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Anchor Bay Entertainment presents
The Greatest American Hero: Season One (1981)

Review By: Chuck Aliaga  
Published: February 14, 2005

Stars: William Katt, Connie Sellecca, Robert Culp
Other Stars: Michael Pare, Faye Grant
Director: various

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for nothing objectionable
Run Time: 06h:57m:00s
Release Date: February 15, 2005
UPC: 013131280890
Genre: television

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A AB+B- B+

DVD Review

Growing up in the 1980s provided ample opportunity to enjoy some of television's finest shows. While programs like The A-Team, Dukes of Hazzard, and Miami Vice were huge ratings hits, there was one show that stood above the rest, yet wasn't watched by many people: The Greatest American Hero. Sure, I was a sucker for those other shows, but The Greatest American Hero was the only one that I would count down the days until the next week's episode.

Perhaps the launching of the series was timed around the fact that audiences had just gotten over being crazy for superheroes in the early '80s, with the box-office success of Superman II in the pop culture rearview mirror. Unfortunately, things didn't work out perfectly for ABC in regards to the show's ratings. While critically priased, Hero wasn't the ratings bonanza that the network had hoped for. Still, the show did last three seasons, and launched the career of basically then-unknown William Katt. Those with keen eyes will also find early work from Michael Pare (Eddie & the Cruisers, Streets of Fire), Faye Grant (V), and Danny Glover (Lethal Weapon, Saw).

Starting off with the two-hour Pilot (actually only 90 minutes without the TV commercials), the story of The Greatest American Hero begins to take flight, so to speak. We are introduced to Ralph Hinkley, who has just taken the job of teacher for a class full of troublemakers. During a fieldtrip, Hinkley meets FBI Agent Bill Maxwell, who seems to have problems of his own. After trouble with the school bus, Hinkley runs into Maxwell again, and the two come across an alien spaceship. The aliens give Ralph a special red suit that gives him a vast array of superpowers, but no clue how to use them.

With the help of Bill Maxwell and his fiancée Pam, Ralph eventually harnesses his powers, at least to some degree. Having most of them down, Ralph continues to struggle when it comes to flying. In fact, watching Ralph fly is one of the most entertaining aspects of the series. William Katt twists and flails as he soars, never gracefully, across the sky.

If the concept and storyline of The Greatest American Hero sounds pretty preposterous, it is. It's in the acting that the show is taken to the next level, rising above its initial status as a spoof of superhero tales. Thanks to the performances of Katt and Robert Kulp, the show rises above being simpy mindless and was taken seriously from its inception. Sure, Katt's performance as the title character is as campy as can be at times, but he exudes just enough sentimentality as this everyman schlub who becomes a "superman" to make this a career-defining role. Kulp simply becomes FBI Agent Bill Maxwell, embarking on investigations with Katt's Ralph with the perfect blend of grit and straight-man comedy to garner the acclaim for his performance, episode-in and episode-out.

The show really kicks it into gear with the second episode, The Hit Car. This is not only one of the show's best episodes, but it's also one of its funniest. Ralph and Bill's feeble attempts to get a star witness to fly from San Francisco to L.A. are downright hilarious, especially when Ralph tries (emphasis on "tries") to use his superpowers to make the transit a much smoother ride. Also, in this we're introduced to the full-fledged, lyric-filled version of the show's theme song, Believe It or Not by Joey Scarbury. Just hearing that song at the opening of the show every week gave me goosebumps (which returned upon hearing it for the first time in a decade on these DVDs), and it apparently captured the hearts of the rest of America as well, shooting all the way to #1 on the Billboard charts in 1981.

There really isn't a bad episode in the first season here. In fact, the only complaint about any of these shows is the fact that the pilot is just a little too long. The subsequent episodes' much tighter editing set a framework for the series, while keeping the action and comedy moving along at a perfect clip. The first season is wrapped up rather nicely in The Best Desk Scenario leaving the show's fans clamoring for a second batch of episodes. After enjoying this fine first DVD set, this is one fan that's going to be clamoring for a rapid release of a Season Two set.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: I was legitimately shocked at just how good The Greatest American Hero looks on DVD. Expecting the worse, I was delighted to see that the show looks better than it ever had, with hardly any grain or dirt, the presence of which would almost be expected for such an old, low-budget TV show. There seems to have been quite a bit of restoration done to produce such an impressive look, but the fact that the source material was in good shape is a plus. Natural colors are a constant, with Ralph's famous superhero suit exuding the appropriate red tones and never suffering from any bleeding of any kind. Strong blacks and shadow levels round out a collection of solid video presentations.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: The audio holds up almost as well as the video, but is lacking as far as dynamic effects go. However, this is no surprise given that the show is over 20 years old. In fact, purists are going to love just how close it sounds to the way it originally did during its TV broadcasts. Everything stays in the front of the soundstage, with the sound effects never drowning out the always crisp and clear dialogue.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 5 cues and remote access
Packaging: Thinpak
Picture Disc
3 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. "The Greatest American Heroine" unaired pilot for the spin-off series.
  2. 15-Minute Interviews with: Series Creator Stephen J. Cannell, and actors William Katt, Robert Culp, Connie Sellecca, and Michael Pare.
Extras Review: The 1986 pilot for The Greatest American Heroine has Ralph handing over his suit and Bill to student/foster mother Holly Hathaway. While it's easy to see why this spin-off just wasn't meant to be, it's still great to have at our disposal. Die-hard fans of The Greatest American Hero and completists everywhere are going to love this bonus feature.

The 15-Minute Interviews are very valuable and entertaining. It's great to hear what those directly involved with the series think about the show today and its impact on pop culture back in the '80s. Katt and Culp in particular provide some great, hilarious anecdotes about the making of the show.

Extras Grade: B+


Final Comments

One of the first shows I (and many children of the '80s) was old enough to enjoy on a regular basis, The Greatest American Hero is a cult classic that's finally getting its due on DVD. This is a show that proves that American television isn't even close to being as entertaining as it was in the good old days.


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