The Greatest American Hero “The Hit Car” (part 5 of 9)

Bill introduces Ralph as his backup man (not partner, mind you—Remember That For Later). Starlet lets them into her fleabag hotel room, bitching the whole time about how they should have seen her gorgeous digs in Vegas, particularly the artwork she had on her walls.

Ralph allows that he’d have liked to have come up and seen her etchings. Bill gruffly butts in to say he’s been there, done that—seeing the paintings in her Vegas apartment, that is—and it left him limp, empty, and bereft of hope. The paintings, I mean.

Bill tries to get everyone headed for the airplane waiting in Oakland, but Starlet, establishing her credentials as a high class broad by removing her gum and sticking it to the side of the hideous brown lamp by the bed, says she won’t fly. Her astral chart says she shouldn’t go on airplanes.

Bill is a little put out by this, pointing out that driving to L.A. would be suicide, and during his dialogue we get our second instance of a Highly Audible Landmark, as the clang-clang-clang of the San Francisco trolley is foleyed in to remind us that we’re not currently in L.A. Yeah, we totally filmed this on location! And we’ve got the sound effects all set up for next week’s “trip” to New York, too! Track 1: “Due to necessary maintenance, all Q trains are bypassing your destination, whatever that is.” Track 2: “For your comfort and convenience, please do not urinate on the escalator.” Track 3: “Excuse me, officer, is the Statue of Liberty in Times Square, or is it just next to Times Square?” Track 4: “Malkovich. Malkovich malkovich malkovich? Malkovich!!”

Caption contributed by Mark

”Look, is someone gonna take advantage of me here, or what?”

Bill isn’t buying the astral crap, so Starlet aims her headlights at Ralph and saucily asks if he believes in the stars, all the while doing that alternating-shoulder thing that a person does when they’re crawling through the desert and they have no arms. Ralph sputters helplessly, causing Bill to break in with a string of classic Billspeak:

Bill: Okay, boys and girls, over here please. Let’s put a dimmer on the goo-goo eyes and try to hold a thought! We got killers on our tails. In the immediate vicinity!

Only Robert Culp could get away with dialogue like that. Though, at the moment, I’m imagining it being delivered by Nancy Kulp instead of Robert Culp, and I’m having a great deal of fun with that. In fact, I may mentally replace Bill with Miss Hathaway for the duration of this episode.

Caption contributed by Mark

”Why yes, Miss Wild, it so happens that the carpet does match the drapes.”

And if that “immediate vicinity” bit sounds tacked on to you, that’s because it’s Startlet’s cue to pooh-pooh Bill’s paranoia by going over to the window, pulling back the drapes, and shouting, “Here I am! Yoo-hoo! You can go ahead an’ shoot me!”

And a nearby rifle says, “Hiya, toots! I’ve got something inside me that’d like to be insida you!”

Everybody dives for cover. There’s a brief shot of two suit-clad thugs on a rooftop, blazing away with a high powered rifle at the brightly lit window. The bad guys in this show are such snappy dressers! I guess they all went to Princeton.

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When we cut back to the room, Bill is barking at Ralph to “get out there” because they’re pinned down. Now, it seems to me, given the layout of the room, and the fact that the sniper is a couple of stories above them, that Bill and the gang could very easily get to the hotel room door while still staying out of the sniper’s line of sight and, you know, leave. But then again, usually when I’m being shot at by disco-dancing sleazeballs, I don’t happen to have a superhero close at hand.

In the bathroom, Ralph is pulling on his jammies and fastening his cape, grumbling the whole time about not getting a “little bitty break.” He takes a running start, still professing that this is the last time, and jumps out the window.

Cue theme music! Cue awful chroma key! Okay, roll ‘em!

Ralph “flies” against a backdrop of second unit footage, causing me to wonder, and not for the first time, whether the chief inspiration for this series was, in fact, The Pumaman, which actually came out the year before this show premiered.

Consider Exhibit A: After watching this, you will most emphatically not believe a man can fly. Exhibit B: The sidekick is much, much cooler than the hero. Exhibit C: The hero’s abilities come from a bunch of camera-shy aliens in a big neon ship. Exhibit D: The hero, when called upon to display heroism, constantly whines, “Aw, mom, do I have to?”

