The Greatest American Hero review by The Grim Ringler

Ok, ok, ok. Are you through? Huh? Yes, I know, it’s funny that I have this, and finnier that I am reviewing it but dammit, Ralph Hinkley/Hanley WILL have a voice and it shall be heard. Now then – anyone else remember this silly show as fondly as I do? What a fun era in television, you had this AND V on during the same few years. How cool is that? GAM was a very good idea that slowly turned to crap, the more the studio stiffs interfered, turning a really interesting premise into just another guy in a super-suit show. Needless to say, the show wasn’t long for this world, but it still left me with some very fond memories.

High School teacher Ralph Hinkley (William Katt, whose character teaches a weird sort of special ed where the students have been permanently exiled from the rest of the school populace) is a good guy. An idealist who believes he can help turn the trouble making kids in his class around. A man who believes he can make a difference. It’s this goodness and idealism that makes him the perfect candidate to a race of aliens that choose him and FBI agent Bill Maxwell (Robert Culp chewing scenery like its an all you can eat buffet) to receive a galactic gift. A super-suit that gives the wearer the ability to fly, turn invisible, become impenetrable to bullets, and fire and which gives the wearer a whole host of other gifts in order to help them protect humanity. The suit is given to Ralph by the ‘green –guys’- (who you never really see in the first season, just their ship and an agent of theirs that delivers the suit) because of his innate goodness and their belief that he will use the suit for the good of all mankind, and not just the will of America, as agent Maxwell wishes. Maxwell is to serve as a mentor and guide, to make sure that Ralph stays on task and to keep him committed to the suit and his duty. Things are far from easy for Ralph as he loses the instruction manual to the suit and has to learn its abilities as he goes and sometimes stopping the bad guys as much by accident as by intention. The real difficulty for him comes with balancing his duties with the suit – a beautifully obnoxious red thing with stretchy pants, booties, and a cape – and his work and home life. He is raising his son by himself, is fighting for custody of him with his ex-wife, has to teach and be there for his students, and has a girlfriend. No one said it was easy being a superhero. Despite the difficulties and the strain, Bill and Ralph find a way to work together and, by the first season’s end, are just getting a handle on what their duties are and how the suit works, setting things up nicely for a long run…so everyone thought.

The show is completely outdated and moderately cheesy by modern standards but I’ll be damned if it doesn’t still hold up for me. It’s well written, wonderfully acted, and has such a fun, innocent vibe to it that it’s hard not to let go of the cheesy flying effects and the hackneyed commie plots and just go with the flow. The special effects have become really laughable – as is the awful integration of a stuntman in an obvious wig that couldn’t look less like Katt – but again, if you buy into the characters, and what is happening, it makes things go down easier. The show was a novel concept that still works today, thanks in part to such earnest performances and such an interesting premise – a reluctant superhero who isn’t smooth or suave and looks as if he needs to be saved more times than not.

The picture is very good, as is the sound, and there is an interesting extra on the disc aside from the bland interviews. That extra is the pilot for the never-aired The Greatest American Heroine. The premise of the spin-off is similar in that Ralph, having become too well known now and outed as a superhero, has to hand the suit to a successor and picks a new age woman with a foster child. Unfortunately Heroine is not nearly as charming and just feels sad and dated in comparison to its parent show. I think it’s the idea that – it’s harder to make a woman a superhero, and even today they don’t always get it right. You want a woman super to be sexy but strong, feminine but able to kick ass, and men still have a hard time putting all that together.

A fun set, this first season, and a great trip down memory lane, and trust me, it’s far better than you might recall. Well worth a rental.


7 out of 10 Jackasses
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