The Greatest American Hero “Here's Looking at You, Kid” (part 3 of 6)

So. Ralph is flying, incompetently, with a lot of screaming and wailing. This is accomplished via the usual combination of William Katt acting like an epileptic in front of green screen second unit footage, followed by a face-hidden shot of Katt’s Harpo-wigged stunt double Dennis Madalone falling onto a pile of sand, bookended by a close-up of William Katt looking exasperated.

Caption contributed by Mark

Greatest American Hero drinking game #1: Every time you can recognize Dennis Madalone, take a shot.

Over the Zippo walkie-talkie, Bill hectors Ralph about staying in the air (”You gotta get right back in the saddle again!” “There is no saddle!”), and yet more time is wasted as Ralph jumps into the air and starts flailing around again in front of desert footage, and… oh god, it’s time for the song.

Oy.

Over rotating footage of William Katt flailing, Dennis Madalone falling down (onto the same pile of sand!), William Katt standing up looking pissy (also by the same pile of sand), and Dennis Madalone jumping into the air (from a springboard hidden behind said pile of sand), we get the following totally necessary ballad from Mike Post’s collaborator, Stephen Geyer.

“Nothin’s Gonna Bring Me Down”
Written by: Stephen Geyer
Performed by: Stephen Geyer and the Anonymous Backup Voices

I’m gonna keep it up (till I get it right)
I’m gonna get it straight (if it takes all night)
I’m going to rise above, I’ll be out of sight
Nothin’s gonna bring me down

I’m gonna fly away (I’ll be light as air)
I want to feel the wind (blowing through my hair)
I want to rise above and I won’t be scared
Nothin’s gonna bring me down!
Doooooooowwwn! Doooooooowwwn!

Of course, this is the kind of self pep-talk that pretty much became a thing of the past after Viagra came along.

So, yeah. This song is just fluff, rather than outright pain. Still, the fact that we have obvious filler consuming nearly a minute and a half of the storyline really makes you wonder just how much trouble they had forcing these things out to 48 minutes every week. I keep expecting a railway porter to show up and start talking about how he’s actually a qualified brain surgeon.

By sheer chance, apparently, though it’s hard to tell, one of Ralph’s crash landings brings him down right next to the camouflage-covered fighter jet. Ralph brushes off his hands in satisfaction at a job well done. I guess if you start with the expectation that you’re grossly incompetent, mere ineptitude feels like success!

Caption contributed by Mark

“This is the worst lichen infestation I’ve ever seen!”

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After the commercial break, Bill is grousing that the delays caused by Ralph’s constant faceplants mean that the Supervoltimeter is long gone (in another nice little time capsule moment, he says it’s “probably on some lousy MiG halfway to the Kremlin by now”). But he realizes the bad guys’ jeeps left obvious tracks in the sand heading away from the jet, which they might be able to follow.

And something else was left behind, too: the pilot’s helmet. Sure, why not just drop whatever shit you have on your person at the crime scene? Keys, fob watches, old land deeds, who cares? It’s 1981, no one’s invented CSI yet!

Bill and Ralph now get into another time-wasting discussion about the possibility that Ralph can get some “vibes” off the helmet, a possibility that Ralph is for some reason reluctant to pursue. You see, when he touches things while wearing the suit, he sometimes gets holographic visions pertaining to the object’s owner. Although, the last time we saw him get a “vibe”, it was more of a spidey-sense thing alerting him to imminent danger. Okay, whatever. I guess you can have both, right? It’s like how Superman’s x-ray vision apparently also burns through things. Gotta be real careful with that one. “Hey, Superman, why are you looking at me like thaauughhhh!!!!

Of course, Ralph eventually does decide to put on the helmet—I was biting my nails for a minute there—whereupon he gets a vision of a random house somewhere, with a blackboard inside with all kinds of useful plot points intel written on it, which Ralph ticks off for Bill: “Immediate opening… private army… Central America… ex-Army vets… high risk missions… Angola…” Holy shit, it is an A-Team crossover!

Caption contributed by Mark

“Wow, this helmet gets CUNY-TV?”

In the vision, some guy in a turtleneck and leather jacket steps in front of the blackboard, talking about putting in applications and starting again at 0800 tomorrow. Huh, so they’re soliciting applicants for the scriptwriting team right in the middle of the episode. Man, if I hadn’t been 13 at the time, I could have totally gotten that gig!

