The Greatest American Hero “Here's Looking at You, Kid” (part 2 of 6)

Ralph is now rushing out of the school, only to be intercepted, much to his annoyance, by his teeth-gritting FBI partner Bill Maxwell. Ralph fusses, whining that he has to meet Pam’s folks at the airport, but Bill tells him about the high-tech super Supervoltimeter being stolen. Apparently, it can “hit a beer can from five miles out”, which, Bill scoffs, is certainly not as important as Mr. and Mrs. Davidson visiting from “East Dogbreath, Nebraska”. Hey, my Great Aunt Hazel is from West Dogbreath, Nebraska! So you watch your mouth.

Ralph stridently (and unwisely) corrects Bill, explaining that they’re from Minnesota, where Mr. Davidson runs a hardware store, and is in fact “the mayor of Deer Lick Falls.” Make up your own dirty joke… now.

Actually, it turns out this is an in-joke: this episode’s writer, Cannell’s longtime associate Juanita Bartlett, was also a writer on The Rockford Files, and this is a reference to a season 5 episode called “The Mayor’s Committee from Deer Lick Falls”, in which Jim is supposed to prevent a small-town IRS audit. So there you go, the joke’s on us.

Back on topic, Ralph reasonably wonders why the army isn’t out looking for the Supervoltimeter, and Bill explains that they are, along with every other branch of the federal government. Thing is, Bill is certain that they’re all “looking in the wrong place”, but no one except Ralph will even listen to him. Right. So, scores of highly trained government officials and military brass are dead wrong, and one loose cannon FBI agent is the only who’s figured out the truth? Actually… I guess that isn’t so hard to believe.

Caption contributed by Mark

“I got the goods on Hoffa, too, kid, but no one will believe that he’s really Claude Akins!”

Ralph calls Pam from Bill’s car phone to tell her he can’t make it to the airport, and that he’ll explain later. They then establish that Bill’s car phone has a crappy connection (gosh, Mr. Peabody! We’re back in the days before cell phones!), but do nothing with this other than a few “What? I can’t hear you”s and a snide comment from Ralph after he’s hung up.

I’d dwell on this more, but my “interim” has caused me to forget what a horribly winsome actress Connie Sellecca can be, so I’m eager to move on so I can stop cringing, if you don’t mind.

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In the car, as they head out into the desert, Bill explains his I’m Right They’re Wrong theory. This actually involves the fairly reasonable hunch that the pilot was more likely to bring the jet down on land than to ditch in the water and run the risk of losing or damaging the super high-tech gun sight. Which makes sense. What he doesn’t explain is why this doesn’t make sense to anyone else, and more importantly, why the air traffic controller’s scope would have shown the jet headed out over the ocean, causing everyone to discard Bill’s theory and declare him a drooling idiot. Is it a plot hole yet? Stay tuned!

Bill also hands Ralph a walkie-talkie the size of a cigarette lighter. Given that the super suit has no pockets, Ralph asks where he’s supposed to put it. Bill caustically replies, “Be creative!” They then fall silent long enough to allow us to imagine Ralph shoving the walkie-talkie up his sphincter. I’m fairly sure that’s worth one and a half to two beats in the Hollywood Comedy Manual.

Caption contributed by Mark

“Gosh, Bill, I don’t think this will fit. There’s a lot of stuff up there already.”

Cut to the airport, where a grainy stock footage Pan Am 747 (Pan Am! Wow! This episode is a freakin’ time capsule!) is landing. Then it’s over to real footage of Pam’s cutesy little VW bug convertible rolling up to a cement wall somewhere. She bustles past a bunch of extras carrying plaid suitcases (golly! My parents had a set of those!) to embrace her Mom and Dad.

Dad is played by Bob Hastings, who’s the voice of Commissioner Gordon in the animated Batman and The New Batman Adventures, which—man, there’s a lot of Batman series. Is that the same one that we’ve been posting recaps of? Yes? Good. I like Booth synergy.

Hastings has been in everything, going back to being one of the regular supporting players on McHale’s Navy, and even further back to Captain Video and His Video Rangers, which starred brother Don. So remember, if you want to get started in the business, make sure to have a brother who plays Captain Video.

