It solely ran for 2 and a half seasons from 1981 to 1983, however The Greatest American Hero—starring William Katt as an unassuming instructor who receives a super-powered go well with from aliens, then promptly loses the directions—has left an indelible mark on pop culture. You in all probability have already got the theme tune caught in your head (“Consider it or not, I’m strolling on air…”) after simply studying the headline on this put up.
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Why has The Biggest American Hero, which co-starred Robert Culp as reluctant hero Ralph’s FBI liason, Invoice, and Connie Sellecca as Ralph’s girlfriend and lawyer, Pam—turn out to be such an everlasting favourite? The Biggest American Hero Companion, a just-released ebook by Patrick Jankiewicz, digs into the ABC sci-fi comedy with nice enthusiasm, profiling the inventive group concerned, exploring particular person episodes in addition to the present’s broader influence, and surfacing random trivia which will shock even longstanding followers of the collection. It contains a foreword by collection star Katt; io9 will get a shout-out because of our 2018 roundup of the show’s “most ridiculous” episodes— which we wrote once we realized the reboot starring Hannah Simone wasn’t getting picked up—so it’s no secret we’re followers of Ralph’s misadventures. We hopped on video chat with Jankiewicz to be taught extra.
“[Creator Stephen J.] Cannell had some enormous hits [like The Rockford Files, The A-Team, and 21 Jump Street], however that is [now] the most well-liked of all his exhibits,” the writer stated. “Even he couldn’t determine it out—that is the best-selling on DVD and Blu-ray. You must hit 5 seasons to enter syndication, and this present didn’t even come shut. It’s his solely full-on style present, the one sci-fi superhero kind present he ever did, and he wasn’t used to all of the clichés. The community requested him to do a superhero present, and as soon as he did it, he made it [in his own style], like his different exhibits. It’s a present about private accountability, which I believe could be very humorous.”
Jankiewicz, who has additionally revealed “companion” books on The Unbelievable Hulk and Buck Rogers within the twenty fifth Century, discovered his subsequent topic accidentally, although it’s clearly in his wheelhouse. “It was when covid hit. It was a Saturday morning, I used to be consuming espresso with my brother, flipping by the channels, and we got here throughout an episode of the collection,” Jankiewicz recalled. “It was from the primary season, an amazing episode known as ‘The Finest Desk State of affairs,’ which was based mostly on an actual assassin of an actual reporter, and it was actually well-written. Cannell’s exhibits are very, very large on character. [With The Greatest American Hero], they have been making an attempt to do The Rockford Recordsdata with a superhero. It’s a Marvel Comics model of Rockford Recordsdata. The hero is good-hearted, however no one actually is aware of it; everyone misjudges him. Rockford is a personality—you want him, you want his life, you discover him fascinating. And it simply so occurs he’s a detective. It’s the identical factor right here: Ralph simply occurs to be a superhero. However you just like the character, you want his mates, and also you just like the state of affairs. I had forgotten what an enthralling, humorous present it was!”
It’s exhausting to choose a favourite episode amongst The Biggest American Hero’s 45 complete, however Jankiewicz thinks one specifically stands out. “I really like the pilot. I believe the pilot is actually, actually sensible; you spend about half-hour attending to know Ralph as a personality earlier than the aliens and every thing else occurs. The present could be very personality-driven, and because you just like the characters, you care about what occurs to them,” Jankiewicz stated. Nevertheless, he additionally admitted to liking the goofier, extra supernatural route the collection took in its later episodes. “I really like when the present embraces the style; one week he’s preventing a biker gang, one other week is ninjas, a ghost, aliens. I believe that’s the very best half, the place you don’t know who you’re going to run into week in, week out.”
As Jankiewicz factors out, Ralph was an distinctive character on TV—and throughout the panorama of superhero-centric leisure—again in 1981. “One of many fascinating concepts within the present is he’s relentlessly dumped on. Even with the go well with on, individuals don’t respect him. Folks look down on him. The entire present is type of fanfare for the widespread man. He’s bought this go well with and it doesn’t enhance his life one bit. It makes it worse! It’s very charming, however there’s a cynical edge to the present,” the writer stated. “It broke the foundations within the superhero style earlier than there have been even guidelines set. You must keep in mind when the present got here on, there have been no dwell motion superheroes occurring. The Unbelievable Hulk was on its means out. Buck Rogers was about to be canceled. Superheroes had gone to the flicks. The yr the present debuted was once we bought the primary Indiana Jones, and [in 1982 we got] the second Christopher Reeve Superman. So there have been no actual superhero guidelines. When you have a look at the Greg Berlanti shows—Arrow, Supergirl, The Flash—it’s all concerning the group surrounding the hero. That [was never part of the] style till it was established by Stephen J. Cannell. Pam and Invoice are his group. They know every thing Ralph is aware of. That was an enormous distinction from each superhero that got here earlier than.”
As followers will recall, a reboot—which might’ve changed the Ralph character with a tequila-loving Indian American woman named Meera—very almost made it to the airwaves just a few years in the past, however wasn’t picked up by ABC. “I shall be sincere. I attempted and tried to get a glance, they usually wouldn’t even cough up a script for it. William Katt hasn’t even seen it,” Jankiewicz stated. However he hasn’t given up hope that The Biggest American Hero will fly once more sometime. “I’ve a sense that Cannell’s daughter Tawnia [McKiernan, a veteran TV producer and director] goes to make it right into a film. It’ll be enormous, particularly with the Marvel method, the place persons are prepared for snarky, humorous… the entire present is about there are not any idealists anymore. Ralph is the one idealist on the present. Invoice and Pam are cynical and I imply, they’ll assist him, however they suppose it’s tilting at windmills. The entire present is an idealist surrounded by pessimists they usually’re making an attempt to save lots of the world. I believe there’s room for that. When [Phil] Lord and [Chris] Miller couldn’t get it going, two of probably the most inventive—you noticed what they did with Jump Street. The studio ought to have gotten down on their knees and begged them to do that. They need to have simply given these guys carte blanche, however they didn’t. By the point they needed to get the property again to them, they had just won the Oscar for Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse … The horrible factor is, they bought Cannell. When you have a look at [the Jump Street movies], they have fun all of the cheesiness of a Cannell present, then they embrace it and play it up and it’s simply, this ought to be the simplest [decision].”
You can not finish any dialogue of The Biggest American Hero with out speaking about perhaps its best and most relentless superpower: its theme tune, which as soon as heard will linger in your mind for an unsettling period of time. “My sister known as me after I was writing the ebook—she was enhancing it for me—and she or he goes, ‘Dammit, I can’t get that tune out of my head.’ After which she stated she and her household have been watching Free Man with Ryan Reynolds [which used the Greatest American Hero song], and she or he couldn’t cease buzzing the theme tune for the remainder of the week,” Jankiewicz laughed. “However to me, that theme tune has saved the present alive. That tune won’t ever, ever go away. It’s been used as a cultural touchstone by different style exhibits, not simply Seinfeld. The theme tune was within the high 10 longer than the Associates theme, which ran for 10 years. I imply, it blows my thoughts—it was battling ‘Bette Davis Eyes’ for the primary tune of the yr!”
The Biggest American Hero is broadly accessible on streaming (together with Peacock, Prime Video’s Freevee, and YouTube); you may choose up a replica of The Biggest American Hero Companion here.
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