Nickelodeon had so many beloved sitcoms in the 90’s, both animated and live action. But today I offer a salute to a very unique show- one that, despite its size, left big memories in many of us. Remember that short where the kid was tempted to eat his friend’s triple decker sandwich? If so, hit the jump and take a turn back in time complete with Episode Guide.
“As Our School Bus Turns” was a series of 4 shorts that aired between Nick’s regular programming. The shorts looked at life from a kid’s point of view in a melodramatic soap opera style, all within the confines of school bus. These shorts have recently been playing on the Splat and were uploaded onto the Splat’s YouTube channel, so they are making something of a resurgence.
I have been working on this article for a while, but was really inspired to push ahead with it by our reader EmpathyLouis, who wrote in asking about the “Sandwich” short. Thanks, Louis! Again, there’s not much info on this series or who was behind it, so I’m just collecting thoughts and data here for the curious.
Four episodes, each at about two minutes long, doesn’t give a show much time to establish character. But happily, some memorable characters and moments did emerge from the shorts.
Why did this series seem to stick with people so much? I think the brilliance of the concept was that like the over-the-top nature of soap operas, kids tend to take small things very seriously: eating a perfect sandwich, finally working up the nerve to say hi to your crush, having the perfect birthday party. This is especially true of Middle School kids, which is the age group these characters seemed to be in.
I always hoped there were more shorts in the series, or that Nick would expand it. But in researching this article, I came across a post from a poster called “System” on Retrojunk.com and an IMDB search confirmed it. “As Our School Bus Turns” actually got a pilot to go to series in 1998 called “Bus No. 9”! I would love to see this pilot now, and I am fascinated to think of what this show would have been like as a full-length series. These shorts were very tight, which of course was a necessity given their function to fill time between shows and ads. But it also allowed for a certain unusual pacing, that parodied the emotional highs and lows of soap operas. Would this pacing and rhythm have been lost in a full 30 minute series? Would the series have had to expand to include seeing the kids at school? The questions, for anyone who ever wanted another serving of “As Our School Bus Turns” are endless.
Another thing I really love about these shorts is that while the kids are indeed good actors and very funny, they don’t seem overly polished and ‘schtick-y” like a lot of child actors you see on Disney shows, or even network stuff. They’re very natural. I hope that like on “Pete and Pete,” the series would have allowed them to keep their performances natural and allowed the absurdity to come from the situations they were in. Their reactions would have to be honest, but still true to the soap opera twist of taking mundane things in a deadly serious way: “YOU ATE MY SANDWICH?”
“New Kid”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gqVAumup8x8
Fenris is introduced, and meets the school bully, Felix. He scares him off.
“Jessica and Cosmo” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CQesZv-yOfY&t=3s
Jessica tries to say hi to her crush, Cosmo. She eventually decides that today’s not the right day for it.
“Birthday Party” http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x35thbr
Jessica angsts over her upcoming birthday party, worrying it might be too babyish. Her friend Delia tries to console her.
The most sought-after short (as far as I know) where Fenris’s friend unveils the ultimate sandwich, the “Clogger”: a triple decker baloney and potato chip sandwich. Fenris is left alone with the sandwich and tries to resist the temptation to eat it. This short can be viewed on the Nick Creative Lab Comp Reel at the Paley Center: https://www.paleycenter.org/collection/item/?q=soap+opera&item=T:57108
“Bus No. 9”: Still looking for the pilot, but here is the IMDB page: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0266377/combined
And a promo: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7bb6b561aig
The pilot seems to have vanished into the ether, but remember: if we can find “Cry Baby Lane”, if we can find “Crack Master”, we can find this!
Fenris, in my opinion, was the breakout character here and besides Jessica (more on her later) was the closest thing we got to a real protagonist. This is fairly unusual for a “little nerd” character on a 90’s kids’ show- or most shows, for that matter. He is hands down my favorite character thanks to his cheerful nature and rambling asides. I love his delight at the visualization of his name- a gigantic wolf working on a nice little chair.
Jessica could have been developed a bit more beyond her crush and wanting to seem older. These are pretty typical traits for a girl her age, but you see them so much on television that they are now clichés. We don’t have much of a sense of her other interests, but that’s not the fault of the actor, more of the format.
