The Greatest American Hero “Here's Looking at You, Kid” (part 1 of 6)

SUMMARY: Superhero schoolteacher Ralph Hinkley and FBI agent Bill Maxwell try to retrieve a mega-advanced new army gun-sight that’s been stolen by a temp agency for mercenaries. Meanwhile, Pam’s parents are in town, and all set to get the wrong idea about Ralph, and the sweathogs are plotting to strong-arm the upcoming school elections.

So in the interim since my last Greatest American Hero recap—although “interim” hardly seems the right word to describe a yawning gap long enough to gestate a baboon—I’ve passed my oral exams for my doctorate in ancient history, I’ve acquired a new academic nemesis, and GAH creator Stephen J. Cannell has gone to his reward. Only one of these events will be important to the history of television, though that’s entirely contingent on my plans to destroy my new enemy, whom we’ll call Professor X, during a live broadcast before the horrified eyes of millions in an ultraviolent kill box à la Kick-Ass.

Actually, I feel a little bad, now that Mr. Cannell is dead, about calling attention to the colossal lameness of “The Hit Car”. You know how when you’re right in the middle of a “yo mama” smackdown, and you’re just laying a blockbuster riff on your punk-ass opponent, and all of a sudden his ticker gives out and he crashes to the ground like an imploded 1930s hotel? It’s like that. Except, I didn’t really say anything about Steve Cannell’s mama, only his shitty script. And as far as I know, the dude never dissed my moma dukes. And also, the only “yo mama” smackdown I’ve really ever actually seen is the one between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader, which, um, yeah, not a terribly apt analogy.

Oh, and speaking of television history, our current subject has its own special niche in the splendid and unfortunately vast Museum of Television Episodes That Are Famous Despite Being Really Terrible. But more on that anon.

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“Here’s Looking at You, Kid”, the second regular Greatest American Hero episode, starts out as usual with the epic-length opening credits, which I’ve already discussed in detail. So let’s push on to the episode proper, which begins oh-so-promisingly with a GAH perennial standby: grainy stock footage—in this case, of a fighter jet taking off in the middle of the Cloudiest Day Ever. Let me tell you, my heart’s pounding already. Only, not for any reason having to do with the show. Actually, I should really have that looked at.

Meanwhile, a close-up of a not-mocked-up-at-all road sign tells us we’re at the “Palmdale, Calif. facility” of “Beller Aircraft Research”. It’s helpful, I think, to apprise trespassers of what state they’re in, just in case they’re not sure. You really should know if you’re in a state with a crazy governor who might feed you to rabid squirrels if you look at him funny. Seriously, you think Schwarzenegger’s a freak? He’s got nothing on the Snickers bar running the state when this episode was made.

Caption contributed by Mark

Before GPS, everyone had to put up signs to tell people where the fuck they were.

A lone air traffic controller in a tiny, tiny room is monitoring the pilot, who, to ensure that we care about him as a real human being, has been furnished the colorful nickname of “Smitty”. At least it’s not “Foot Long”.

It seems Beller is a military contractor, and they’re doing a test run of a top secret, fifty million-dollar, “pilot proof” computer-controlled prototype infrared targeting system. Supposedly, it’s designed to allow high-accuracy nighttime sighting. At least, that’s more or less what the mix of suits and military brass are busy telling each other as they crowd around the air traffic controller’s scope. As if the poor dope really needed a dozen twits in his personal space while he’s busy pushing tin.

Caption contributed by Mark

“Gosh, Mr. Van Kemp, I sure am looking forward to being able to shoot people from really far away!”

The jet suddenly veers off course and stops responding to hails, which naturally causes the suits and brass to start yelling at the air traffic controller.

Controller: He’s diving. I’m losing him.
Bald dick in a suit: You can’t lose him!

Yeah! C’mon, fucker, reach into the scope and grab that airplane and put it back where it belongs! Slacker.

Just as the jet goes off the scope, some guy in coveralls phones up to say that they found the real Smitty tied up behind some crates, and he doesn’t know who’s really flying the plane. Personally, I’m hoping it’s Murdock. Greatest crossover episode ever!

Caption contributed by Mark

“I don’t know who’s flying the plane, but we did find Frankie Valli packed away behind the washing machines.”

The suits and the brass start talking about how the plane is going to ditch in the ocean (which is also what the scope is telling them), and how the pilot will definitely have enough time to rip out the high-tech super MacGuffin before the plane sinks. Meanwhile, the accompanying cutaway footage is showing the jet descending toward the desert, not the ocean. This might look like a gaping continuity error, but it’s actually a plot point. I think. I’m not sure. Check back with me later, okay? I don’t want to rank on this ep if it’s not absolutely necessary.

In the desert, a couple of jeeps roll up to the jet. The impostor pilot is already out of the cockpit and yanking the high-tech super MacGuffin out of the instrument panel. In a trice, the guys in the jeeps haul camouflage netting over the jet. Well, it’s less of a trice and more of an extended siesta.

