Friday, February 22, 2013

TV on DVD Review: Greatest American Hero - Season 1


Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Fun stories and great acting bring these characters to life
Cons: Special effects are poor by today's standards
The Bottom Line:
Some dated effects
But delightful characters
Really save the day




Still the Greatest American Hero

Schoolteacher Ralph Hinkley (William Katt) is taking his class on a field trip to the desert when their bus breaks down. Hiking back to get help, he finds FBI agent Bill Maxwell (Robert Culp). His car also mysteriously dies just as a flying saucer appears. Not to worry, they come in peace. In fact, they want to help create peace on earth by giving Ralph a suit that will give him super powers. Teaming up with Bill, he sets out to right the wrongs of the world. Rounding out the trio is Pam Davidson (Connie Sellecca), Ralph's girlfriend. Just one little problem. Ralph lost the instruction book so has no idea how to control his powers. Even so, the three of them will have to work together to defeat neo-nazi's, assassins, Russian spies, and an arsonist.

Okay, I admit it. It sounds cheesy and stupid. But, if you'll buy the premise, it works and it works well. The show is entertaining and sticks to it's premise well. You do also have to get beyond the special effects. Many of them, especially Ralph flying, look bad by today's standards. But if you'll remember it was a TV show from 1981, you'll do just fine.

Collected here, we have the 8 episodes that were the first season, including the two-hour series premier. During the episodes, not only does Ralph struggle with his new powers, but also with how to deal with them in his life. And he truly struggles, most noticeably in "My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys." Here he deals with the fact that he's not like the heroes of his youth. This poignant episode features John Hart as "The Lone Ranger."

And there is also lots of humor. Naturally, there's the slapstick as Ralph tries to figure things out. I especially appreciate his constantly struggle changing out of his street clothes into his suit. I can identify with that. His flying and landing scenes are always funny, but this season has some of the best. But the humor also comes from the characters. Ralph is idealistic and Bill is cynical. Bill also has little use for Pam, even when she provides a vital piece of information. Their one-liners are wonderful and the three leads have great chemistry and pull things off admirably. This is best shown in "The Best Desk Scenario." This episode finds all three with career news that wrecks havoc on all of them. It's hilarious and easily my favorite in the set.

The show was strongest when it dealt with Ralph's double life. Part way through season two, they started getting away from showing the students, only bringing them in if the plot called for it. Here, they're still in every show, and I enjoy their interactions as well.

As mentioned, this season only consisted of 8 episodes. They're preserved here on 3 discs. The picture is sharp. Obviously, they put lots of love into restoring it. The sound is stereo. Nothing fancy, but since the show is over 20 years old, it doesn't have to be. Also included in this set is the only aired in syndication pilot for a proposed spin-off series, "The Greatest American Heroine." I'm not a fan since it finds Ralph having to hand off the suit to someone else. I'm a bit surprised it didn't get included in the season 3 set, since it serves as a coda to the series. Still, it's nice to have somewhere for completion. Rounding out this set is 75 minutes of new interviews with creator Stephen J. Cannell, the three stars, and Michael Pare, who played the leader of Ralph's students. The interviews are interesting and well worth watching.

Did I mention you get the theme song? "Believe it or not, I'm walking on air" was a major hit during the 80's, more popular then the TV show it was written for in fact. You can't miss it here since it plays on all the menus and, naturally, before each episode. Honestly, I'm just as glad to get it as I am the episodes themselves.

I was slightly disappointed when I found out how few episodes there were in this season. But for the price, you really can't complain. I watched this set in a matter of days and then had to wait until season 2 finally came out a couple months later. The Greatest American Hero - Season 1 is addictive, fun entertainment.

Season 1 Episodes:
1. Pilot (2 hours)
2. The Hit Car
3. Here's Looking at You, Kid
4. Saturday on the Sunset Boulevard
5. Reseda Rose
6. My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys
7. Fire Man
8. The Best Desk Scenario
9. (Bonus Episode) The Greatest American Heroine

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