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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » the Greatest American Hero - Season One
the Greatest American Hero - Season One
Starz / Anchor Bay // Unrated // February 15, 2005
List Price: $29.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by John Crichton | posted February 17, 2005 | E-mail the Author
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Highly Recommended
E - M A I L
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Ralph Hinkley, a liberal, high school special ed teacher, fights for truth and justice while trying to figure out how to use the superpowered suit he's been given.

In 1981, producer Stephen J. Cannell (the Rockford Files, the A-Team, some other shows beginning with "the") tapped in to every kid's fantasy of being a superhero with the Greatest American Hero. It all started when Marcy Carsey and Tom Werner (at the time, ABC's Heads Of Programming) approached Cannell about doing a "superhero" show. Not knowing much about the genre, Cannell didn't agree right away and after conferring with some writers agreed on one provision - the superpowers had to be in the suit. From there, Cannell came up with a story that would team Ralph Hinkley and his girlfriend Pam "Counselor" Davidson with Bill Maxwell, a gruff, conservative FBI agent. There was a comfortable balance between humor and drama, and though it was only on ABC for 3 seasons, it has since become a "cult classic".

While the storylines aren't necessarily anything groundbreaking, the suit, along with Ralph's inability to know exactly what it does -- thanks to losing the instruction book in the pilot, livens up the potentially trite and common material. Another strength of the show is the wonderful interaction between leads William Katt, Robert Culp and Connie Sellecca. The three display an easygoing, natural chemistry that, believe it or not (pun intended), is the heart of the show and the main reason it works as well as it did. In fact, Sellecca impressed Cannell so much, she turned a character that he only intended for the pilot, into an integral part of the show. Rounding out the cast, there's also a small assortment of high school students led by Faye ("V") Grant and future B-movie star Michael Paré.

It's amazing that a show this light-hearted had its share of controversy. Before the pilot even aired, Warner Brothers (after buying DC Comics) filed a lawsuit against Cannell claiming Ralph was too similar to Superman. Thankfully, the judge ruled in Cannell's favor. Then, a couple days after the second episode ("the Hit Car") aired, John Hinkley Jr. shot President Ronald Reagan. This prompted a very skittish ABC to force the creators to change Ralph's last name from Hinkley to Hanley (keep an eye out for the nameplate on Ralph's door in "the Best Desk Scenario"). Wisely, it was reverted in time for the second season.

The first season of the Greatest American Hero is 8 episodes long and Anchor Bay has spread them across 3 single-sided discs:

    Disc 1

  • Pilot

  • the Hit Car

  • Here's Looking At You, Kid

    Disc 2

  • Saturday Night On Sunset Boulevard

  • Reseda Rose

  • My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys

    Disc 3

  • Fire Man

  • the Best Desk Scenario

  • the Greatest American Heroine

  • Brand-New Interviews with:

    • Stephen J. Cannell

    • William Katt

    • Robert Culp

    • Connie Sellecca

    • Michael Paré

Video: The Greatest American Hero is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1. The picture was sharp and clear with a bright color palette. I was impressed with how deep the black levels were during the nighttime scenes. Also, while I wasn't expecting a remastering of Lucas-ian proportions, the special effects retain their bluescreen cheesiness and some of the footage of Ralph flying in the pilot is fairly dirty. Otherwise, as the season progressed, the special effects showed improvement. Considering its age, i'm amazed the picture looked this sharp.

Audio: The Greatest American Hero features Dolby Surround 2.0. Personally, I think every single DVD should be remastered in 5.1 or dts. That said, while the 2.0 track was clean with clear dialogue, it was also flat. Musically speaking, Anchor Bay has replaced some songs on various episodes. However, ala Paramount's Keen Eddie release, there's nothing on the packaging stating this (unlike Keen Eddie's "Music has been replaced for this Home Entertainment version" disclaimer). I haven't seen this show since it was on network TV, so i'm not sure what was replaced with what. However, there were some songs that, sonically, seemed out of place. And for the record, I think original music should be used at ALL times.

Bonus Features: There are only two. First, we have fantastic, brand-new interviews with Stephen J. Cannell, William Katt, Robert Culp, Connie Sellecca and Michael Paré. 75 minutes in length, it's clear the stars had as much fun making the series as I did watching it. I was surprised to discover that there was off-screen friction between Katt and Culp and that Sellecca was pregnant at one point during shooting. It's strange that the show's poor treatment by ABC wasn't discussed, but perhaps they're saving that for the second or third season set. I'm not that big a fan of non-Kevin Smith Audio Commentaries, but listening to the interviews made me wish Anchor Bay had included some.

Second, disc three contains the unaired pilot for the Greatest American Heroine. Legend has it, Brandon Tartikoff (then Programming Head of NBC) thought ABC made a mistake by canceling Hero and had a plan to bring it back to the boob tube. However, Katt wasn't interested in donning the "jammies" again and Sellecca was already co-starring on Aaron Spelling's Hotel, so a story was developed that saw Ralph's secret identity compromised and the "green guys" forcing him to pass the suit on to another worthy person to make the world forget. While this might not be the greatest thing ever committed to film, being the completest that I am, i'm glad Anchor Bay decided to include it. However, i'm puzzled why it wasn't included with the third season set so it would be in chronological order. Yeah, i'm being picky.

Packaging: A foil slipcase houses two slimcases, one's a double. There's also a four page booklet, brilliantly designed to look like the instruction book pictured above. Now, where did I put mine..?

Conclusion: I was a fan of this show from the beginning, and being able to watch it again after all this time instantly brought me back to my childhood. The special effects aren't up to today's CGI standards, but the charm of the show is definitely still there. Sure, I wish the effects technology that exists today was available back then (and available on a television show's budget), but the suit was only part of it for me - I thoroughly enjoyed the natural chemistry between Katt, Culp and Sellecca. When it comes to older, less "media-savvy" television shows of the past, a common question seems to be whether it "holds up" by today's standards. For me, it did. Music changes notwithstanding, Anchor Bay has put together a great set that i'm going to give a Highly Recommended. For a brief moment, I thought about knocking it down to a Recommended because I felt that AB stumbled a bit as far as some of the original songs were concerned, but in all honesty, I had too much of a good time revisiting this show to care. Bring on season two!

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