Sci-Fi Nerd: Commentary, reflection and accolades from a fan’s point of view on all things sci-fi and fantasy.
Alien visitation and a gift of their technology in the form of a super-power bestowing suit transforms a timid teacher’s life forever in this classic comedic take on the superhero genre.
Before the super hero tv craze of today, there was The Greatest American Hero. “Look at what’s happened to me” the opening lines to the theme song for this series titled “Believe It Or Not” pretty much sums up the predicament timid LA school teacher Ralph Hinkley (William Katt) finds himself in when he is the recipient of a super suit he is given as the result of alien visitation.
A suit that bestows a plethora of powers including super strength, resistance to injury (including direct bullet hits to areas covered by the suit), invisibility, precognition, postcognition, E.S.P., telekinesis, X-ray vision, super speed, pyrokinesis, and the ability to fly. The full limit of these powers remains a mystery because Ralph loses the instructions for the suit soon after he gets it. Also he hates wearing the bright red outfit, cape included, which only works on him.
This is the premise this amusing take on the superhero genre series is based on. The aliens who give him the suit also tell him to collaborate with FBI Special Agent Bill Maxwell (Robert Culp, in sharp contrast to previous dramatic roles) who is decidedly old school, and Ralph’s girlfriend, attorney Pam Davidson (Connie Selleca), sometimes joins the often bickering, deeply conflicted odd couple Ralph and Bill on their adventures. Although the show was based on this simple, silly concept it worked for the time, and superhero shows that are on now could benefit from some of the lessons this series has to offer, for example, not taking yourself too seriously, and being more realistic in depicting some of the real-life complications, and difficulties being a superhero might present in the reality of day-to-day life for the average person.
The show also featured some of Hinkley’s students which included Faye Grant as Rhonda Blake, Michael Paré as Tony Villicana, Jesse D. Goins as Cyler Johnson, and William Bogert as Les Carlisle.
The greatest American Hero was great fun at first, but grew somewhat monotonous in its portrayals of Ralph trying to master the suit over time in the course of his amusing adventures. The series is firmly anchored in the early eighties that gave it birth, by the timestamp of its portrayal rich in the fashions, fads, and lifestyles of the time. An amusing footnote in the history of genre tv.
During 1986, the original principal cast reunited for a pilot movie for a new NBC series to be named The Greatest American Heroine, which did not result in a new series, and the pilot was never broadcast by NBC. Ultimately, the pilot was re-edited as an episode of the original series (complete with original opening credits and theme), and added to syndication sets of the original series, for which it is the final episode.