Saturday, May 30, 2015

Re-Post: The Greatest American Hero

  A comment to one of my recent posts referenced The Greatest American Hero, so I was inspired to re-post this, which originally appeared August 11, 2013. Enjoy.

One of my well remembered TV series from the early '80s was Greatest American Hero (1981-1983), a quirky super hero series which featured an unlikely and fumbling everyday guy as its protagonist. I think what made the series so likable was the sense that the "hero" was someone who never even sought the role, a well meaning person who had hero status thrust upon him and tried to deal with it as best as he could. Neither the hero nor the show took themselves too seriously.

William Katt starred as the unlikely hero, Ralph Hinkley, a schoolteacher assigned to a special education class. Connie Selleca stars as Pam Davidson, an attorney who handled Hinkleys divorce, but soon becomes his love interest in the show. Ralph's last name was changed to "Hanley" after an assassin whose last name was Hinkley attempted to kill President Reagan in March of 1981. 

The great Robert Culp played FBI agent Bill Maxwell, who somehow linked up with Ralph and Pam, and often provided the more hard-edged strategic mindset which the others lacked.

Together, the disparate trio repeatedly found themselves batting bad guys after an unexpected encounter gave Ralph his super powers.

During an trek in the desert, Ralph and Bill had a close encounter with space aliens. (I always thought the spaceship was cool.)

The aliens beamed down a special suit which only Ralph could use, and which was the source of his powers, which included such typical super hero abilities as flight, invisibility, strength and remote viewing.

But the mild mannered Ralph proved to be an uneasy superhero, which made him all the more likable in the role. More problematic was the fact that they lost the manual provided with the suit which showed how to properly use it. So, Ralph, with the help of Bill and Pam, had to learn how to use it by trial and error, with often funny results. Ralph's haphazard effort at flying was a frequent feature of the show..

Heres the intro, courtesy of

The theme song, written by Mike Post and Stephen Geyer and sung by Joey Scarbury, became a hit in 1981. I remember hearing it frequently on the radio back then.

 I was 11 years old that year, when the show premiered. Now, looking back, I see both the song and the TV show as reflective of that era. When the show premiered in 1981, the United States was just recovering from a rough period where hostages were held for over a year in Iran, the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, and the economy was in a bad state. Although the country was not yet out of the woods, by any means, there was the uneasy glimmer of hope and optimism. I think the portrayal of Ralph's uneasy hero status, and the song about being surprised at unexpected success, seemed to echo this mood.