During this, the pilot takes the device, which looks like it was put together from Radio Shack parts in 1963, and hands it over to some redheaded guy in a bush jacket who we’ll find out later is the security sidekick to a bad guy named McCready (played by James Whitmore Jr., now largely known as a busy TV director). Yes, the avaricious villain of this story is essentially named “McGreedy”. See, this is slightly annoying, because I won’t be able to use my favorite cutesy device, the whole Mc + Goofy Adjective thing that, to be fair, I probably enjoyed a little too much last time around. I mean, what am I going to call him, Greedy McGreedy?

I have no idea what this device actually is in reality, but it looks like it might be something that was found lying around the production facilities. I admit, I spent a few minutes googling the legible portions of the lettering—“interlock inverse”, “electronic auxiliary”—but came up dry. Anyone recognize it? I’m going to imagine it’s the device that prevents the episode from sucking, because it was on camera for this episode, and was unfortunately unable to perform its designated function. For the purposes of this recap, I’m calling it the Supervoltimeter.

Caption contributed by Mark

All they need now is an oscilloscope, and they can do anything!

Artfully, the director cuts from the Supervoltimeter being shoved in a metal carrier, to textbooks being stuffed in a briefcase. Wow! It’s almost like our hero, schoolteacher Ralph, is caught up in the same thrilling chain of events as the gun-sight heist guys and the dicks in suits. Maybe they’ll even meet up at some point!

In his classroom, Ralph establishes that they just finished discussing politics—he plugs tomorrow’s lesson on lobbyists and their influence—and then tries to make a quick getaway (a recurring theme for this episode). But the sweathogs hold up “Mr. H” at the door. One of them, a black kid named Chaffey, is complaining about how the other sweathogs have put him up for school president, and even started tacking up posters and whatnot without, you know, actually telling him or checking to see if he was up for it. I hear the same thing happened to Admiral Stockdale.

Caption contributed by Mark

“If nominated, I will not accept! If elected, I will not serve! Take that, bitches!”

Tony the Hoodlum jumps in and mumbles something about how this was due to Ralph urging them to get involved in school activities, and it’s part of a larger plan: the other candidates on the ticket, Carrie and Rodriguez, are also minorities, which makes the election a lock. Why? Because, as Carrie helpfully explains in her best Brooklyn thugette accent, “Tony says, if you get enough minorities together you get a majority! Majority takes it, right?” I dunno, do fractions really add up that way?

Interestingly enough, this essentially reveals that they drafted Chaffey not because he’s the best candidate, but because he’s black. So at least we know Ralph has taught them about quotas.

By the way, while Rodriguez (Don Cervantes) would later, in a career-killing move, become a regular on the show, and even Chaffey recurs a couple of times, new babe Carrie is a one-off sweathog, never seen before or again. From the way Tony is hugging her, she seems to be filling in for our regular thugette hussy, Rhonda. And sure enough, Faye Grant is nowhere to be seen in this episode. Sorry, Albert! Please post the recap anyway.

Caption contributed by Mark

“Hey, she’s no Faye Grant, but she’ll do.”

But I can kinda see why they didn’t keep Carrie. I don’t want to say this girl is trashy, but if you were standing next to her and said “ho-hum”, she’d ask “Which song?”

Oh, and what’s Tony getting out of all this? “I’m the boss. Like that Boss Tweed you was telling us about.” Ralph is perturbed that his teaching has led to the perpetuation of machine politics, but Carrie breaks in to ask “Mr. H” if he wants to help with the campaign. It seems they’re having trouble coming up with a campaign slogan. Unfortunately, you’re going to have to wait a full 45 minutes for the payoff on that setup. But Ralph says he will totally help, and then makes a break for it.

In this last exchange, we get our first hint of why this is a famous episode, because the way Carrie says “Mr. H” is incredibly obviously dubbed in. Not only do her lips clearly mouth “Hinkley”, but the actual dub is an even more hilariously overdone Brooklyn accent than the rest of Carrie’s overbaked patois. Seriously, if Carrie had actually said “Aitch!” like that, we’d be watching her jaw swing from one side to the other like a wrecking ball. The overall effect is the audiovisual equivalent of a redacted transcript.

Carrie the Thugette: Listen, Mr. ***[Aitch!]*** …

Believe it or not, it gets better. I’ll reserve further discussion for the true gem to come. You won’t have long to wait, trust me.

Caption contributed by Mark

“My name is spelt ‘Hinkley’, but it’s pronounced ‘Throatwobbler Mangrove’.”

Mark "Scooter" Wilson

Mark is a history guy, a graphics guy, a guy for whom wryly cynical assessments of popular culture are the scallion cream cheese on the toasted everything bagel of life. He spends his time teaching modern history at Brooklyn College, pondering the ancient Romans at the CUNY Graduate Center, and conjuring maps and illustrations for ungrateful bankers at various Manhattan monoliths. Readers are welcome to guess at reasons why he’s nicknamed Scooter, with the proviso that all such submissions are guaranteed to be rather more interesting than the truth. Mark lives in the Midwood section of Brooklyn with a happy-go-lucky, flop-eared dog named Chiyo who is probably, at this very moment, waiting patiently for her walkies.

Multi-Part Article: The Greatest American Hero "Here's Looking at You, Kid"
TV Show: The Greatest American Hero

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