Back in the good old days, tv shows were not created with a particular demographic group in mind nor did they write scripts around product placement. A TV show would make it on the air if the premise was good and would survive if the writing and acting kept up to people's expectations. The Greatest American Hero was a one-hour comedy action series featuring William Katt, Robert Culp (of I Spy fame), and Connie Sellecca. This was a tv show the whole family could enjoy with minimal violence (a little gunplay here and there) and a lot of humor. The running joke on this series was that high school teacher and superhero Ralph Hinckley did the best he could as a crime fighter but never did manage to learn how to fly properly nor land without crashing into stuff.
Creator Stephen J. Cannell (who has also been associated with other great television such as The Commish, 21 Jump Street, The A Team, The Rockford Files and so on and so on) was definitely inspired when creating this very funny television series. The Greatest American Hero has a little bit of Superman, Wonder Woman, the Six Million Dollar Man rolled into one pair of what is referred to in the show as "the pajamas". The brightest idea around this special suit Ralph Hinckley (Ralph Hanley in the first season because of the Hinckley guy who tried to shoot President Reagan) is that Ralph has lost the instructions manual. This allows the writers to give the hero whatever special powers he needs to solve the crime in a particular show. Another thing that made this show really work was the relationship between the William Katt character and the FBI agent played straight faced but with a twist (notice how Bill is often injured or has something wrong with him) by Robert Culp.
Season Two (the second of almost three) begins with everything firmly established. The kids in Ralph's class (reminiscent of the sweathogs on Welcome Back Kotter and featuring Michael Pare and Faye Grant) do not play as much of a role in season two, leaving the action up to the dynamic duo of Ralph Hinckley and Bill Maxwell). Of course, the special effects are cheesy, not only because this tv series was made more than twenty years ago but also because there was no real budget for sfx on this show, but this somehow adds to the comic effect. Scenes with Ralph flying around are always entertaining and badly filmed.
The real strength of The Greatest American Hero was the writing. Some episodes were very aware of budget limitations so The Shock Will Kill You features an Alien-like creature from outer space that comes to earth when Ralph saves the shuttle Columbia -guess he wasn't around when time came to really save it-that you never see except in shadow. Explaining Ralph in the special pajamas also became a running gag, as did Bill Maxwell's relationship with his very anal retentive boss.
Favorite episodes on the 6 DVD 24 hour Season Two package are The Two-Hundred-Mile-An-Hour Fastball (shades of The Rookie), The Beast in Black (with fourth dimension ghosts), Train of Thought (with a very clever salute to Zorro in graffiti), Just Another 3-Ring Circus (complete with Eastern Block baddies with Ze wery thick aksent) and everybody's favorite: Operation: Spoilsport.
Operation: Spoilsport is the episode that has received the most notice in this release. The premise of this episode of Greatest American Hero is the aliens who gave Ralph the suit communicate with him through songs his car radio to tell him he only has 24 hours to save the world from complete destruction by a mad Pentagon General -there's always the one, isn't there? Many fan websites bemoan (to put it politely) the fact that many of the original tunes (especially Eve Of Destruction) were replaced by lesser fodder. It's hard to argue the point if you have not seen the original version or cannot remember it. Famous actors or people who make an appearance in his DVD set are Markie Post (of Newhart fame), Dixie Carter (of the always shrill Designing Women) and Marc Alaimo (of Star Trek Deep Space Nine) as, of all things, a nebbish IRS agent complete with a plastic pocket protector full of pencils.
Granted, season two features a few episodes where some madman is going to destroy or take over the earth and it does get a tad wee bit tiring after a while. Still, the advantage of getting the set is you can pick and choose when you will watch a particular episode so you can space those out.
Extras, all on DVD 6, include an interview / monologue with or by series creator Stephen J. Cannell which, because he wears a sweater the same basic color as the background looks exactly like a talking head show. Although in itself this 2-part biography is interesting and reveals some fun factoids about the world of television, there is not that much in it for fans of The Greatest American Hero. Another extra is an interview with music creator Mike Post. Although, and again, there is not much related to the show in this DVD set, this is a fascinating lesson in television musical history and scoring for a tv show (Post's credits include most of the shows you like including Law and Order). Last in the generic interview extras is a bit with both Cannell and Post. You can definitely skip this old home week bit.
The weirdest extra ever on a DVD set definitely has to be the Japanese version of the 200-Mile-An-Hour-Fastball. If you thought English versions of Godzilla movies were weird, watch the Japanese voice-over on an American series. This is beyond bizarre.
The Greatest American Hero, Season Two is a high quality release by Anchor Bay Entertainment. There are very few moments in this 22 episode, 6 DVD set where the colors fade in any way and when it happens it is only for a couple of seconds an episode or two. The presentation, box in terms of packaging and how episodes are selected on a DVD show imagination and care. This was, and still is, a great show for all the family, and it has survived the years very well. Those who like action television programs, science fiction, or comedy tv shows can get all three in this very enjoyable television series from the early eighties.
The Two-Hundred-Mile-An-Hour Fastball
Don't Mess Around With Jim
Classical Gas (a inside joke as it is also the title of musical creator Mike Post's most famous hit)
The Beast in the Black The Lost Diablo
Train of Thought
Now You See It
The Hand-Painted Thai (and a bad pun this is)
Just Another 3-Ring Circus (and the funniest way agent Maxwell totals a car)
The Shock Will Kill You
A Chicken In Every Pot
The Devil in the Deep Blue Sea (with a sea serpent called Carrie because Katt was in that movie)
It's All Downhill From Here
There's Just No Accounting (with Marc Alaimo)
The Good Samaritan
Who's Woo in America
Lilacs, Mr. Maxwell