The 1994 indie classic Clerks of the writer and director Kevin Smith is a simple movie. A really cool haunt movie, it focuses on Dante (Brian O’Halloran) and Randall (Jeff Anderson), two Gen Xers in their twenties on a typical retail work day. The film doesn’t use a standard three-act structure because it doesn’t need to. Instead, it’s broken up into smaller chapters and only wraps up at the end. The film’s simplicity isn’t a bad thing; that’s what makes it magical and why it still resonates nearly three decades later.
After the original film screened in New York, he was noticed by the producer Bob Hawk, which ultimately led to the film being purchased and distributed by then-Disney subsidiary Miramax. At the time, Miramax was the company that distributed and financed many classic independent films, and since it was owned by Disney, that of course meant that they wanted to consider these films and directors as franchise starters.
The powers that are supposed since Clerks has such a universal and fundamental premise that it was ideal for a television adaptation. They were absolutely right, because Clerks is a landmark of American pop culture, and the original film was even listed on the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry in 2019 for its cultural significance. The movie spawned an entire cinematic universe over a decade before Marvel made it cool, and it spawned two direct sequels, with Clerk III will be released in September, several spin-offs, comics and more. And he finally got a TV show that became hugely popular, but it took more than one attempt.
The first attempt at a TV show was a standard sitcom about Dante and Randal, now starred by Andrew Bassey and Jim Breuer, respectively, working in a strip mall. Dante spends the episode feeling pressured to move on with his life while Randal focuses more on messing with customers. Dante also has relationship issues with his girlfriend Veronica (Noelle Parker), which largely stem from his insecurities, like the film. It has the same base as the original movie, just with a few extra characters sprinkled in.
Although the pilot never went to series, it was leaked online 20 years later and can now be viewed in full on YouTube, preventing this odd little time capsule from the mid-’90s from being lost forever. What’s most remarkable about this pilot, at first, is that he’s pretty bad. The punchlines aren’t that funny, the location doesn’t feel as real as Quick Stop, and it looks like any generic 90s sitcom with nothing really special. Much of this can be attributed to the way the driver was created.
As mentioned earlier, the pilot was created in the first place to capitalize on Clerks as a brand. As is unfortunately the case with many Disney-purchased IPs, they moved forward with this driver without the involvement of anyone who created the source material. At the time of filming the film, Kevin Smith and the majority if the cast and crew of the original were doing Mallrats for Universal.
Not only was the pilot pushed forward without any of their involvement, no one even knew until an officer made a mistake. According to Brian O’Halloran, he discovered it during a meeting with a new agent who asked him if he was going to audition for the pilot. He ended up calling Smith soon after to ask if he was involved, which is how the rest of the Clerks the crew discovered it.
The very idea of a television show piqued Smith’s interest, and he wanted to join as a producer and writer, but the screenplay he wrote was rejected. This led him and his producer partner/future podcast co-host Scott Mosier leave the project. O’Halloran and Anderson both auditioned for the show, but were rejected. It seemed like it was a mandate that the show couldn’t share any meaningful connection to the original film, other than the character names and brand name.
Is it really “commis” without Jay and Silent Bob?
The biggest mark the original team left on the show was the change of a specific character. Because if Disney owned now Clerksthe characters of Jay and Silent Bob have always belonged exclusively to Kevin Smith, which is why they can appear in any of his projects regardless of the film studio and continue to be the faces of the Smith brand 30 years later late.
Silent Bob never appeared in the pilot, but a version of Jay did. In the original movie, these two characters were the stoner drug dealers who hung around outside the store. Drug Dealers wasn’t exactly allowed on a network sitcom back then, especially as leads, so Jay was recast as Bodhi Elfman and portrayed as a burnout. But as Smith pointed out that he owned the character of Jay, the show’s “Jay” was renamed Ray. The episode has him trying to shoplift from Dante’s store and gets none of the charm and magnetic personality that Jason Mews still gives the role in the official material.
To play devil’s advocate for this show, it’s not a complete or even downright terrible failure. The pilot’s producer and screenwriter was Richard Day, a sitcom veteran. To name just a few projects from his quite impressive filmography, he has worked and written for Dinosaurs, Crazy of youand Development stopped. It’s not like he doesn’t understand comedy, and writing for the Clerks The pilot actually reproduces the tone and rhythm of Smith’s famous wordy dialogue very faithfully. The coming and going of the characters seems very precise. It’s just that the words they say are very softball, obvious jokes. It’s to the point where it feels like the script was created in an assembly line to replicate itself saved by the bell. It could even be blamed on the pilot which is just a proof of concept to set the tone and show the chemistry between the characters. Fortunately, the pilot was not a complete waste of time and resources.
For starters, the pilot stars Jim Breuer before becoming a cast member of Saturday Night Live for three seasons. This pilot was a good testing ground for him which shows that he can still be funny and have great comedic timing, even if the material he gave isn’t good. Keri Russell also appears in this show, before she became a fixture in the works of JJ Abrams. She does a good job in a very thankless role as a side character’s love interest.
The show’s biggest payoff, however, was the realization that Clerks could totally work as a TV show. A few years later, Smith linked up with the TV legend david mandel create Clerks: The Animated Series. Mandel is a creative force and is best known for being the showrunner of Veep, so it’s easy to see from that credit alone what makes him such a perfect match with Smith. Smith was also able to reuse writing that was rejected for that project’s live-action pilot.
Unfortunately, ABC canceled the show after just two episodes, but it has become a fan favorite. The early 2000s was the peak time when television got a second life in DVD sales, which is why shows like Futurama and family guy got more seasons after the initial cancellations. Clerks: The Animated Series never had that chance to live again like those shows, but it still has a cult fanbase to this day and it’s all thanks to DVD sales.
The TV sitcom’s initial pilot remains a bit weird. He continues to live in infamy because of his legendary poor internet status. But when you look at it from a certain point of view, there is charm. It’s such a blatant rip off of other 90s sitcoms that it gives the pilot a very weird and nostalgic aesthetic. It has also helped advance the careers of several actors and creators, whether intentional or not. Most importantly, it helped add more fuel to Clerks as a mark, showing that it still had life outside of the original film. Somewhere deep inside, this pilot must have been part of the spark behind the franchise that’s still going strong to this day.
To see what’s going on in Dante and Randal’s lives these days, check out Clerk III when it comes out in September.