The Greatest American Hero “The Hit Car” (part 2 of 9)

Still in the credits, we get shots of Ralph flying, launching himself into the air, and careening into walls, all done with the absolutely execrable green screen work that became a hallmark of the series. The line around Ralph might as well have been drawn in with a Sharpie, and when they show him taking off, the perspectives are completely wrong every time. And don’t tell me the technology didn’t exist. I mean, forget that Superman was made three years earlier—they started using chroma key in Hollywood forty years before this show, and even then it looked better than this.

William Katt’s credit comes over a shot of Ralph sprawled on the ground, having just run into a wall and hurt his head. You see, the suit doesn’t protect his head, and the show was actually pretty consistent about that, but—what about his hands? When he uses his super strength to smash something, wouldn’t his unprotected hands be pulverized? Oops, sorry, I’m trying to apply logic to a show in which clueless space aliens give super-powers to the first guy they find who’s dumb enough to be wandering around the desert in the middle of the night. Silly me.

Caption contributed by Mark

”This script hurts my brain!”

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A string of random shots of Bill Maxwell follow. In most of them, he’s making the Maxwell Face: his eyes are dangerous and predatory, but his mouth is grinning. It’s the same face a velociraptor makes just before it eats you.

Then comes Robert Culp’s credit, which is big enough to entirely obscure his head—he gets an extra unnecessary “Starring”, and then after his name comes “as Bill Maxwell”, with the name in a box for some reason. It’s the kind of distracting credit that makes you think of contractual negotiations and agents’ fees, and not the actual actor being credited.

Caption contributed by Mark

”Listen, dirtball, don’t mess with me or I’ll—damn it, will somebody get these credits out of my face?”

The shots of Connie Sellecca, who plays Ralph’s lawyer girlfriend Pam, are even more random—they’re literally shots of Pam picking up a phone, walking, and turning her head. The freeze-frame for her credit is a close-up of her looking around a restaurant. Wow, Pam is really one exciting and necessary character.

According to creator Stephen Cannell’s DVD interview, they’d never planned on Connie Sellecca being a series regular—she was just Ralph’s current girlfriend during the pilot—but she had such great comic timing and off-screen chemistry with the lead that they decided to hire her for the series. Which is also how Sarah Palin got picked for the VP slot, or so I’ve heard.

Caption contributed by Mark

[Insert interesting character here]

Various arbitrary scenes of the three of them follow, all freeze-framing into odd stills with distorted mouths and blurred hands, while the producer and music credits come up. These blurry, random freeze-frames are another GAH trademark. The closing credits were redone every week, using scenes from that episode. The clips would run a few seconds, then freeze for a screenful of credits, and nine times out of ten their choices of when to freeze the shot are just mystifying. Sometimes I think this whole show was edited by a monkey with a Moviola.

In the second season, single-shot credits were inserted after Connie Sellecca for Michael Paré and Faye Grant, who play two of Ralph’s students. The producers handled this not by rearranging the titles to make room for Paré and Grant, but by actually making the opening credits longer (with an extra repeat of the last half of the chorus of “Believe It or Not”). Given the amount of blatant padding that appears in most GAH episodes, I’ll bet the producers were glad to have an excuse to make the opening credits even longer. Especially since some weeks, the credits are the best part of the show.

Caption contributed by Mark

When the boy has prettier hair than the girl, it never works out.

At least when he got promoted into the opening credits, they gave Paré his accent back. No, not his Jersey accent—I mean the accent over the “e” in his last name, which is missing from his in-episode “Co-Starring” credit throughout the whole first season. It was probably pretty annoying for him to work hard, get on a series, and then have everyone think his name rhymes with a kind of table fruit.

Caption contributed by Mark

”Okay, how do you curse the heavens, anyway? Um—’Curse you, heavens! You—you—doodyheads!’“

As the episode proper begins, we not only get the title of the episode, but also our first glimpse at the eponymous automobile itself. I had been hoping, based on the title, that “The Hit Car” was going to be a Very Special Episode in which everyone gets into trouble for hanging out in Michael Paré’s 1972 Stingray hardtop doing tokes, and believe me, that would have been a vast improvement over the real high concept for this episode.

The “hit car” turns out to be an anonymous sedan that’s been entirely covered in gray, bulletproof steel—even the windows [?]—with a couple of slots cut out for the gangsters to shoot out of. We get a look inside the car later in the episode, and it’s completely dark inside, leading to the inescapable conclusion that they’ve managed to design an automobile where the driver can’t see out.

Even the headlights are shining out through narrow slits, making the car look really tired and sleepy, or possibly hung over.

Caption contributed by Mark

New for ‘81—the Pontiac Dreadnaught!

Can we just ponder for a moment how dumb this is? Not that we really have to—the ineffectiveness of such a car as a means for carrying out clandestine assassinations will be graphically demonstrated in mere moments, and repeatedly throughout the episode. The bad guys will even helpfully explain to each other later why the hit car is a dumb idea, which is hilarious in itself. But just for starters, consider that presumably the purpose of all this armor plating is to protect the car from return gunfire. Except—the tires are just as exposed and vulnerable as a normal car. D’oh!

As an idea to hang a show on, it’s both preposterously lame and desperately banal. But as the hook for the first regular episode of a new superhero series, it defies belief. What’s episode 2 going to be—Ralph and Bill fight over the ownership of a rabbit?

The rolling battleship exits a garage and heads out onto the highway, where I’m sure it won’t attract the slightest bit of attention from cops and other curious onlookers (Hit Car Conceptual Flaw #2). ”Honey, was that a tank going by in the HOV lane?”

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 "The Hit Car"

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