Delia, Jessica’s friend, reminds me of a young Kimmy Robertson (Lucy on “Twin Peaks”) in both how she looks and sounds. I’d have liked to see her getting a plotline of her own. Based on the way she seems desperate to support Jessica in all things (“You go, girl….don’t go, girl.”) perhaps she’d struggle with making other friends or confronting a crush of her own. Does she feel like she’s always the sidekick and never the hero?
Felix : I love the way this character was handled. Bullying is a controversial issue nowadays, and I don’t actually think Fenris’s method of getting rid of him would work, but it was a wonderfully handled twist- and in a way, when Fenris negatively compares his ‘new’ bully to his old one, Benson Rigby, and Felix seems upset, it plays on the idea that people bully others in order to feel better about themselves. Felix is pretty much your “Calvin and Hobbes” brand Big Dumb Bully ™, but it’s interesting to see just how much Fenris’s rambling got to him. Felix seems to be the kid mooning everyone out the back window at the end of each short.
THE (CONFIRMED) CAST: I really, really wish Nick had found some way to actually credit the kids who acted in their short segments. The adults and the crew deserve credit too, but to leave the kids anonymous seems especially unfair, considering all the fond memories we have of their performances.
Jessica DiCicco, who played Jessica, has remained part of the Nickelodeon family as a voice actor. She currently plays Lynn and Lucy on “The Loud House”, and has appeared on “DC Superhero Girls” as Star Sapphire and Lashina. She worked with Disney as Maggie in “The Buzz on Maggie” and Tambry and the evil GIFanny on “Gravity Falls,” and for Cartoon Network as Flame Princess in “Adventure Time”. Her dad Bobby is also an actor and appeared in movies as diverse as “Splash” and “The Philadelphia Experiment.”
Julianne Michelle, who played Delia, already had a lead voice acting role in 1996 as Dot (Dorothy Gale’s daughter) on ‘The Oz Kids.” She starred as Shannon in the 2009 film “Shannon’s Rainbow” and appeared as “Club Party Girl” in “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps.”
Peter Anthony Tambakis is listed on IMDB as playing a character named “Tuck” but I have a suspicion based on his picture that this may in fact be the one and only Fenris, under another name! Why the change, when we already knew this character under a different name? Peter had already appeared in the Mel Gibson movie “Ransom” in 1996 as Nelson, and went on to appear in “The Sixth Sense” as Darren, as 13 Year Old Oliver in “Igby Goes Down” as and as Young Nerf in “A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints.”
Keith Franklin, whose character name is not even listed on the page for “Bus No. 9”, has only one other credit on IMDB, as “Train Engineer” in a film called “Lunch with Charles”. Mr. Franklin, if you see this, please help us solve the mystery of what character you played in “Bus No. 9.”
As for the confirmed crew, the director of the pilot, Mark Tiedemann, has something interesting on his IMDB page. His first directing job is credited as “Spunk: The Tonya Harding Story” in 1993, but he’s also credited as an actor for 1993, playing “Child” in the short film “Black Rider.” Is Mr. Tiedemann an exceptionally young director (he would have been, even in 1998 if he were playing a child in 1993!) or is there a mixup between two different people on IMDB with a common name?
Youtube user Taylor Allen identifies himself as the kid gawking at the shoes in the “New Kid” short at 1:42. I reached out to him for this article.
The writer, Rick Groel, wrote a well-remembered episode of “Pete and Pete,” “Rangeboy.” He also wrote two episodes of “KaBlam” and quite a few installments of “Romeo” “Ned’s Declassified” and “Breadwinners” for Nickelodeon, and for “WordGirl” and the infamous “Johnny Test”. It is unknown if the writer or director had any involvement with the original shorts, but based on Rick’s involvement with Pete and Pete, I’d say it’s likely he contributed some material.
I wonder who else on the bus would have been developed into a character- or if we’d have seen a new array of kids. I hope to find the pilot one day and report back to you on this. Personally, I’m holding out hope for the one kid who comes in at the wrong time for the last scream in “Birthday Party” and runs down the aisle screaming alone. That kid still cracks me up.
Let’s hope “Bus No. 9” will be found someday. Thank you “As Our School Bus Turns”- like “Troll 2,” you are living proof one sandwich can make a world of difference.