The Greatest American Hero “The Hit Car” (part 3 of 9)

Then we cut to what’s obviously going to be the hit car’s quarry, another ugly sedan cruising down a deserted highway somewhere.

Inside the victimmobile is a dumb blonde clattering away to the driver, a clearly expendable black FBI suit who looks a little like Starsky & Hutch co-star Antonio Fargas. The blonde is going on and on about how she’d asked for Bill Maxwell and how she’s in danger from this episode’s terrifying villain, a San Francisco mobster called “Johnny the Dancer” [!], if he finds out she’s testifying. (You get to choose your FBI agents? How does that work? I’m picturing the FBI web site. “In trouble? Click here to select your favorite mob moll chaperone!”)

This woman’s name, by the way, is the perfectly natural-sounding Starlet Wild. If you think she has an unfortunate moniker, you should meet her sister, Ilikeit.

Caption contributed by Mark

”What’s wrong with the way I talk? What’s the big idea? Am I dumb or something?”

Starlet is played by Gwen Humble, who did lots of miscellaneous TV guest spots in the ‘70s and ‘80s (Barnaby Jones, Remington Steele) but who actually has a far more interesting Agony Booth connection: her husband has also appeared on this site, and you’ll never guess who he is. Never in a million years. Here’s a hint: he knows a few pervs.

Not-Huggy Bear loyally protests that the FBI doesn’t make mistakes, while clumsily establishing for our benefit that he’s taking her to Los Angeles to go before a grand jury. Chesty McAirhead then clumsily establishes she’s an ex-showgirl. Together, they clumsily establish what a dumb episode this is going to be.

It’s about here we get the writer’s credit—who turns out to be none other than the series creator, Stephen J. Cannell. If, naïve fool that you are, you’re cherishing hopes that Cannell is really a visionary genius and “The Hit Car” is just his “Omega Glory”, upcoming even lamer episodes will, I fear, prove painfully disillusioning.

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Then the hit car suddenly rolls up alongside them, and someone starts shooting at them through the side gunnery slot, forcing the victimmobile off the road into an empty field adjoining the highway. Not-Huggy Bear and Ditsy McShowgirl get out and run for it, but the hit car skids around and comes back to shoot at them some more, clipping Not-Huggy Bear but missing Busty McMobmoll, who’s managed to drop flat in a mudhole and thus get out of the hit car’s line of fire.

Caption contributed by Mark

”Crap, I’m dead. Now they’ll find all my Starsky/Hutch slash fiction.”

The unseen gunman can’t target her, either because she can’t be seen though the blacked-up windows (Hit Car Conceptual Flaw #3), or because the gun barrel has no vertical mobility along the narrow horizontal slit (Hit Car Conceptual Flaw #4). Unable to pursue Blondie McFunbags off-road because, you know, they’re in a freakin’ armor-plated Pontiac sedan (Hit Car Conceptual Flaw #5), the bad guys give up and drive off.

Cut to Ralph and Pam walking toward the high school where Ralph teaches, setting up this episode’s excruciating B plot involving Ralph’s brilliant idea to have the sweathogs—I mean, his special ed students—no, actually, I mean the sweathogs—do a production of The Taming of the Shrew. Ugh.

Can I please just sidetrack myself from this wince-inducing storyline to note that Ralph’s Harpo Hair is close to out of control in these early episodes? I think he got hold of the same Fro Grow serum as ”Sexy” Charlie Tanzie. Later on in the series, it’s tastefully trimmed, but here his big blonde anglo-fro is so distracting I half-expect him to start communicating entirely with horn-honks and inane grins. Well, turns out I’m half right, anyway.

Caption contributed by Mark

”Smirk all you like, but I think we have a shot at winning the Regionals!”

Pam is, rather sensibly, expressing incredulity about the whole Shakespeare thing, but Ralph earnestly insists the sweathogs shouldn’t be deprived of culture on account of their hard-knocks lives. And I think I’m going to need to create a keyboard macro to insert the words “Ralph earnestly insists.” It’ll save a lot of time.