Come to think of it, I probably stood a good shot. I totally wrote GAH plot points on chalkboards, as well as every other kid at Pioneer Middle School (home of the Pioneer Eagles, skreeeee!!!!).

Yes, I am that old. Bite me.

Oh, and I think the guy Ralph sees is McGreedy himself (it’s one of many fuzzy shots in this ep), but stay tuned!

Alas, all that Ralph got from this vision is “a house and a room”. But Bill magically intuits that this might be “a house over on Lamer” (no kidding, a real street in Burbank) that’s supposed to be a vets’ club, but which is actually “an employment agency for mercenaries.” That’s right, an employment agency for mercenaries. Because that’s how wars are set up, through staffing agencies. I can see it now:

Wife: [calling from other room] Henry! Have you found a war yet?
Henry: [drinking beer and watching Maury] Geez. Relax, woman! I’m going down to th’ agency this afternoon.
Wife: Do you think they’ll have a war for you?
Henry: How should I know?
Wife: Henry, if you don’t have a war by next week I’m leaving you. And I’m taking the howitzer with me!
Henry: Aw, c’mon, honey! I need the howitzer for work!

Bill explains that the Lamer house (ah, so many jokes) is being run by an ex-Green Beret (McGreedy). He says that these guys “play for keeps”, and adds cheerily, “Looks like we might have a little bloodbath coming up!”

Ralph balks at killing people, like the milquetoast loser superhero he is, but Bill says he doesn’t want Ralph to make a big pile of bodies either, because that would mean extra paperwork. Meanwhile, I’m just now realizing that if this show were made today, Bill would have to be played by Adam Baldwin, no contest. Apart from Robert Culp, he’s the only actor who can get away with dialogue like this and still come across as charming.

Instead of using his supermurdering powers, Bill suggests Ralph try telekinesis to get the Supervoltimeter out of the Lamer Agency. Ralph says that if he knew how to move objects with his mind, Bill would have been in Pittsburgh a long time ago (ba-dum-bum-kish!). Bill insists they begin telekinesis training right there and then. Hey, Juanita? Can you get me an ETA on things actually starting to happen in this episode? Just a ballpark figure would be great.

Meanwhile, the Davidsons are touring a hardware store for a bit of afternoon fun, as you do. Dad is ranting about how the arrangement of the nuts and toggle bolts is all wrong. Can you say “anal-retentive old poop”? Possibly not, since it sounds like a contradiction in terms.

Caption contributed by Mark

“Look at this, they’ve got the thumbscrews right next to the wood screws! All the torture equipment should be over in crafts and hobbies!”

During this, Pam establishes that Ralph has made advance reservations for them all tonight at, and she actually says this, “one of those fine restaurants that are really difficult to get into.” You know, one of those. So… not a Denny’s. This is fancier. But I don’t know if Ralph should have bothered reserving ahead; I’m pretty sure Olive Garden also takes walk-ins.

Dad, sourpuss that he is, pisses on the whole fine dining idea, avowing that in times like these, a man shouldn’t be too free with his money. Boy, is it going to be hard making a good first impression on Dad or what? I haven’t seen a stick this firmly implanted since Jean-Luc Picard. Dad’s preferred plans for the evening involve visiting a hardware warehouse called “Fix-It City”. Uh-huh. That’s the big attraction in Burbank, you see. Well, maybe the Frank Miller version might be interesting.

Meanwhile, Mom learns that Pam will be in court tomorrow, and seems surprised that she’s “still going ahead with that”—meaning, her career, now that she has a man (I guess). Wow, what progressive parents. Pam plays into Mom’s sexism, explaining that she and Ralph aren’t even engaged. Why, it might be years before she’s chained to the stove pumping out babies!

Dad pipes up to express surprise that Pam’s not engaged, adding that Ralph “has more sense than I gave him credit for!” Huh? Ralph is smart for deciding not to get engaged to your daughter? And you’re saying this to her face?

If Pam weren’t such a doormat, I’d expect to cut to the next scene and see Dad with a bloody nose and ringing eardrums, but alas, we know Pam all too well. Instead, she just says, “Thanks, Dad,” with a big gleaming smile and the merest baby’s breath of sarcasm. Yeah, that’s telling him, sister.

Caption contributed by Mark

Sadly, the pilot for Thelma and Louise: The Series didn’t sell.

To remind us about the dinner (and to provide a segue), Mom reverts to expressing enthusiasm at the prospect of meeting Ralph. Tonight! At the fancy dinner! Where nothing could possibly go wrong!

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"

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