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The Greatest American Hero:
The Complete Series

If you're at home this Fourth of July weekend, you may see that SyFy has dropped their usual Twilight Zone marathon in favor of a show also near and dear to our heart, The Greatest American Hero. For twenty hours, you can bask in the glory of Ralph, Bill and Pam fighting unusual crimes and trying to figure out the suit.

But why limit it to just twenty hours, when there are actually forty-four to be had? Thanks to Mill Creek Entertainment, it's also extremely affordable. (Full disclosure: I do have a slight bias, as with William Katt and Christopher Folino, I wrote the graphic novel revival of the show last year; I have no vested interest in this product other than pride in having been associated with the franchise, however tangentially.)

The first DVD release from Anchor Bay sold out a few years ago, and Mill Creek has been repackaging older shows like this in a format that might not satisfy the die-hard fan (who already has it in a collector's tin with the cape anyway), but will more easily allow a new generation to discover it.

Complete as a series but at about a third of the price of the original releases, Mill Creek reproduces every episode as faithfully as can be. Yes, the music clearances aren't the same as originally broadcast, but that's just the way it's going to be in the United States for a long long time. For new viewers, that's not going to make a difference.

It does seem that some of the extras from the first release aren't here; though Stephen J. Cannell still gets a spotlight interview, the cast gets short shrift. Again, for newcomers, that won't be noticed, but longtime fans might miss that, especially in light of Robert Culp's untimely passing a few months ago.

You still have, however, episodes written by him, sharp observations on the character of FBI hotshot Bill Maxwell -- check out season two's "Lilacs, Mr. Maxwell."

And yet, I highly recommend a first season episode called "My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys," which indirectly teams Ralph Hinkley (William Katt) with the Lone Ranger. Today, such a crossover would be impossible, and I am still somewhat obscuring how it worked then.

It's such a casually yet powerfully evocative summation of why this show works, and why it should still appeal to people. Producers tried to revisit the themes in that episode, but it never quite worked that well again.

The third season does wobble in tone, as the wants of the network and the wants of the cast started colliding. Is it social commentary, comedy, science fiction or even at times horror? At the time, no one could decide. Yet it stuck in people's hearts, and an attempt to recast it later as The Greatest American Heroine just didn't work.

That failed pilot was in the prior release, but has been omitted here. In some ways, that's appropriate, because even though Katt and Connie Selecca appeared in the episode in order to pass the torch, it just doesn't have quite the same snap. That trio of actors has a nice chemistry that unfortunately never got picked up on again.

So enjoy it on SyFy, then enjoy it on your own. Believe it or not, it's just fun.



Derek McCaw

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