Although it’s now fashionable to watch a superhero struggle with his or her abilities in movies and TV, it wasn’t always the case. William Katt played Ralph Hinkley an ordinary guy who is left a gift from aliens from outer space-a suit that gives its wearer the ability to fly, super strength, invisibility and much more. Suddenly, he had all these super powers but lost the owner’s manual to tell him how to use it correctly. Ralph ends up flying into walls and generally having as many mishaps as a superhero could possibly have. Befriended by FBI agent Bill Maxwell (Robert Culp) Hinkley partners with him and decides to fight for good. These first eight episodes (including the two hour pilot ) made up the first season of the series. The two hour pilot soars with nice comedic touches by Katt, Connie Selleca and the perfect straight man in Culp. In fact, Culp plays it so seriously that it comes off almost as a parody of a government agent.
With an exceptionally good transfer, “The Greatest American Hero” looks almost as if it was invulnerable to the ravages of time. The transfers look very nice with solid blacks and color reproduction. Considering the show is twenty five years old, there are few of the flaws that one might expect. The image is occasionally soft but and has some minor analog imperfections (such as dust, dirt particularly during the effects shots) on the whole, Anchor Bay has done a meticulous job in transferring this series to DVD. The sound while limited by the technology of the time (it was broadcast in mono) has good presence with the dialogue very clear. Some minor background hiss crops up from time to time. Although the box says this is in stereo it sounds like mono to me.
We get a pilot for a spin off entitled “The Greatest American Heroine”. While only one episode was shot, what we have is quite good and promising. Sadly, no network picked up the spin-off so, until recently, it has sat on the shelf. In the spin off Hinkley hands off the suit to a young woman and she takes up where he left off. We also get interviews with stars William Katt, Robert Culp, Connie Selleca and writer/producer/creator Stephen J. Cannell. Culp provides some interesting tidbits in his interview. For example, the reason Bill Maxwell comes across so intense and humorless is because Culp decided to play the role that way. He figured that there with others playing for laughs, presenting his character as serious would provide an anchor to reality and prevent the show from becoming too tongue-in-cheek. With over an hour of interviews, this portion of the set is extremely generous. No commentary tracks from anyone but, really, the interviews do make up for that. Hopefully in future sets we can have commentary tracks on key episodes by the actors and Cannell.
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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.
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.”
And there is also lots of humor. Great one-liners and 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. 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. The three leads have great chemistry and pull things off admirably. This is best shown in “The Best Desk Scenario,” easily my favorite in the set.
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 a 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? You can’t miss it 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 haven’t been able to stop watching this set and am sorry to have finished it already. Bring on season 2!
If you don’t know much about this particular series, it is not completely surprising. This series had some rough starts and a rough run overall. The show is about a school teacher named Ralph Hinkley who inherits a super-suit from aliens. With help from Bill Maxwell, an FBI agent, and his girlfriend Pam Davidson, he is able to use his suit to “capture the bad guys” with amazing abilities.
The show was intended to be a kind of comic book comedy. Ralph loses the instruction manual when he first receives the suit so he has to figure out how to use it as he goes along. Of course, the flying ability was originally one of the most “comical” of his powers.
The nice thing about the show was that it is family oriented. There is little to no foul language (Sometimes Ralph and Bill say “Damn”, but that’s about the strongest word in the series) and silly violence when Ralph throws the crooks around.
You never know what kind of powers Ralph will inherit from the suit, so anything could happen as the writers went along and continued to think up new ideas on what Ralph could do.
There were two big problems about the show. The first was that it became a major target for DC comics Warner Bros to sue over the similarity to Superman. That was an ongoing battle worthy of a comic book story in itself. The other problem was a tragic coincidence. Right when the show was beginning, that was when President Reagan had an attempted assasination by a real life man named “Hinkley”. So the producer decided to briefly change Ralph’s last name to HANLEY. But after a while it went back to HINKLEY. Ralph had some kind of temporary identity crisis.
Robert Culp is hilarious as Bill Maxwell and really is the best character on the show. William Katt is your typical American caring JOE ANYONE. Connie Selleca is beautiful even today.
The show really didn’t last long on the air. the first season was very short. The second season was a full season of episodes. The third season was cancelled halfway through the run. The show was rarely shown in reruns, so many people don’t even remember the show anymore. But many people probably still remember the theme song, BELIEVE IT OR NOT because it was a big hit on the radio. Its one of the few times a theme song became a bigger hit than the show.
If you are wondering about purchasing the show, I would recommend it as a fun, safe family entertaining show. The effects are cheesy but the stories are decent. It takes me back to the early 80s when I would watch the show religiously.
The show was meant for laughs and it succeeded in that. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.