He’s also contrived an opportunity for parent-child bonding by having the sweathogs’ moms and dads come in and paint the sets. This motive would mean something if they bothered to cast any of the parents and create real relationships, but the sweathogs, like their Kotter prototypes, have essentially no adult relationships beyond their teacher. You’d think the Harpo Hair and his so-1981 squared-off knit tie, which in retrospect looks like he got up that morning and accidentally tied a sock around his neck, would tip them off that he’s not exactly the ideal role model, but nobody ever said the sweathogs were all that bright. I sure won’t be saying it.

Ralph and Pam enter the auditorium to find Michael Paré, Faye Grant, and the Black Guy Who Gets Forgotten About in Later Episodes laughingly dueling with fake wooden swords, while the remaining anonymous mob of sweathogs cheers them on. Oh right, theatre equals fake wooden swords, I had forgotten that.

Ralph mildly tells them to stop, but they ignore him. He whistles with two fingers, but they go on playing. So he steps backstage and switches off the stage lights, leading to the following gritty, street-smart dialogue:

Black Guy Who Gets Forgotten About in Later Episodes: Hey, turn the lights back on, chump!

Gosh, these kids are tough, aren’t they? Quick, somebody page Michelle Pfeiffer!

This scene, by the way, is a pale copy of Ralph’s first encounter with the sweathogs in the pilot, where they ignored him until he picked up a chair and threw it against a wall [!]. Next week’s ploy to get their attention: a big bag of angry scorpions!

Ralph now pitches his idea to the kids. It turns out he’s asking them to stick around over the two-week spring break [!] in order to do The Taming of the Shrew, which Tony (Michael Paré’s character) thinks is a movie starring Marlon Brando and Liz Taylor, about “two guys that go around sticking up gas stations.” I do believe he’s actually describing Cleopatra, but then my knowledge of early 20th century epic cinema is rather fuzzy.

Caption contributed by Mark

”What do you mean, they don’t all leave the island?”

But giving up their spring break is not a problem, apparently. No, the main roadblock is that Tony, the resident Tough Guy Who’s Really Tough, starts whining about how acting in a Shakespeare play isn’t manly, setting Ralph up for the kind of wink-nudge superhero humor that was clichéd back when they did it on The Adventures of Superman.

Tony: Shakespeare? Whaddayou, crazy? Those guys running around in tights? I ain’t puttin’ on no long-johns.
Ralph: [adjusting his tie Michael-J.-Foxily, and glancing at Pam, who smirks behind her palm] I know how you feel about that, Tony.

Ha, ha. Ralph manages to seal the deal by offering everyone “three units of credit in literature” for putting on the show. I just hope he’s avoided scheduling conflicts with the big basketball game and the scholastic decathalon!

Ralph introduces Pam, who “minored in theater arts in college” and will help with blocking and “the nuances of the production.” And the dirty look Pam gives Ralph here suggests this might be the first she’s hearing about being shanghaied into this production.

They’re about to start a read-through—without any talk of who’s playing who [?]—when Bill Maxwell suddenly barges into the auditorium and demands to speak with Ralph. The three leads step backstage, leaving the sweathogs to their own devices.

Once they’re alone, Bill announces that he and Ralph have to head out immediately for a 7 PM flight to San Francisco. Ralph starts sputtering that he can’t just pick up and leave, because he needs a babysitter (reminding us that at this point in the series he has a Young Son Who Gets Forgotten About in Later Episodes), etc., etc., but Bill’s already taken care of all that, and is intent on steamrollering ahead no matter what anyone says.

Caption contributed by Mark

”I’m telling you, Vocal Adrenaline doesn’t stand a chance!”

Pam, the only person present with any brains at all, quickly tries to bail, but Bill barks out, “Freeze, Davidson!” and starts blathering about how they need her as a “third-string backup” to run errands, fetch burgers, and so on, couched in terms that suggest Bill thinks that’s all a female sidekick would be good for. Sorry, not sidekick—hero support.

Sensitive Guy for the Eighties Ralph actually supports this gender victimization, agreeing they need logistical backing, and Pam’s the only other person who knows about the super-suit. Pam stands up for herself by meekly bitching, “I hate this!” and staying put. Yeah. You’ve come a long way, baby.

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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