The official announcement of a third Bill & Ted movie has, understandably, excited fans of the cult science-fiction series. The news comes almost 30 years after the first film, 1989’s Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. But the upcoming Bill & Ted Face the Music won’t be the duo’s third adventure — or even the third Bill & Ted outing for Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter.
Even before the release of 1991’s Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, there were moves to transform the Wyld Stallyns into the stars of a multimedia franchise with the debut of 1990’s Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventures, an animated series produced — for its first season, at least — for CBS by Hanna-Barbera. Although the writing of each of the episodes was far less inventive or entertaining than the original movie (and the comedy both more family-friendly and, to be honest, less funny), the show did have three unexpected secret weapons: Winter, Reeves and George Carlin, who surprisingly reprised their respective roles of Bill, Ted and Rufus from the live-action movies for the show.
Such things couldn’t last, of course, and by the animated series’ second season — which aired after Bogus Journey’s release — all number of things had changed for the show. It was on a different network (Fox); it was produced by a different studio (DiC); the scope of the storytelling had been broadened beyond time travel so that Bill, Ted and Rufus could travel into books, television and other fiction; and an all-new voice cast had been brought in, with Evan Richards, Christopher Kennedy and Rick Overton replacing the original central trio, seemingly in preparation for the three to play the same roles in Fox’s live-action Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventures show the following year.
Neither of Fox’s attempts at a Bill & Ted show without the original cast found favor with the fandom, with the animated series being cancelled eight episodes into the second season and the live-action show axed seven episodes into its run. (The relative lack of success of Bogus Journey — which cost twice as much to make than the first movie, but earned less at the box office — likely didn’t help matters.)
Perhaps the audience was simply exhausted by "too much excellence." After all, the TV shows weren’t the only contemporaneous spinoffs from the burgeoning franchise; following Bogus Journey’s release, Marvel released a comic book series written and drawn by indie cartoonist — and future screenwriter for Cartoon Network’s Space Ghost: Coast to Coast — Evan Dorkin that lasted a year (and is well worth hunting down, whether in back issues or the recent reissue from Boom! Studios) and a video game adaptation in numerous formats.
All of this activity was finished before 1993 began, with the Bill & Ted franchise seemingly collapsing under the weight of expectations and product in the face of an audience simply not big enough, or enthusiastic enough, to support it. More than a quarter of a century of video rentals, rewatches and rediscoveries later, it’ll be interesting to see how big the fandom has grown — and whether it’ll be hungry enough for more to revive these forgotten spinoffs as lost works of genius. If only we had a time machine to find out…