Caption contributed by Mark

”Vadinho! Heeeeelp!!

Even though Ralph almost immediately crashes flailingly into a different, and far nicer, hotel room across the street, the thugs on the roof of the Far Nicer Hotel are scared off by the red flying whatsit, and make with the amscray.

Ralph, meanwhile, is stuck in the hotel room, trying to stammer out an explanation for his red-jammied presence to a woman in a negligee and her tooth-brushing hubby. He gives up and makes with his own amscray. Wifey and hubby seem nonplussed. Having a guy dressed in bright red long underwear crash through your hotel window is the kind of thing you have to expect when you’re vacationing in Frisco. It’s just one of those things.

Caption contributed by Mark

”Hello, I’m conducting a survey on behalf of the Tea Party. Do you consider Barack Obama to be either (a) incompetent, or (b) grossly incompetent?”

In the stairwell, Ralph encounters a room service waiter and calls out as he passes him, “Costume party in 1013! You like it?” The extra just smirks over his shoulder at the goofily dressed man, but for some reason the creators later felt the need to dub in someone saying, “This town is turning into a real toilet.” Since no one is actually around apart from the waiter, and he’s not moving his lips, this putdown is obviously coming from the stairwell itself. Okay then.

And what is the stairwell so upset about, anyway? I guess San Francisco always used to have a reputation for probity and circumspection. Probably because of all those years Guinan lived there.

The thugs are now running through the lobby of the Far Nicer Hotel, hurrying each other along, and Ralph is close behind, though it’s not clear if he’s following them, or if his amscray just coincidentally follows the pattern of their amscray. Just as he’s about to enter the lobby, it dawns on him that it’s full of dozens of people milling around with nothing better to do than stare at him and make derisive comments in unconvincing postproduction voiceover.

Dubbed-in Mutterer #1: Where do they get these guys?
Dubbed-in Mutterer #2: That’s the craziest thing I’ve ever seen.
Dubbed-in Mutterer #3: What was that?
Dubbed-in Mutterer #4: Malkovich malkovich malkovich!

After several seconds of Ralph sweating in close-up, with the ticking of a grandfather clock the only noise on the soundtrack, he comes up with a brilliant face-saving ploy: He yells out, “Call for Mr. Henderson? Judge Henderson? Telephone for Mr. Henderson!” Right. Sorry, what century was this show made in?

Caption contributed by Mark

”They’re going to get Seth Rogen for the movie, I just know it!”

Agonizingly, instead of bolting out the door, Ralph keeps walking around the lobby, trying to sell the madding crowd on his fictional career as a bellhop. “Call for Thomas Henderson?” he goes on, showing his mastery at embroidering on his feet. “Paging Mr. Henderson!” he yells, as he ducks… not out the door, but into the hotel office.

He has dialogue with a pointy-breasted airhead behind the counter about how they started using a new uniform this afternoon. He babbles, “I can’t take it! I feel like a fool!” while stealing and shrugging into a convenient trench coat hanging on a convenient hat stand. He tells Miss Pointybreasts he’s quitting, and storms out the back door. And that’s the last time anyone saw William Katt!

Caption contributed by Mark

”And then this guy comes in, and get this, his calling card smells like friggin’ gardenias!”

Back in Starlet’s room, Bill refuses to explain why Ralph is coming in through the front door wearing a flasher’s trench coat when he was just in the bathroom a few minutes ago. And then suddenly we’ve looped around, with Bill again trying to get them to the airport and Starlet again refusing to fly to Los Angeles.

Ralph chimes in, “No flying for me either, Bill,” which is kind of an in-joke irony whatever thing, but also totally nuts. Surely Ralph doesn’t object to flying in a plane? Even today, the drive from San Francisco to Los Angeles is filled with a whole lotta nothing, so opting for the land route while being targeted by hit men is sheer stupidity. You know, like giving control of supernatural abilities to an addle-pated dumbass and a gun-happy curmudgeon.

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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