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
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
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.