efforts, Slurm gives Pete a ‘B+.’
As Slurm walks away, Pete recaps his Shop Class journey, with a closing monologue:
“Okay, so maybe I didn’t exactly, ‘slay’ him, but at least I proved to him that I could do it. And I guess, that’s what Mr Slurm wanted me to learn, all along. He just had his own way of teaching me, and even though I still think that tools are loud, sharp, and can kill you, when make something you’re proud of…sometimes, it’s worth the risk.”
Unlike Pete, I wasn’t required to take Shop Class in high school. In my time in the mid-1990’s, it was a class you could choose to take.
However, in Middle School, it was one of three required courses we were to take, though randomly decided for you if you’d take it in in your 6th, 7th, or 8th grade year. We worked with wood, cut metal, though it was largely about precision, and following directions. In the end, even though I was interested in art, the three-dimensional aspect and use of power tools, made me not as eager to really learn, and like Pete, I pretty much treated the class as something I wanted to get out of quickly.
In some ways, my IT teacher does remind me a bit of Slurm. I recall him being a man serious about the craft, though not having a missing hand.
Though when it comes to Slurm on the episode, one would assume with a name like his, and his missing hand, the writers would have made him a more comically-dangerous Shop Class teacher…but instead, the writers and actor Jude Ciccolella, bring a surprising, emotional seriousness to this man.
One notable scene lasts just a few seconds. As Pete scans the bookshelf behind Slurm’s desk, it shows a button that says “I love Voc(ational)-Tech,” and a Birthday card from Slurm’s wife. It’s often not thought of by some students, that there is more to a teacher’s life, than what goes on for those hours during the school day, and maybe, Pete begins to understand a little more about Slurm.
While it doesn’t feel to me like Slurm is a die-hard Shop teacher, there is believability that he feels a seriousness to what he is teaching.
His speech to Pete regarding ‘what’s fair,’ is one of my favorite moments in the episode. So far, Pete’s really done nothing but exude a “I don’t want to be here” attitude over every aspect of the class, and in this private moment, Slurm gets to tell him, “you think you’re special? Well, you’re not… there have been students before that were just as hard-headed as you.”
Slurm is a teacher that obviously doesn’t hate Pete, but he is most likely disappointed that he is not applying himself. Of course, the comment when he pretty much seems to refer to Pete as a ‘worthless student’ would probably not fly in today’s day-and-age (it’d be viral on Twitter pretty quickly, and Slurm would be out on the streets). However, it provides motivation for Pete to prove that he can do something, and have some worth.
A notable bit is when Slurm gives Pete some praise for the work he put into his spice rack, giving him a small smile, before he goes back to a more serious expression.
The episode is also notable for the introduction of “Endless Mike” Hellstrom, who would become a thorn in Pete’s side as the seasons went on.
Another notable item, is that in this episode, (little) Pete largely takes a backseat to the events. His only appearance is in two scenes, largely dealing with him selling insurance to several of the Shop students. It’s a little humorous to see (little) Pete in a suit, but it won’t be the last time he dresses up.
What’s funny that I never noticed as a kid, was some minor continuity. When Slurm tells how one kid got his hair caught in a machine…and that hair pulled that kid into the machine to his death, one who takes notice is Teddy Forzman. If you watch Teddy for the rest of the episode, he’s wearing a hairnet, most likely very concerned based on Slurm’s speech.
Though in the end, it wouldn’t be the last time we’d see Mr Slurm. Some teachers end up working multiple roles in a school, and in Season 3, Slurm would return as (big) Pete’s Drivers Ed teacher…though played by a different actor, and used more for comedic than dramatic purposes this time. As well, that episode (titled Road Warrior) ret-conned a lot of what had been established between Pete and Slurm in this episode. Even the good will the character showed towards Ellen in Shop suffered from the new character direction, as well.