And Mom—gosh. Mom is played by June freaking Lockhart. Whee! Oh, and welcome back, June. (Consumer note: The Petticoat Junction link is, like the cake, a lie, in that it points to season 1, but June doesn’t appear on that show until season 6, which isn’t out on an authorized DVD at the moment. And you thought everything was on DVD. Sorry, chump. The twilight years of Hooterville didn’t make the cut.)

The ensuing dialogue serves mainly to establish that Dad is a persnickety everything-just-so type, as he goes on and on about punctuality and preventive auto maintenance. I can see he’ll be a joy to spend the next forty minutes with.

But I’m getting distracted by the paperback that Mom is conspicuously carrying, something with a yellow cover called Southeast Moon. It’s a fake, which you can tell just from the title. Seriously, Southeast Moon? What’s it about, showing your butt to the Vietnamese? Well, there was no such thing as a Grisham novel yet, so truth be told, this was actually a daring, futuristic projection of what the “airplane paperback” might look like someday.

Caption contributed by Mark

A still from early meetings for a Lassie reunion special, in which June Lockhart and guest star Bob Hastings attempt to convince Connie Sellecca to come back and reprise the title role.

Pam explains that Ralph couldn’t make it, which cues Mom to embark on a bizarre, tangential lionization of her daughter’s boyfriend’s name, and how the name “Ralph Hinkley” suggests he’s a really dependable guy who will therefore, presumably, be good for Pam. The hell?

This is just weird. Never in a million years have I heard, even on a sitcom, dialogue this fermented and surreal about a boyfriend’s name. “What, honey? You’re dating a boy named—what was it? ‘Sid Vicious’, you say? Well gosh, he sounds absolutely charming! Sid Vicious! So when’s the wedding?”

But the real topper is this one-time-only left-turn excursus about the name “Ralph Hinkley” just happened to occur in an episode that aired during the one fraction of an instant in human history where anyone would give a flying fuck about the last name of some curly-haired dip wearing tights on an ABC superhero dramedy.

This episode—the one and only time that the script actually expounds at length on the name Ralph Hinkley—by sheer dumb luck aired on April 1, 1981, just two days after a nut named John Hinckley Jr. shot President Reagan and three others outside the Washington Hilton.

At some point in those two days, either Steve Cannell or someone at ABC realized, to their horror, that they were about to air a TV episode in which the hero shared the same name, spelling aside, as a dickhead that people were wanting to set fire to and dump in a deep hole full of hungry meerkats. That’s the kind of moment that calls for a “Fuck me!” of stellar proportions. And then later, you wonder why you were so wound up in the first place. You know, kind of like Twilight.

So they called in Denise Halma to redub Carrie’s line, or more likely to my mind, Steve Cannell put on his best teenage thugette voice and did it himself. (Just kidding. Or am I?) “Mr. H” was a simple enough substitute, and had in fact already been used on the show (the sweathogs occasionally call Ralph “Mr. H” from very early in the pilot onward—I checked). Legend has it this was an echo of Fonzie’s use of “Mr. C” to refer to Tom Bosley’s character on Happy Days, so the transfer of this style of address to the tough-guy sweathogs, and the leather jacket-clad hoodlum Tony in particular was straight out of the American Sitcom Playbook.

But what to do about June Lockhart’s big speech about this glorious name, Ralph Hinkley? Even if they could get Lockhart back for ADR, what could they have her say instead? The only real choice was either to cut the speech, leaving a big jarring hole right in the middle of Pam’s meeting with her parents, or do what they did, which was… dub the loud roar of an airplane engine over June Lockhart every time she says the name Hinkley.

The result of this ham-handed doctoring is just as brilliant as it sounds. Here’s the whole exchange:

Mrs. Davidson: Ralph! Oh, it’s such a nice name. You know, I’ve always thought that you can tell a great deal about a person by his name! [VROOOOARRRRR!!]—it’s just the perfect name for an educator, don’t you think so, Daddy?
Mr. Davidson: Hmm? Yeah, it’s alright.
Mrs. Davidson: Ralph [VROOOOARRRRR!!]—it says a great deal. Solid! Capable! Stable! Feet on the ground! [Cut to Ralph in the suit, flying over the desert, feet kicking in the air, hahahaha, juxtaposition is funny!]

You know, if someone’s last name is really Vrooooarrrrr, I’m not sure you can expect “feet on the ground” to be among his core defining traits.

Caption contributed by Mark

“I have a much better feeling about him than your last boyfriend, Joe [sound of cats fucking].”

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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